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How much did you say you paid for that hot dog?
We’ve been sitting on the edge of our seats for the last three years, wondering about the effect of the economic downturn on the restaurant industry. But, as anyone who reads Eater knows, the number of big-ticket restaurant openings continues to outstrip the closings. How can this be?
But a more careful scanning of Eater reveals that a sea-change of another sort has been taking place simultaneously. The cynics among us might characterize it as a “bait-and-switch” operation: Gradually, restaurants that get noticed in print and in blogs have changed their focus from full-course meals with all the accoutrements, to more fast-food-style, single plate meals. We are currently being bombarded with coverage of hamburgers, pizzas, hot dogs, and sandwiches–things that, five years ago, were below the notice of most gourmands.
Restaurateurs like Danny Meyer and Daniel Boulud were early birds when it came to the phenomenon, but the idea that Keith McNally would jump into the pizza business with both feet was an idea that would have provoked laughter just five years ago. Or that newfangled pizzerias would be spoken of with as much respect as temples of haute cuisine once were. Places like Bark, a Park Slope hot doggery, can hold their heads up high, and buy into all the current food obsessions – including local sourcing, organic ingredients, going green, and homemade condiments – while only serving hot dogs.
Of course, all these newly reconfigured plebian treats come with a hefty price tag that often represents double, triple, or even quadruple of what we used to pay for nearly the same thing. Buy two hot dogs from one of the fast-disappearing Sabrett carts, and your meal costs less than $5. Step into Bark or Crif Dogs, and you’re likely to walk away $20 or $30 poorer.
The deluge of pizzas is the most profound example. Two slices and a Coke used to be the working person’s lunch. Now you can drop $50 or more at Pulino or Co., for pizzas that demonstrably use a smaller quantity of ingredients, though often of superior quality. Still, what’s a place like Keste really selling you? A small knob of dough, a squirt of tomato sauce, and, if you’re lucky, some cheese that came out of the ass of a faraway buffalo. And not the kind on the nickel, either.
The glamorization of what used to be the substratum of the restaurant industry, and the escalation of prices for what were once working-class food, is the true blowback of the economic downturn. And we’ve swallowed it hook, line, and sausage.