Location:2911 Glenmore Ave., Dormont. 412-343-0234
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Fare: Hot dogs with gourmet toppings
Atmosphere: Tubesteak café
Smoking: None permitted
The humble hot dog seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance, and not just at the ballpark. Though Downtown's beloved Yovi's Taste of Chicago closed a couple years back, the revival of Station Street, in East Liberty, the advent of hot-dog carts Downtown, in Shadyside and elsewhere, and various shops in the suburbs herald good times for America's beloved tubesteak.
Located just off the Potomac Avenue drag, Dormont Dogs occupies a small storefront with a ketchup, mustard and relish paint scheme. This is no mere hot-dog vendor, however, but an actual hot-dog restaurant, with all the ambition that implies. Run by Captain Barnes, the former executive chef of the decidedly upscale Sonoma Grill, Dormont Dogs' emphasis is on top-quality frankfurters, local bakery buns and fresh, beautiful toppings, many made in house.
Most dogs are named after borough streets, and preparations range from the classic chili dog to a variety of innovative dressings. For example, the Texas Avenue Dog is topped with chili sauce, cheddar, sour cream and Fritos; the Bruschetta Dog, with marinated tomatoes, pesto and parmesan; and The Dog Father is spiced up with pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, romaine, banana peppers and Italian vinaigrette. There are a few non-wiener items on the menu, including soups, and any style can be made with a veggie dog.
With so many interesting choices, we were happy that the dogs weren't jumbo: no foot-long option, nor too-fat quarter-pounders. Instead, Barnes' fine-dining experience shows in the attractive presentations and well-proportioned combinations. Even a traditionally messy dog, like a Chicago-style, doesn't fall apart halfway through. Jason confirmed that, ordering the Illinois Avenue, which is brazenly unorthodox: no poppy-seed bun (Dormont Dogs sources all its buns from Kribel's, in Brookline), no Vienna-brand dog (the house brand is the venerable Sabrett's) and no sport peppers (Chicago's odd, miniature contribution to the world of capsaicin). Yet the sandwich is utterly true to the Second City spirit, sprinkled with poppy seeds, topped with diced tomatoes and carefully placed rings of jalapeno. Close your eyes, and you'll think you're in Chicago.
Jason also tried a Reuben Dog, one of his favorite styles, and not a common one. Dormont delivered. Topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, it can be a recipe for a mess, but with Dormont Dogs' typically thoughtful portioning of the toppings, everything stayed contained on the bun. There was a lot of kraut, but its flavor was mild and the texture not too wet, so it held up well: another good example of attention to detail.
Angelique considered the Wisconsin Avenue Dog, with its luscious-sounding four-cheese topping of Swiss, pepper jack, cheddar and provolone, but ended up getting the Arkansas Avenue, topped with cheddar, crumbled bacon, scallions and horseradish sauce. Unlike many multi-dressed dogs elsewhere, whose "toppings" end up instead "clumped to one side," the Arkansas Avenue's were artfully arrayed on top. Visually, it was almost a shame to bite into this dog, but the taste -- meaty, creamy, salty and zingy -- was addictive, and it was gone in no time. The only question was, should she order another?
Instead, we sampled a couple of side dishes -- baked beans and potato salad -- and one non-dog item, the Bo Bo, a pizza made on an open-faced bun. The latter was unremarkable, although it highlighted the benefits of a real bakery bun; Jason can attest that the kind that come eight to a pack don't hold up so well to this treatment. The beans were Boston-style, but not too sweet, which helped them complement the sophisticated flavors of the dogs. The potato salad, flavored with caraway seeds and pickle juice, was pleasantly creamy and chunky.
Hot dogs don't get enough gastronomic respect. Since nobody makes them in-house, they are all too often treated as a mere commodity, to be boiled or grilled and slapped indifferently on a bun. Kudos to Captain Barnes, and his wife and co-restaurateur Rachel Dudley, for recognizing that a good frankfurter on a good bun is a worthy palette for culinary craft -- and even creativity.