Arts & Entertainment

Off the El Eats: Franks ‘n’ Dawgs

Photos by Regina Merrill

Off-the-el-EatsIt may be difficult to think of a hot dog as a gourmet item instead of something relegated to street stands and ballparks. But in a city with a fierce commitment to its own style of the American classic, there are bound to be some pretty ingenious takes on it.

At Franks ‘n’ Dawgs (1863 N. Clybourn Ave.), about a 10-minute walk from the North and Clybourn Red Line stop, you won’t find the traditional Chicago-style hot dog. In fact, there is a sign saying none are allowed.

I went with a friend for lunch and we were both slightly overwhelmed by the number of hot dog concoctions. The shop itself isn’t fancy, but the menu has some pretty upscale features (including the prices). The restaurant is a narrow space, but it has ample seating with booths and tables lining the walls. You place your order at the counter in the back, and the kitchen is right in front so you can see the chefs at work.

The menu is divided into several sections. “Haute Dawgs” lists more gourmet creations, such as the “Brunch Dog” with bacon, fried egg and maple mayo.“Dawgs Gone Wild” has crazier spin-offs, such as a “Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese Dog”, and there is even a “Puppy Dawgs” section for kids. The menu also has a selection of sides such as cheese curds ($4.95), truffle mac and cheese ($4.95) or a Brussels sprout salad with orange dressing and toasted pistachios ($4.50).

DSCF0500The names of dogs are just as creative as their toppings, from the “Julia’s Love Child,” which offers a French spin with steak, asparagus and a Dijon cognac crème fraiche, to the “Lamb-orghini,” which features a lamb barese sausage.

Another aspect of the menu I particularly appreciated was the use of different types of sausage, such as a turkey and date sausage or even a tofu version, to fit the character of each dog.

The joint has a sense of humor both in its menu and general atmosphere. After we placed our order and paid at the counter, we were asked to select a picture of a celebrity from the restaurant’s wall of shame to denote our table. Passing over a tragic photo of Lindsay Lohan, we opted for one of Donald Trump.

I chose the “Muscles from Brussels,” which is a bratwurst sausage topped with crispy Brussels sprout leaves, pancetta, pickled carrots, onions, fennel, horseradish, black pepper mayo, a white balsamic reduction and pretzel crumbs ($9.75). My friend chose the “Pork of July,” which is a pork loin and caramelized onion sausage topped with house-smoked pulled pork, cherry bourbon barbecue sauce and coleslaw ($8.95).

Each topping was artfully enclosed within a brioche bun, with just the right amount of everything. Franks ‘n Dawgs uses specially cut brioche bread, which is a flaky, higher-quality type of bread than a typical hot dog bun, for all of their dogs.

I loved the smoky pancetta pieces, and the Brussels sprout leaves were crispy and added a nice bitterness to DSCF0499balance out the tangy mayo. The brat was well-cooked and provided a nice canvas for the other ingredients.

For a side, I got triple truffle fries ($5.95). They earn the name by undergoing a treatment of truffle oil, truffle butter and a finish of truffle salt. Despite the name, the truffle flavor was still subtle, which I appreciated because it was not too overwhelming.

My friend said the combination of pulled pork and coleslaw on her dog tasted “exactly like the Fourth of July” and immediately made her think of a backyard barbecue. The coleslaw on top was a bright purple and made for a pretty accent, and she said the vinegar flavor added a nice contrast to the sweet barbecue sauce on the pulled pork.

There are a few drawbacks to dining at Franks ‘n’ Dawgs, though. It is fairly expensive. I could justify the total price of my meal (around $17) because of the creative and high-quality ingredients used, but, just the idea of paying about $9 for a hot dog would be enough to drive some people away.

On the website, hours are advertised as 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.  However, when I tried to go on a Saturday night, it had closed by the time I arrived at 6 p.m. I would suggest going for lunch or calling ahead to check the hours. That being said, Franks ‘n’ Dawgs is definitely worth a try for a new take on a classic, especially if you’re tired of the same old Chicago-style hot dog.

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