Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hot Damn, it's Hot Dogs!

After what seemed like years of food haute couture, comfort food is making a strong resurgence. In the last five years or so a slew of notable restaurants have opened their doors to an adoring public clamoring for new takes on old favorites. The mighty hamburger has received a hardcore makeover at Chicago’s Kuma’s Corner. The humble grilled cheese has been boosted to legendary status by Cleveland’s Melt Bar and Grilled. And across the rest of the country macaroni and cheese, casseroles, and soups are all reclaiming their thrones in the pantheon of serious, delicious food. And now it looks as if the lowly hot dog is poised for a serious comeback.

Sure, the hot dog has long been standard fare at the ball park, camp outs, and lazy Sunday afternoon lunches, but recently there has been a hot dog renaissance throughout the Midwest. I think a lot of the credit for this re-popularization is due to Chicago’s Hot Doug’s who are renowned for filling their casings with a variety of wild game and exotic spices then topping them with everything from artisanal cheeses to homemade chili. Since its grand re-opening after a 2004 fire, the fervor and desire for gourmet dogs has spread with new establishments opening and established joints getting some much deserved love.

What We Eat is Laughable is no stranger to the dog, both Justin and Nick have waxed poetic on the humble tube steak after visits to Columbus’ Dirty Franks and pilgrimages to Hot Doug’s and O’Betty’s in Athens, Ohio. I have, in the intervening months, had a wonderful Dirty Franks experience and there’s a Hot Doug-ing in my near future when we trek out to the Pitchfork festival this summer. I can not wait! But I’m here today to praise the burgeoning hot dog culture in the Cleveland area.

I’ll begin with the humble Dog House on Coventry. A hot, tiny walk-in about a block from my apartment, the Dog House is a fantastic mom-n-pop dog shop serving things up simple and delicious. Most of the dogs offered at the Dog House are variations on the Coney and named for various Cleveland institutions. My favorite is the Tri-C, a mouthwatering combo of Chili, Cheese sauce, and Cheddar; get it? But if you’re in the mood for something different, the Dog House also offers Polish Boys, Cleveland’s signature encased meat dish. The Polish Boy starts with a Polish sausage (natch) and is loaded with coleslaw and fries, then topped with barbeque sauce. The Polish Boy is generally attributed to Seti’s, a lunch cart that can be found parked out side Dean Supply on Woodland Avenue, and is a favorite of Cleveland super-chef, Michael Symon. The Dog House also boasts one of the best Italian Beef sandwiches this side of Chicago, according to a Plain Dealer review of the establishment, but I’ve not tried it yet. As if that weren’t enough, the Dog House offers both regular and sweet potato fries along side their dogs, both of which are absolutely delicious, and fantastic hand dipped milk shakes. Though the Dog House can get a bit pricey, it’s definitely worth a stop when dining on the East Side.

The impetus for this column, however delicious the Dog House may be, is a new gem in Cleveland’s increasingly glittery Food Crown: the Happy Dog. Set up in quiet hole-in-the-wall bar on Cleveland’s west side, Head Chef Eric Williams (Momocho) has brought the Happy Dog back from the brink with the unbeatable combination of gourmet hot dogs and an amazing beer selection.

The Happy Dog shares a few things in common with some of the aforementioned doggeries, most notably a proliferation of amazing and unusual toppings, but where other establishments have pre-selected topping combos for you to choose from, the Happy Dog puts the power into the customers’ hands. The “menu” at the Happy Dog is a check list of the fifty (50!) topping options and sides. Customers choose between an all-beef frank, a veggie dog, or falafel and then check off as many of the condiments as they’d like at a flat rate of $5.00 per dog. And with such a laundry list of topping your dog options are nearly limitless, meaning each visit can be just as delicious but totally different from the last.

On my first visit I kept things (sorta) traditional, topping my dog with:
The chorizo chili was incredible, spicy but not overwhelming; it provided a hearty base for the tangy nacho cheese sauce on top. The caramelized onions brought some much needed sweetness to the party, balancing out the meatiness of the dog and chili, and the spice of the chili and cheese, as well as some texture to an otherwise soft palate dish. To keep this mountain of delicious company in my stomach I ordered a side of tater tots (quick aside: who would order fries when there are tater tots on the menu?) with a few sauces to dip them in.

I loved the chipotle hollandaise, it was creamy and spicy and unctuous and amazing, one of the best condiments I’ve ever tasted despite the fact that I think hollandaise is a little gross. I loved this so much I want to put it on everything from now on. The house made ketchup was disappointing in comparison, a slightly sweet, kind of sour tomato-y sauce that I kept expecting to get better, but it never really did. But the genius of the hollandaise and the hot dog more than made up for it.

The only problem I can foresee with the Happy Dog is: I can’t stop thinking about what I’m going to build next time! Brie, bacon, and onions with black truffle honey mustard? Smoked Gouda and Mole? Fried egg, bacon, chipotle hollandaise, and cheddar? I’m not sure, but I can’t wait to eat my way through this menu!

OH! And if gourmet dogs and a beer list fit for a king weren’t enough, the Happy Dog is quickly becoming a regular and reliable spot to see up-and-coming punk, indie, and country bands!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Self-Medicating with the Liver Punsiher

I don’t know how it happened, but I managed to elude even the slightest of sickness all winter long. No sniffling, no sneezing, no nothing. And it was great! Until suddenly about a month ago I was struck down by a pretty obnoxious head cold. I laid low a for a few days, slugging down tea and vitamins at a pace that, were they booze, would’ve put Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas to shame. After a week or so of self imposed quarantine I reemerged into the world of the living, ready and raring to go. There’s nothing like a week of dragging your sorry ass between work and bed to really make you appreciate your health. But before long it struck again, and I retreated to my bed and Sudafed. A few days later I was feeling fiddle-like again and reemerged from my hovel of healing. I was, of course, struck again by this unstoppable killing machine of disease. It’s like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees had tiny germ babies together and machete’d them into my sinuses. Long story short I’ve been mayor of miserable-town for the better part of a month. Boo-urns.

The silver lining to all of this is a chance to experiment with a variety of self-concocted health elixirs. Specifically the Hot Toddy. Once a drink I found the mere idea of repulsive, I’m now a believer in the taste and power of the Toddy and its healing potential. Well, maybe not healing, but it will make you think you feel a bit better.

Simply put a Toddy is a beverage consisting of a hot liquid and alcohol. In this case we’ll be dealing with some simple iterations of the drink, based on water and whiskey, but tea, cider, wine, and brandy are all acceptable ingredients.


- Pour 1½ to 2 ounces of rye whiskey into 6 ounces of (very) hot water

Of the three variants I’ve been self-medicating with I found this to be the tastiest with no doctoring necessary. The drier, spicier taste of rye—whiskey made from at least 51% rye grain and aged in charred new oak barrels—is opened up by the hot water, making the rye sweeter and the spicier notes more apparent. It has an excellent bouquet and feels wonderful on a dry, scratchy throat.


- Pour 1½ to 2 ounces of bourbon into 6 ounces of (very) hot water. Lemon to taste

As bourbon is the sweetest of the three whiskeys I tried and the hot water makes the sweetness of the liquor more pronounced, the bourbon Toddy is a little on the sweet side. I discovered that the sweetness could be countered by squeezing a lemon wedge into the drink. In addition to providing some much needed acidity to a sweet drink, the lemon adds a world of dimension to this otherwise simple concoction. It is not necessary, but certainly recommended.


- Pour 1½ to 2 ounces of scotch into 6 ounces of (very) hot water. Lemon and Honey to taste.

Since the Toddy is generally attributed to the Scotts, it only makes sense to cook one up with Scotland’s most famous export (sorry Mr. Connery and kilts!). With scotch’s distinct smokiness, the scotch toddy has a very distinct flavor. Again, the addition of hot water makes the whiskey sweeter, but in this case it also opens up the peaty, smokiness of the liquor which can make the overall concoction a tad bitter. At first I tried to counter point this with a drizzle of honey—a teaspoon at most—but found the results to be too sweet on their own, so in went the lemon and sure enough, it was a winner. A silky, smooth night cap, the scotch Toddy will put a smile on your face as it puts you out for the count.

Was one better than another? Each had their own strengths and weaknesses and are about even as far as taste and soothing effects go, but if I had to declare a winner it would be the rye by a nose. The fact that it required no doctoring does have something to do with it, but it . On the other hand, finding rye is somewhat of a task depending on where you live so the other two are perfectly good substitutes.

Yours in Sickness and Health,

Liver Punisher

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