With one fell swoop and with little fanfare, Claus Meyer debuted three components of his Danish dining empire on the main floor of Grand Central Terminal a few days ago. As if throwing down the gauntlet to the other food businesses in the station, it sits at the top of a stone ramp that originates in the downstairs food court, sweeps past the Oyster Bar, and then on up to his Scandinavian hilltop aerie. The restaurant and bar – Agern ("acorn"), nearly devoid of exterior signage – is open only for dinner now, but will soon be serving lunch, as the greeter noted when I stepped up the small flight of steps to have a look.
Next to Agern is Danish Dogs (not to be confused with Bowie’s Diamond Dogs), a window dispensing four types of sausages in buns, elaborately topped, for $7 to $8. Just beyond that is a combination bakery and coffee shop, where breakfast sandwiches containing things like Havarti, smoked salmon, cream cheese, dillweed, and Scandinavian jams are dispensed, along with strong coffee. A selection of lunch sandwiches and cold composed salads are also available. A man stood outside passing out samples of chocolate muffins. They weren’t very sweet and tasted very Danish. Bravo!
It was to the hot dog window that I first turned, intent on sampling all four varieties, while wondering if New Yorkers were willing to pay as much as $8 for a dog on the run. Heck, how would you even balance the thing while standing up and chewing, and not precipitate the toppings to the floor and all over your clothes? The crew behind the counter were jocular, and quickly and efficiently assembled my order. Yet I couldn’t help noticing that few customers were buying.
The franks are all approximately 7 inches in length and ¾ inches in diameter. All are made in-house, and the sausages are grilled on a flat-top griddle until lightly browned, and the buns warmed in a vertical toasting contraption. The sausages are of unassertive flavor, so most of the taste comes from the toppings. Here are my tasting notes:
Hen Hound (chicken sausage, tarragon mayo, apple-horseradish ketchup, green tomato relish, white cabbage, and cress) — There’s something powdery on top, like Thanksgiving turkey dressing. The sausage tastes and looks like a skinny bratwurst, it could use a good smoking. Best of all among the condiments was the green tomato relish, which had a nice crunch and a hint of sweetness.
Gravhund (beef sausage, red cabbage, beet remoulade, lingonberry preserve, crispy shallots, and pickled onion) — more coarse-textured than a hot dog, this sausage also failed to make much of an impression. The toppings achieved a rather alarming red color, but the remoulade and pickled pink onions, in particular, managed to work in harmony, and the fried shallots looked pretty on top, along with some purple clovers. This is perhaps the world’s most effete hot dog.
Kvik (pork sausage, pickled turnips, mustard mayo, white onion, puffed pork skin, and cress) — How did the pig skin get so white? And how did all the toppings manage to resolve themselves into a squishy white mass nearly devoid of flavor? The sausage, too, is unyielding and rubbery. Still, as a failed experiment in taste and texture, this heap of ingredients holds some interest.
Great Dane (beef and pork hot dog, spiced ketchup, remoulade, mustard, white onion, pickled cucumber, and crispy shallots) — With a little bit of spicy zip to the forcemeat, this sausage comes closest to being like an American hot dog, and at $7, it’s priced a dollar less to prove it. Nevertheless, the flavor comes closer to a Vienna sausage. The toppings work together, except for the ketchup, which could be lost with no detriment to the entire assemblage. Why are Danes so in love with ketchup? Don’t they know we only put it on our fries?
Conclusions: Claus Meyer is taking a big chance with this hot dog stand. Will New Yorkers pay $8 for an overdressed frank? The sausages themselves don’t really shine, just the same way that if you go to a celebrity butcher shop, the steaks and chops will be great but the sausages tend to suck — overly creative, rubbery, and with odd additions to the stuffings. By the same token, too much thought has gone into the toppings at Danish Dogs. Must every dog, bun, and topping be a compendium of Danish culinary tropes? Why not just, say, green tomato relish and mustard? On a plumper sausage? Priced around $4? Now, that’s something I could get behind.
Sausages worth trying: Gravhund and Great Dane