By Eli Samuel Johnson for CityBeat
All great artists struggle to create something new, something original. And so the biggest fear for artists is stumbling over themselves while attempting to come up with the next big thing. Chefs are no exception to this rule.
For Adam Easterling and Jim Thompson, the solution is simple — just make the best things better. That's why these two have opened The Good Dog and Tot Dogs, respectively.
Serving up hot dogs with flair, both places are following in the footsteps of Food & Wine's Great Lakes Region's Best Chef of 2012, Daniel Wright of Senate, Cincinnati's first haute hot dog restaurant. Like Wright, Easterling and Thompson take street food to the table. But unlike Senate, which also boasts an expansive beer and wine list, The Good Dog and Tot Dogs are serving up these dogs in a no-frills fashion.
Of the two, The Good Dog has more options and, furthermore, dogs that delve into areas that the hot dog has never gone before. All of the good dogs are 100 percent beef, weighing in at a half pound and locally sourced from Avril-Bleh & Sons Meat Market.
The Conquistador ($5), like all of Good Dog's dogs, is huge and served in a big blanket of a bun. This Spanish-influenced dog is topped with black bean and corn salsa, sour cream, lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese and fried tortilla strips. But this isn't just an average Spanish chilidog. The salsa is the standout, slightly spicy and rich from the beans. Add in the crunch from the tortilla crisps and this is unlike any dog I've ever had.
Next on deck for me was the Ballpark Dog ($5), with ketchup, yellow mustard, diced white onion and relish.
The most classic of all the offerings, this one really lets the all-beef dog sing behind the sweetness of the relish.
The Southern Dandy ($5) was truly a delight, with mustard BBQ, horseradish slaw and fried onion. It all melds perfectly to make this Northeast treat and southern spectacle.
All of the Good Dog dogs are served with coleslaw, Asian slaw or chips. The slaw doesn't really stand out and could use a bit of seasoning, but overall the Good Dog is really dishing out great dogs.
Tot Dogs has more limited options, much like its sister restaurant, Lucy Blue Pizza. The pizza parlor has become famous as a late-night pit stop for bar hoppers; Tot Dogs is open during lunch hours only.
Taking a step in the other direction by serving a variety of dogs instead of wild toppings like The Good Dog, Tot Dogs is hoping to take hot dogs to the next level with options such as turkey dogs and Andouille sausage. Tot Dogs also has a selection of toppings for their dogs, but the burden of choosing and mixing them lies with the customer. From Muffaletta and blackberry mustard to roasted red peppers and chili and cheese, guests can go crazy or play it safe when building their own dog.
Tot Dogs won't be on a tight leash for long, as owner Jim Thompson assured me the daily "Best in Show" dogs will soon be on the regular menu. This means specials like the Reuben (all beef and Swiss sausage topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and thousand island dressing) or the apple chardonnay chicken sausage, honey curry mayonnaise and cheddar cheese will soon gain a permanent spot.
Tot Dogs doesn't have any seating and the space can be cramped if they're busy, but the service is friendly enough. After a few minutes of banter with the owner, my friend and I got our food and walked a few blocks over to the park, a great seating arrangement on a nice day. My special, the apple chardonnay chicken sausage ($6.50), was sweet and delicious, while the hot mett ($4) with chili ($.50) and cheese ($.50) was spicy and savory. As far as sides go, the German potato salad ($.75) was mushy and lacked flavor and the baked beans had the flavor of a Hudepohl lager. (Interesting, but not as good as it sounds.) My cohort's Andouille sausage ($4) was piquant and smoky.
Both of these eateries are focused on dishing out tasty hot dogs, and they both do. In fact, really good hot dogs. My only hope is that they refocus some of their energy on the sides. Both owners have suggested their summer hours will extend into dinner service, which will certainly draw a happy hour crowd, and, honestly, there's no bad time for a good dog.
GO: 634 Vine St., Downtown
HOURS: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday
THE GOOD DOG
GO: 633 Main St., Downtown
HOURS: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday and Friday
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