If you are of Canadian stock (maybe even American), and of the 70s-80s wonder years, you probably have a soft spot for the highly anticipated “Hot Dog Days” of yore. It was the brightest highlight of my elementary school years next to Blue Baby séances held in the dark of the change room after phys-ed.
This I remember as clear as my grade three complexion: pillowy steamed buns (sometimes overly steamed), boiled wieners that hung out the bun ends, and the staple condiments that invariably ended up on 20 out of 30 t-shirts and laps– mustard as bright as the sun, generic ketchup and green relish (which received the same sneer as caviar, Dijon or Brussel sprouts might from those under 10).
I also recall the awe and envy as teachers called out the confirmation numbers of how many hot dogs we would like to order (what were they? Twenty-five cents? ). Jeff Kellam and Corey Roberts always ordered three. Three hotdogs! Imagine! They were no epicurean delight, but there was an unmatchable thrill found in the anticipation for Hot Dog Day. It was an event!
I recently read Jann Arden’s memoir Falling Backwards and was nearly falling backwards out of my club chair as I read about her hot dog episode in grade school.
“I unscrewed the top of my Thermos and couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. I could see a beige bubble looking out at me. I poked at it with my finger and it hardly moved. What was it? I got out my pencil and stabbed at the thing, still not knowing what to make of what was in there. It turned out the wiener had absorbed all the water and had expanded into every possible bit of space in the Thermos. I had to pull out the wiener piece by piece with my pencil and put the pieces into my bun. My mom swears to this day she never put a wiener into my Thermos.”
My mother tried to recreate the same Hot Dog Day experience by sending us to school with surprise hot dogs packed in Thermoses. Once. Although, unlike Jann’s mom who wrapped the bun separately, my mom put the whole enchilada (errr, the whole hot dog, although I’m sure the same result would have happened with an enchilada) into the Thermos. The bun was like wet oatmeal, falling off the bloated wiener in big damp dough clumps with every bite.
Until now, it seems as though hot dogs were banished to those nostalgic grade school days where the entire school smelled like a woodsy armpit for three days after boiling 500 wieners. A lot of childhood birthday parties showcased hot dogs (and even worse, money cakes, but that’s another story), and were the backyard barbeque option for kids who couldn’t possibly eat an entire grown-up friendly burger.
In the Annex, there are always three or four whippet-thin students queued up for dogs and split sausages, regardless of the hour. For the rest of us non-students, “street meat” seems to be reserved for anytime after 2 am when a veggie dog or Bratwurst acts as the Hangover Helper sponge for the student-style drinking that took place earlier in the night.
And now? Hot dogs are the new black. They have pushed out all those annoying “deconstructed” things, the downtown burrito war, pulled pork poutine and cutesy Angus beef sliders with three pretentious condiment treatments.
The Grid’s Food Spy just dished it today in “Who let the dogs out?” Ironically, pre-Grid pick-up, I stopped for a Fusia Dog (65 Duncan Street) on my way home. It’s been on my must-have list for a good two months, when I first heard that Dinah Koo was opening up her wiener wonderland on Duncan, just south of Queen in the Crumbs column of The Grid.
Karon Liu (Food Spy) gave a 5 Wiener Dog rating to Fusia. This is serious! Other contenders were Umi Sushi Express who “pimp their franks with teriyaki sauce, sautéed onions and bonito flakes”—dried, fermented skipjack tuna flakes–mmmmm). Little Dog’s Montreal steamies on College were sent to the dog house with the hot dog stands. The Stockyards (699 St.Clair Ave) gained momentum with pork crackling and pimento cheese “accessories.” And, the Real Sports Bar earned 4 Wiener Dogs for Brian Burke’s (Leafs GM) $13 heart-defibrillating poutine-sunk franks.
Fusia Dog is the latest light bulb of Dinah Koo (of Dinah’s Cupboard fame in Yorkville). Her knives have been thrown in many directions—as manager of Ace Bakery and a duet with Pie Pastry Princess Wanda Beaver at Wanda’s In the Kitchen. There was also her Tiger Lily Noodle House/Cafe venture on Queen West (a successful 10 year notch) and her springboard: catering to the swishy set in Rosedale in Forest Hill.
When I visited Fusia Dog today, both smiley staff insisted that because it was my first time, I should order the standard “Fusia Dog.” Topped with carrot daikon slaw, cilantro, sinus-searing wasabi mayo and kimchi, the beef (or chicken) wiener found its best marriage in the Indian paratha flatbread it was wrapped in. For $6.95 it has a sneaky spicy kapow and the flatbread doesn’t hog the flavour. It makes me want to have Hot Dog Day every week.
The Crisp Creamy dog will be my next visit pick. With dill pickles, cream cheese, scallions and fried pork belly, it’s already a shoo-in for me. Third visit? The Boston with baked beans, crispy bacon, fried onions and cheddar. Note to self: add extra kilometre to daily run.
Japadog in Vancouver, BC is credited with kicking off the upscale hot dog race years ago. Their motto? “Making the world happy and alive through hotdogs.” Mustard and ketchup were kicked to the Burrard street curb in favour of wasabi, edamame, kimchi, miso and radish. The website menu descriptions offer a small roar:
“The Love Meat”
Luxurious melted cheese dish of meat sauce over crowded in a long time. This menu and grow rich taste of cheese is a popular source ranging from an adult child.
The signature dish fried pork exciting taste wrapped in a carefully selected clothing. Involving a popular hot dog sauce cabbage and cut thin.
Generously with sauce ultra-deep, and flavorful dish. Acidity of the sour flavor of Kraft and fried green laver, to further deepen the depth of flavor.
Japadog has also created a hot dog inspired desert called “Age Ice” (lost in translation I presume, with the cheese that appears to be sourced from an adult child). It consists of fried bread with melted ice cream (vanilla, black sesame, mango or strawberry). Does it get any better?
Where are we heading next? If we can buy cake on a lollipop stick (Starbucks wedding cake pops), macaroni and cheese sushi (“mock-i roll sushi”), duck poutine pizza, bacon marmalade and cornmeal muffins with entire hard-boiled eggs inside them—what next?
Better go for a dog walk today before hot dogs lose their Toronto de rigeur.
Japadog Vancouver (and now NY!): http://www.japadog.com/menu.html
Fusia Dog: http://fusiadog.com/
Make your own mock-i rolls: http://www.thefoodinmybeard.com/2009/04/macaroni-and-cheese-mock-i-rolls.html