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 descendants 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 dear 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. As validated in Albuquerque The Magazine‘s “Best of the City” several years running, Duke City diners love these hot dogs, naming them Albuquerque’s best. 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 straitjacket. 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, when Urban Hot Dog first launch it committed a grammatical faux pas in that the “Other Chile” hotdog wasn’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.
9 October 2012: 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.
9 October 2012: The Curry UrbanDog 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.
9 October 2012: 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.
13 December 2013: One of the potential pitfalls of gourmet hot dogs is “too much of a good thing,” as in too many ingredients competing for your attention, especially when some of those ingredients mask the flavors of others. That may be the case with the Chorizo hot dog (spicy mayo, pineapple & pepper salsa and cilantro) in which the spicy mayo pretty much obfuscated the flavor of the chorizo. The occasional sneak-in of chopped pineapple is a nice foil to a flavor profile that is primarily piquant.
13 December 2013: More complimentary are the ingredients on the “Real Chile” hot dog (white Cheddar cheese, green chile, tomato, onions and chopped bacon) and that’s not just because green chile makes everything else around it taste better. The green chile has a pleasant piquancy, more kick than entrees at far too many New Mexican ingredients. The chopped tomatoes and onions are a natural pairing with the chile, a sort of pico de gallo. Then there’s the bacon, which like green chile, seems to pair well with everything.
13 December 2013: The menu calls its sides “the extras,” a term which makes sense. Extras 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). These fries are of the stiff variety with a crispy exterior sheathing soft, tender “innards.” They’re definitely not flaccid, nor are they boring. My Kim’s favorite are those in which blue cheese, chives and truffle oil are featured. Truffle oil is too strong, musky and earthy, but it also has a bit of a “chemical” flavor…at least in my estimation. It is, after all, artificially produced.
2 December 2017: Our very favorite of Urban Hot Dog’s offerings is the Banh Mi which, true to its name, is fashioned after the very popular Vietnamese sandwich. Indeed, it’s constructed from many of the same ingredients used on the sandwich: shredded carrots, daikon radishes, red onion, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeño. These ingredients are so good together, they make the relative minimalist use of meats on banh mi a non-event. The banh mi is constructed on a poppy seed bun instead of the popular Vietnamese baguette. Sriracha mayo is the crowning ingredient, imparting heat and moistness. This is an excellent hot dog!
2 December 2017: We didn’t enjoy the Chicago Hot Dog nearly as much chiefly because it wasn’t made with a Vienna Beef hot dog. Virtually all Windy City area denizens will tell you it’s not a real Chicago hot dog without Vienna Beef and I’m inclined to agree. Nathan’s hot dogs are just too darn garlicky. So just what is a Chicago Hot Dog and why is it often referred to as “dragged through the garden?” Here’s what the Vienna Beef Web site has to say: Vienna Beef hot dog, nestle it in a steamed poppyseed bun, and cover it with a wonderful combination of toppings: yellow mustard, bright green relish, fresh chopped onions, juicy red tomato wedges, a kosher-style pickle spear, a couple of spicy sport peppers and finally, a dash of celery salt.
2 December 2017: The Urban Hot Dog Company constructs several of its hot dogs with ingredients used on namesake sandwiches. Take, for example, the Havana, an obvious take on the famous Cubano sandwich. Picture a pork sausage, split, grilled and filled with Swiss cheese then topped with warm, thinly-sliced black forest ham, a dill pickle spear and loaded into a grilled bun. It’s dressed with a touch of raspberry jam and spicy brown mustard. We were surprised at how well the unconventional liberties worked together though it’s hard to say whether or not a native Cuban might enjoy it.
22 April 2020: The Great American Hotdog Book gave aficionados a state-by-state guided tour of just how the fruited plain’s multi-cultural society has influenced and exploited the limitless potential of the humble hotdog. Urban Hotdog’s menu offers several of the hotdogs showcased in Becky’s terrific tome while continuing to reinforce that there’s no end to inventiveness and creativity. Instead, for example, of offering New Jersey’s Italian hot dog the way it’s made in Newark–deep-fried, all-beef, skinless frank served on half of a circular pizza bread garnished with onions, red and green peppers and thin, crispy, deep-fried potatoes–Urban Hotdog’s take on an Italian hot dog is deliciously different while holding true to American Italian traditions.
Rather than a conventional all-beef frank, Urban Hotdog’s The Italian is made with Italian sausage topped with house-made Pomodoro sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil served in a hoagie roll. It’s reminiscent of so many Italian sausage sandwiches anyone has had who’s lived on the East Coast. Add red and green peppers and it might also remind you of the ubiquitous sausage and peppers sandwiches served in the Midwest. Urban Hotdog’s sausage is of medium coarseness and has a discernible heat. Though there is no one standard recipe for Italian sausage–many are made with garlic, red pepper flakes and fennel or anise seeds–the most prominent seasonings on Urban Hotdog’s sausage were definitely red pepper flakes and garlic. It’s a wonderful foil for the pomodoro sauce (literally Italian for tomato) and creamy mozzarella.
22 April 2020: Before American gurgitator Joey Chestnut earned acclaim as “the world’s greatest eater, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest was dominated by Takeru Kobyashi. Kobayashi, a 5-foot-8-inch stringbean won the July 4th competition five years in a row, solidifying his standing as king of the eating world. It would be easy to assume that Chestnut had an advantage over his Japanese opponent. After all, Chestnut grew up in the land of baseball, apple pie and hotdogs.
That’s not to say hotdogs haven’t infiltrated Japanese culture. Megaliths such as Nathan’s and even Portillo’s have a significant presence in the Land of the Rising Sun, but certainly not to the extent that some Japanese foods have caught on across the fruited plain. If all Japanese hotdogs tasted as great as Urban Hotdog’s Japanese inspired Rising Sun (Wasabi mayo, teriyaki sauce, shredded daikon radishes and carrots, pickled ginger and seaweed), I would consider moving to Japan. Seriously, this is a superb hotdog, maybe the best Urban Hotdog has to offer. Should Nathan’s replace its current competitive bun and frank hot dog with this one, not even Joey Chestnut would consider devouring them like the Tasmanian Devil. These are hot dogs you indulge in slowly.
22 April 2020: It sometimes seems as if hotdogs are an after-thought for burger joints. Similarly, hotdog vendors don’t usually offer blow-you-away burgers. When we espied “sliders” on Urban Hotdog’s menu, we were skeptical. Why, we wondered, would New Mexico’s premier purveyor of tube steak venture outside its comfort zone and offer burgers…and if offering burgers, why sliders. No ordinary sliders are these we quickly discovered. These are 100% Angus beef sliders with blue cheese crumbles, caramelized onions, and sautéed mushrooms and they’re superb. We especially enjoyed the sweet, soft buns so reminiscent of Hawaiian buns.
In 2013, Conde Naste Traveler published an article titled “The United States of Outrageous Hot Dogs” showcasing “14 of the most unusual frank-based offerings from around the country.” Featured among the fourteen dogs was Urban Hotdog’s Caprese dog (split, grilled pork beer bratwurst is loaded with fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, balsamic reduction, olive oil drizzle, and cracked pepper and served up on a toasty bun). A couple years later, lovefood.com, a London-based site named Urban Hotdog “the best hotdog joint in New Mexico.” Honors and accolades continue to pile up for this terrific purveyor of one of those foods that best defines America.
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
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 April 2020
1st VISIT: 9 October 2012
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Le Bleu, The Crunchy Onion, The Tiger, The Curry, The Real Chile, Banh Mi, Havana, Chicago Hot Dog, The Italian, Rising Sun, Sliders