Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks
Tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox
love hot dogs.
Armour Hot Dog Commercial, 1960s
Advertising standards in the 1960s were quite a bit more lax than they are today. In today’s culture of American political correctness, there’s no way an earworm-inspiring jingle such as the Armour Hotdog commercial would ever see the light of day, but back then it helped sell a lot of hot dogs. Even in the 1960s, Armour’s savvy ad agency undoubtedly understood the influence children had on the family’s food consumption budget. In addition to catchy jingles designed to appeal to children, Armour’s advertising agency enticed children with prizes to be had for a monetary pittance and a coupon cut out from the back of a package of its hot dogs. Not even parents were immune from Madison Avenue’s charms. They were swayed by assurances that hot dogs were actually good for children because they were “made from lean meat” and were “protein rich.”
The 1963 United States census reported the production of 1.11 billion pounds of frankfurters and wieners, constituting thirty percent of all sausages made that year. Two years later, a study by the US Department of Agriculture revealed that the household per capita consumption of hot dogs averaged nine pounds or about 75 hot dogs per family per year, numbers consistent regardless of socioeconomic status or region. Interestingly, the world-champion gurgitator in the 1960s established a personal best of 18-1/2 hot dogs and buns in the International Hot Dog Eating Contest held at Nathan’s in Coney Island. That’s less than a third the number of hotdogs consumed by today’s gurgitator extraordinaire Joey Chessnut.
The 60s were also a time in which, for the most part, hot dogs were rather basic, lacking in imagination and flair. The most common toppings were mustard (sometimes a deli variety) and relish. Daring diners might add onions, sauerkraut or chili (not chile), hardly what you might consider gourmet ingredients. Most hot dogs were prepared in boiling water though grilling was becoming increasingly popular. Most were made from beef or pork.
The advent of “gourmet” hot dogs can largely be attributed to the desire of immigrants and their descendents to incorporate their traditional foods and ingredients into a standard hot dog. A Greek hot dog, for example, might include feta cheese, an olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes. Mexican-style hot dogs might be served in tortillas and slathered with guacamole or (and) salsa. Asian-style varieties frequently incorporate soy sauce, ginger, onions, teriyaki sauce and more. Most varieties of gourmet hot dogs develop locally and spread across the region. The best ones ultimately become national phenomena.
In 2007, my good friend Becky Mercuri published The Great American Hotdog Book, a terrific tome which takes readers on a state-by-state tour across America, introducing us to each state’s special take on this American comfort food classic (New Mexico’s contribution, by the way, was the red chile hotdog as prepared at Albuquerque’s Dog House Drive In). Becky replicated each of the fifty unique ways to prepare hot dogs in her kitchen, finding that though a hot dog may be a source of pride for its state of origin, it doesn’t always export well.
My initial impression of the gourmet hotdogs offered at Albuquerque’s Urban Hotdog Company mirrors Becky’s findings. Though most of the hotdogs will appeal to some diners, few will have a universal appeal though adventurous eaters will enjoy testing their mettle and taste buds. The menu lists more than a dozen “urban dogs” with gourmet toppings heretofore not seen in the Duke City. If you could go back in time to the 1960s and describe these hotdogs, you’d probably find yourself in a straightjacket. There’s no way those of us who are products of the 60s could have conceived of such “weirdness.”
If gourmet isn’t your style, you can also have a more “standard” hotdog, ranging from the “starter” made with your choice of mustard, ketchup, onion and relish to a Chicago Dog, described as it would be in the Windy City: “dragged through the garden.” The menu earns extra props from me by acknowledging its New Mexico adorned hot dog as “Real Chile,” made with white Cheddar cheese, green chile, tomato and onions. Alas, a grammatical faux pas is committed in that the “Other Chile” hotdog isn’t spelled “chili” even though the menu describes it as “East coast style chile.”
Each hotdog is made to order in a semi exhibition kitchen though most diners probably won’t stand behind the counter to observe the process. Instead, most of us take the little three-by-five cards handed to us when we placed our orders and which are inscribed with the name of some city (Dallas, for example) to our table and place it in the card slot atop the napkin holder. Expect to wait ten to fifteen minutes for your order to be ready. That’s on top of the time you spend in line as diners ahead of you peruse the menu carefully (and painfully slowly if you’re hungry) before placing their orders.
The Urban Hotdog Company has the look and feel of a sophisticated chain, but it is definitely and proudly local, procuring as many products locally as possible. The corner space housing the restaurant is bright and airy courtesy of unobstructed sunlight filtering in from the east. It’s open seating is more utilitarian than it is comfortable. Large plastic menus are on display next to the counter where you place your order and there are also paper menus available for your perusal. Your order is taken on an iPad configured with a point of sale software system. An “expediter” stands watch over the kitchen to make sure all orders are comprehended and delivered accurately. The self-serve beverage dispenser is in a small room adjacent to the open dining room.
With my predilection for the “strangest” or most unique items on any restaurant menu, my inaugural visit proved a fun culinary adventure as well as a challenge. How, after all, do you determine the strangest, most unique item on a menu replete with unique and different items? The “tamest” of the four hotdogs I split with my Kim was the Crunchy Onion Hotdog crafted with fresh-fried Ancho chile dusted onion strings with the restaurant’s signature chipotle mayo. Texturally the crunchy onions are a success, but neither the Ancho chile nor the chipotle mayo packed much discernible punch and were overwhelmed by the thick hot dog itself, a salty, garlicky and thick wiener with a lot of flavor. The buns, made locally by Pastian’s Bakery, are soft and pliable, but substantial enough to hold in the copious ingredients of some hot dog creations.
The Curry Urban Dog is a vegetarian delight, but it’s not a hotdog. If you order it as it’s described on the menu, it’s made with marinated tofu grilled and served with green curry vegetables, chopped peanuts and cilantro on a poppy seed bun. I made the mistake of ordering it hotdog style, effectively rendering the wonderful green curry vegetables anemic because of the overwhelming hotdog. The green curry, chopped peanuts and cilantro are very much reminiscent of Thai curry dishes without a pronounced coconut milk flavor. Marinated tofu is actually an excellent vehicle for these ingredients as tofu tends to inherit the flavor properties of ingredients around it. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa for not having ordered the Curry as it’s designed.
We had hopes the Le Bleu (fried hot dog wrapped in bacon and covered with sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese and thyme) would rekindle memories of the Sonoran hotdogs we enjoyed so much in Tucson. It didn’t, but this hotdog is a standout on its own. The sharp, pungent blue cheese is a perfect foil for the garlicky hotdog while the sauteed mushrooms play a deliciously complementary role. This is the one hotdog in which the wiener itself didn’t dominate the flavor profile. The Tiger (housemade Asian slaw, spicy dried peas and fresh pea shoots on a poppy seed bun) is more tame than it is wild courtesy of a relatively anemic Asian slaw. Many Asian slaws utilize ginger, rice wine vinegar and citrus to add tartness and personality. This Tiger could have used a more Asian-like slaw.
The menu calls its sides “bells and whistles,” a term which somehow makes sense. Bells and whistles include five types of French fries (plain and simple; rosemary-garlic; chile con queso; “the other chile,” cheese and onion; and blue cheese, chives and truffle oil). The fries are somewhat flaccid, fairly typical of most out-of-the-bag fries. The housemade baked beans had a nice flavor, but weren’t baked long enough.
In the 1960s and in the new millennium, there’s no doubt all kinds of kids love hotdogs. Most of them will find at least one hotdog to love on the Urban Hotdog Company menu. Edward Sung did and he wrote about it in his inimitable fashion on one of my very favorite food blogs in New Mexico, Once Again We Have Eaten Well. It’s a great read!
Urban Hotdog Company
10250 Cottonwood Park NW Suite 400H
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 9 October 2012
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Le Bleu, The Crunchy Onion, The Tiger, The Curry