When I was a kid in Minneapolis, corn dogs loomed large. They were available only once a year at the Minnesota State Fair and considered one of its main attractions. Called “pronto pups,” these were hot dogs on a stick dipped in a sweet batter heavy with corn meal and deep fried to a golden brown. Later, when my family moved to Dallas, a similar product touted at the Texas State Fair was called “corny dogs.” Indeed, it’s a product with national presence — the places claiming to have originated the corn dog are legion. Portland, Oregon; Muskogee, Oklahoma; Springfield, Illinois; and Dallas, Texas are all cities that make credible claims. Corn dogs were first sold on Coney Island in 1947, and you can still get them there.
Despite their association with Brooklyn beaches, good corn dogs are hard to come by in the city. Imitators of the Papaya King chain often use shorter hot dogs made of chicken, which are not only unsatisfyingly small, but pale inside and nearly devoid of flavor. Predictably, restaurants more upscale than a hot dog stand have played with the format, making versions out of seafood, or wrapping them in waffles instead of cornmeal batter. Shake Shack even tried its hand, and failed miserably.
But now corn dogs seem poised to make a major reappearance here, this time from Korea, where they have been a major street food fad in adapted form. A storefront has been in renovation on 32nd Street for months, reportedly being prepared for our own branch of ChungChun Hot Dog, a popular Korean chain. And a Murray Hill, Queens Korean restaurant specializing in fried foods, the Basac, also turns out corn dogs. Now, twin branches of Snowy Village have appeared near Times Square and at Gansevoort Market in the Meatpacking District, with corn dogs a major part of the menu only at the Uptown branch.
In the last couple of years, this worldwide Korean chain has had a major expansion in North America, with branches in Seattle, Houston, Austin, and Richmond, British Columbia. The Times Square store sits at 681 Eighth Ave., between 43rd and 44th streets, in Hell’s Kitchen. Its prime specialty is bing soo, a shaved milk ice inundated with sweet toppings, but the place also sells toasted sandwiches with names like Mr. Egg and avo holic, stuffed croissants, matcha and coffee. Corn dogs come in an admirable nine permutations, priced from $3.50 to $5.50.
As Koreans had previously done with fried chicken, the corn dog has been extensively revamped, so that it takes an employee working concertedly behind the counter 10 minutes or so to prepare one. A frank is first skewered, then wrapped in a dough that has to be hand patted onto the weenie. The dough is thick, like pizza dough, and doesn’t seem to contain any cornmeal, alas. It makes the Korean corn dog more of a hand-held, savory, cylindrical pie.
Finally, the dog is coated in bread crumbs — and optional potato cubes — and deep fried. Potato cubes? Yes, this is one of the admirable innovations. Unfortunately, this constitutes the most perilous step, because if the frying oil is not exactly the right temperature, the cubes fall off. But we’re not done yet! Once the cooking process is completed, it’s up to you to carry your corn dog over to the condiment counter and apply any of several sauces: mustard, mayo, ketchup, and chile sauce among them. Incredibly, there’s also an option to roll the corn dog in white sugar.
Besides the potato option, some corn dogs also contain cheddar cheese (more like Cheez Whiz), mozzarella, or a combination thereof between the dog and the batter, which melts and oozes when you bite into it. (If this sounds over-the-top, consider the other Korean corn dog options out there.) I recommend you try option No. 1, which is a plain dog inside dough, wherein the snap of the flavorsome hot dog is ably showcased, or option No. 7, yellow cheese inside and potatoes outside. The potatoes with the oozing cheese somehow makes the whole thing taste creamier.
I couldn’t bring myself to roll the entire corn dog in sugar, though I tried it on a corner. Too damn sweet!
Yes, Snowy Village’s Korean corn dog is certainly one of the most fussed over corn dogs in the world, but does that make it better? Well, not really, but corn dog aficionados will want to run over and give Snowy Village’s a try. And I dare you to eat two.