Dog Day Afternoons

Unleashing the Newest Breeds of Frankfurters

F & B,
269 West 23rd Street, 646-486-4441

It doesn't say "Fabrikwurst"—Yiddish for "sausage maker"—on the side of Katz's for nothing. They've been making hot dogs on the premises since before they were called hot dogs. Founded in 1888 by the Eisland brothers, the store was taken over by partner Willy Katz in 1903. The thick-skinned dogs are slender, sultry, and unexpectedly subtle in flavor and texture. When I'm in a kinky mood, I grab two and a plate of cole slaw and smother the dogs in slaw. Katz's frankfurters (and the hot dog on steroids called knoblewurst) became the post-gig salvation of many rock bands in the CBGB era.

The mother of all antique doggeries is Rutt's Hut. It's included here, not only because of its proximity to the Lincoln Tunnel, but because of its unique cooking method: The franks are immersed in bubbling fat till they rip up the side, hence the nickname "ripper." A specimen fried even further is called a "cremator," but don't you try to use this nomenclature, or the attendant will look at you like you've got two heads. Let the Cliftonites keep their secret language. The mustard-pickle relish is homemade, the perfect accompaniment to these deliciously mutilated franks.

You big weenie!: Crif Dogs owner Kerry Kramer
photo: Pak Fung Wong
You big weenie!: Crif Dogs owner Kerry Kramer

Details

Top Dogs

1. Katz's frank with mustard

2. Crif Dogs bacon-wrapped New York dog

3. Rutt's Hut "ripper" with mustard relish

4. F & B great dane

5. Crif Dogs vegetarian corn dog


Pedigreed Pooches

Though no one has yet invented the foie gras frank, some places have come pretty damn close. Sparky's is a former garage in Williamsburg that prides itself on looking like a garage, but it trumps other establishments by offering effete Niman Ranch franks. That's the outfit that provides beef and lamb to luxury restaurants, and its frank has boarded the Concorde and gone back to Germany. The result is a natural-skinned frank whose meaty and bland colorlessness suggests that fat has been kept to a minimum and no artificial flavors or colors were used, which might be a big mistake where hot dogs are concerned. Still, after a couple of bites, you'll be hooked, especially if you omit the homemade ketchup, which is way too sweet and annoyingly laced with cumin. Skip the smoked tofu pup, too, which has a strange, slippery interior texture.

If you can't make it to Clifton, consider dropping by Crif Dogs, the establishment that takes hot dog envy to its limit. Outside hangs an obscenely naked weenie emblazoned "Eat Me." Central to a menu that swings wildly from one crazy idea to another is the Crif dog, a beef-pork ballparker fried in emulation of Rutt's Hut, but for such a brief time that it might be called a "creaser." There's also a natural-skin New York dog, a soy frank so good it could be mistaken for meat, and a corn dog made from fresh batter rather than pulled out of the freezer case. Crif's greatest invention, though, is the bacon wrap, a rasher carefully coiled around a New York dog and deep fried to crispness. Nearby Dawgs on Park also offers a good deep-fried hot dog, and a corn dog, too. Plastered with dog photos, the decor makes you wonder what the franks are made of.

Competing with Crif for creative supremacy is F & B ("frites and beignets"), which affects a European air and mounts a menu so strange it may confound you. At last count there were nine kinds of franks, including salmon, chicken, and tofu. Theme dogs are the order of the day, with names like hot diggity dog, bare bones, and prairie dog, the latter topped with guacamole, tomato salsa, and cheddar cheese. My favorite is the great dane, a Milwaukee-style pure pork affair topped with Danish mustard, French remoulade, Middle Eastern frizzled onions, apple ketchup, and sweet cucumber pickles—a bewildering assortment. Just close your eyes and bite.

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