Ordering a veggie dog from a hot dog shack is a bit like ordering roast chicken at a seafood restaurant: Unless dietary constraints demand it, why bother? At most wiener establishments, they’re treated at best as a consolation prize and at worst as a punishment. But when Bark opened its doors in Park Slope and news spread of its $7 veggie dog, it seemed as though the bar (as well as price tag) had been raised. Crif Dogs, on the other hand, has been satisfying the East Village’s hot dog needs for years, and has undoubtedly plied many a vegan with its menu’s sole meatless option.
Although they both pay the rent selling tube steaks, Crif is to Bark what Amy Winehouse is to Sarah McLachlan: They’re both singing songs, but with drastically different lyrics. Bark is all industrial-chic earnestness, right down to the “Resources Menu” that details the local, organic, and otherwise upstanding purveyors of its ingredients. Crif is a little more succinct in its philosophy, its message embodied by the “Eat Me” sign emblazoned on the giant frank hanging above its doorstep.
So it follows that their veggie dogs are two different breeds. Crif’s costs $5 and comes smothered with diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos, as well as two packets of Gulden’s spicy mustard. Bark’s costs $7 and comes with pickled garlic mayo and a puree made of lentils, chickpeas, and roasted mushrooms.
Looks- and price-wise, Crif’s has the upper hand. The dog itself is plump, split in half and reassuringly rust-colored, and its heap of chopped vegetables gives it a festive flair. Bark’s dog, on the other hand, is — well, just look at the photo. There’s really no way to describe it without resorting to some kind of reference to a plumbing emergency or Canal Street after midnight, so let’s move along. Suffice to say, this is the stuff that a carnivore’s nightmares are made of.
But pretty is as pretty tastes. And on that count, while Bark may lose the beauty contest, it easily wins the flavor sweepstakes. As off-putting as the lentil puree appears, it’s surprisingly rich and satisfying, if a little light on the seasoning. The pickled garlic mayo, however, is possibly the most addictive thing to happen to mayonnaise since the guys at No. 7 began spiking it with balsamic vinegar; it should be sold in gallon drums or administered by IV drip.
The Pepperidge Farm bun has the sweet, warm fragrance of freshly baked bread; whether that’s the result of its inherent goodness or whatever the Pepperidge Farm lab technicians have done to it, it has a quietly intoxicating effect. The dog itself, which comes from the Seattle-based Field Roast Grain Meat Company, is fat, tender, and faintly spicy. Smeared with yellow mustard, it is, all in all, an extremely respectable veggie dog. It’s not going to tempt the meat-eating crowd away from their all-beef franks, but it will certainly make vegetarians and curious omnivores happy.
Crif’s veggie dog, on the other hand, is more show than substance. The tomatoes are pretty but pallid-tasting, and while the cucumber is refreshing on its own, it’s an awkward complement for a hot dog, veggie or otherwise. The onion is more or less non-existent, present mainly in smell. The jalapenos lend the whole affair a welcome kick in the ass, as does the Gulden’s, but it’s not enough to resuscitate the dog itself, which is dry, slightly tough, and endowed with the sawdust flavor and texture common to many a Tofu Pup. But the worst part is the bun, which, after absorbing a bit of juice, assumes the texture of wet toilet paper. It’ll fill you up, but that’s about it.
So: The veggie victory belongs to Bark.