Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dirty Frank's Hits a Hot Dog Homer

Elizabeth Lessner owns some of Columbus's best-themed restaurants, like the Ohio-proud Tip-Top Kitchen and the estro-centric Surly Girl Saloon. So when Lessner announced last summer that she was going to open a hot dog restaurant in Columbus, it drew a lot of attention from the indie and foodie crowds.

The hot dog is not just for little kids and backyard cookouts anymore. The once humble tube steak has been given a makeover by restaurateurs worldwide and made into a sort of working man's haute cuisine. One of the most outspoken champions of the hot dog renaissance is Doug Sohn, owner of Hot Doug's in Chicago. Sohn's gourmet turn on hot dogs and sausages (today's most enticing special: Red Bell Pepper Wild Boar Sausage with Sun-Dried Tomato Mustard and Pistachio Pecorino for only $8) has grown to be so popular that customers can expect a 45-60 minute wait in line (around the corner and down the street, even in winter) .

Knowing Lessner's reputation, I expected great things from a hot dog restaurant with her spin. Of course, that was a year ago, before the problems began. The book on the opening of Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace, for most restauratuers, could be titled "How to Fail in the Food Business Before Serving Your First Plate." Code problems, city inspections, licenses, theft, you name it: Lessner had to deal with it. So many problems, in fact, that it took over a year for Dirty Frank's to finally open its doors.

But thanks to a devoted following, the anticipation for Dirty Frank's debut never waned, and on July 1st, 2009, Lessner threw open the doors to an appreciative (and hungry) throng of frankfurter fans. My lady and I stopped in on opening night to see if Dirty Frank's would live up to expectations. The first sign that things were going to work out? No open tables at 10pm...

First thing's first: I love the decor in here. It's almost as if it was designed to appeal to me, Justin R.L. Hemminger. The wall art consists almost entirely of crude paintings of obscure Reds and Indians baseball players (Chris Sabo & Julio Franco, for example) and '70's & '80's heavy rock bands (Thin Lizzy, G'n'R, Motley Crue, etc.). There's even a hand-painted version of Michael Jackson's Thriller album cover hanging over the bar (a late addition, I'd guess). The place just screams "hot dog stand" in the most personal, kitschy kind of way. All that said, the table setting is a great amalgam of hot dog stand and Lessner-class:

To our dismay, they were all sold out of draught beer by the time we sat down at our table, but we were able to catch one of Dirty Frank's specialties: boozy slushes. We both got the "Chris Sabo": cherry slush with orange vodka. Delish...

But we didn't come here to get drunk (we showed up drunk!); show us to the hot dogs please! Erin got a Dog From Hell (spicy giardiniera pepper mix & cream cheese) and a Chicago dog (fresh tomatoes, diced onions, sport peppers, pickle relish, dill pickle, yellow mustard, & a dash of celery salt - just like they do it in Chi-town). They use real Vienna Beef hot dogs here - no cheaping out:

As much as I love a Vienna Beef dog, I wanted to be a little more adventurous with my encased meat choices. I opted for the Ohioana jumbo beef dog (sweet corn, pickle and jalapeno relish with a dash of celery salt) and a Zippity Zam bratwurst (spicy sriracha cream cheese and roasted red peppers):

We also got an order of fresh cut fries (covered in cheese and bacon) and a side of mac 'n' cheese topped with three whole sport peppers. The fries were about as good as you'd expect, long and stringy, covered with ample cheddar and bacon bits. The mac by itself was creamy and perfect (Lessner has nailed this at her other restaurants) but the addition of the spicy sport peppers really added a depth that mac 'n' cheese often lacks.


Dirty Frank's really delivers. The Dog From Hell's pickled vegetables and cream cheese played off each other so well that it almost made you forget there was a delicious hot dog under there. A bite of all three at once was heaven in a poppy-seed bun.

I've eaten Chicago-style hot dogs from several of the Windy City's best regarded establishments (the aforementioned Hot Doug's, Portillo's, Superdawg, etc.) and the Dirty Frank's Chicago dog is every bit as good as any of them. They use all the right ingredients, including the neon green relish and sport peppers you can only get from Vienna. A Chicago dog is not for everyone (salad on a bun?), but if you're a fan, this will not disappoint.

I think I may have made a tactical error with my Zippity Zam: I replaced the regular hot dog with a beef brat, and I think that sausage's strong flavor overwhelmed the mild complexities of the roasted red pepper. Red peppers go great with almost anything, but their subtle decadence was muscled out by the brute force of the brat. I'll give it another shot with the regular hot dog next time.

The real highlight here was the Ohioana. Dirty Frank's corn relish is such a wonderful compliment to a great all-beef hot dog. It's sweet (corn), tart (pickle) and spicy (jalapeno) all at once and just perfectly accentuates the flavor of the hot dog beneath.

Not only did all of these dogs surpass all expectations, but the price is perfect: every hot dog on the menu is only $3, with the option to upgrade to a polish sausage, brat, jumbo dog, or even a veggie dog for a small additional charge. Some of these dogs are worth twice the price, but in this economy, who wants a high-falutin' fancy frank that'll dent your wallet?

Dirty Frank's got everything right, down to the last bite. Well, WELL worth the wait.


jon said...

hahaha! i love that there's a drink named for baseball's foremost four-eyes. sounds delicious, too.

lizless said...

thanks so much for such kind words and such amazing photos. this blog is fantastic! we are tweaking away and things are running much more smoothly than they were 3 weeks ago. We just added funnel cakes to the menu, please say hello next time you are in.

thanks again,
elizabeth lessner

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