A staple of New York City’s working-class cuisine since the 1860s, the frankfurter is a German sausage first sold by street vendors, but later disbursed from storefronts devoted to the slender, delicious links. But during the last decade, the hot dog has seemingly declined in popularity — as entities such as Gray’s Papaya, Crif Dogs, Bark, and Papaya King shuttered some or all of their locations — while such august establishments as Epicerie Boulud, nose turned up in the air, pointedly removed a remarkable foot-long from its charcuterie menu.
Despite these temporary downturns, those who love bunned wieners can breathe a sigh of relief. In the last month, two new hot dog purveyors have materialized in Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side. That these places are a bit more expensive, and come with plenty of gimmicks should come as no surprise.
World’s Wurst has to be the world’s worst restaurant name. This gigantic place had been slated to open for months, but opened its doors not long ago at the corner of Thompson and Houston in Greenwich Village. It sports multiple yellow awnings, an idle dining room in front, and an open kitchen with a very high counter in the back, in which orders are placed and picked up. A surprisingly commodious outdoor dining space on one side is outfitted with heaters, weird for what is basically a fast-food place, though it clearly doubles as a beer-drinking destination.
The menu offers nearly a dozen sausages on a variety of buns in 20 configurations. Some of the sausages are made by Vienna Beef, and a neon sign trumpeting that brand can be spotted indoors. Indeed, the Chicago red hot ($7.50) is a nearly perfect rendition of that sainted frank; it sports peppers, a pickle spear, tomato slices, mustard, onion, celery salt, bright green relish, poppy seed bun, and all. Even Shake Shack — a place with Midwestern ties (Danny Meyer is from St. Louis) — didn’t come nearly as close in knocking off this obsessively dressed frankfurter.
This Greenwich Village spot offers what is ostensibly a typical local dog with mustard, kraut, and caramelized onions, but it comes in a poppy seed bun, which is a mistake as far as I’m concerned. For your New York frank, go to Papaya Dog a few blocks away on Sixth Avenue. Much better is the improbable banh mi hot dog ($10), which deploys a bulbous and delicious smoked kielbasa (why not?) with the usual shredded pickled root vegetables, cilantro, sliced jalapenos, and Sriracha mayo. Unaccountably, the cucumber spears are missing, but this version is good enough you won’t mind.
The hot dogs stumble with the Berliner ($12.50), which puts a bland bratwurst on a pretzel bun. No, it’s not a currywurst, which is what you might expect given the city referenced. The bun fails by absorbing the juices from the onions and sauerkraut like a cheap dime-store sponge. Finally, who could resist Dos Guapos ($8.25), a pair of stunty corn dogs described as “taco style” by the exuberant menu. They come hot out of the fat immersed in slaw and are quite good, though it’s not quite clear how the taco part comes in, unless that refers to the slaw on top, which maybe makes it analogous to a Baja fish taco, but with no tortillas?
Speaking of corn dogs, a new Korean battered dog place has opened on Orchard Street near the corner of Broome. But OhK-Dog, via its enthusiastic awning, lets you know right away there’s no corn involved, which I thought was a shame due to my own early upbringing at the Minnesota and Texas state fairs, where corn dogs have a sweet, corn-bread crust.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter because the Korean dogs-on-a-stick have their own elaborate conceptual framework. The coating is made of rice flour, which cooks up crisp when deep-fried, though the corn flavor is missing. That is replaced by some curious conceptual jags, some of which worked for me and some not.
Embedding potato cubes in the batter before frying is certainly a nifty idea, eliminating the need to buy french fries separately. It also proved to be a test in dexterity as I tried to gnaw off a couple of spud cubes from the potato hot dog ($4.99) before biting into the meat. And this is only one choice from a list of 12 rice dogs, each with a different and sometimes surprising configuration; though you may want to start out with the simplest: the OhK classic ($2.99), made with a mixture of pork and beef. Or pick its fancier cousin the premium beef hot dog ($3.99), both of which are just dog, stick, and breading.
Sometimes the hot dog is replaced entirely with a long rice cake or with a particularly gooey mozzarella, while still looking like a Midwestern corn dog. I wanted to go with the most unusual flavor, at least to me, and selected the squid ink half and half ($4.49), which filled one half of the void with a hot dog, and the other half with mozzarella. The fun lies in nibbling until you reach the cheese-meat border. That the coating had been blackened with squid ink was a minor attraction, but an interesting one, since the squid ink didn’t impart a particular flavor. Visual innovation is a big part of OhK Dog’s mission.
Once you’ve selected the type of dog-on-a-stick, there are two more steps. A number of dry condiments can be sprinkled on your selection; in the case of the rice dog, it’s rolled in white sugar. Many other patrons were selecting this option, but beware: you’ll send the savory treat rocketing in a sweet direction. Then there are a number of squirt bottles containing sauces, including typical hot dog toppings like ketchup and mustard, but also gochu hot sauce and “sweet chilli” [sic]. An employee will squirt helically on the rice dog, turning the stick as she does so.
This small storefront, which offers no seating inside or out, but with an unfailingly enthusiastic staff, also serves egg toasts. One contains avocado, while the others feature the usual bacon or ham. Also on the menu are a couple of slushies, and a spicy red rice-cake stew often eaten by schoolchildren in Korea. But I’d advise you to concentrate on the weenies, especially those that look like corn dogs, but taste quite different with their rice-dough wrapper.