Man Bites Dogs -- A Case for D.C.'s Meats

The sea of flag-waving tourists flooding the National Mall has (thankfully) receded. And the cacophony of thunderous pyrotechnics that traumatized skittish pets for miles around is fast becoming a distant memory.

But just because the Fourth is officially behind us once again doesn’t mean we must abandon our God-given right to scarf down hot dogs all summer long.

If enjoying the most intriguing encased meats This Town has to offer sounds utterly appealing, may we strongly suggest wrapping your lips around these specialty bites — listed from most to least mouthwatering — in short order.

Red Apron Butchery

This hired mouth first became acquainted with chef Nathan Anda’s meaty ambitions during his early days at EatBar in Arlington, Va. When he rolled out his experimental food cart, Frank, in Old Town Alexandria several years later, I happily stood in the baking sun for a shot at devouring freshly grilled, house-made sausages smothered in tangy braised cabbage, hearty beef brisket and rich cheddar cheese sauce.

Red Apron now feeds Anda’s need to play with his meat — with the (newish) Penn Quarter branch shouldering the gourmet dog-serving load for the budding family of local markets/eateries.

The Penn Quarter Porker continues the tradition established way back when, summoning a cheese-filled frank piled high with braised onions studded with lusty bacon bits. But we were most excited to encounter the Viet Franc, a Far East treat featuring a rainbow colored, pickled vegetable-powered slaw that packs funky freshness into every bite and the most divinely buttery, grilled bun in the game.

Multiple D.C. metro locations; redapronbutchery.com

Average entree: less than $12 ($). Check locations for times.

Bar Pilar

“That thing is f---ing delicious,” an old pal proclaimed upon spotting Pilar’s jaw-dropping half-smoke being shepherded my way.

Executive Chef Jesse Miller, who also happens to oversee the kitchen at neighboring Café Saint-Ex, said the signature sausage has been a labor of love. Per Miller, fellow toque Justin Bittner, who currently tends the burners at 8407 Kitchen Bar in Silver Spring, Md., had been tinkering with the recipe for some while, but hadn’t quite nailed it. “The spices were way too intense,” Miller said of the short-lived meatpacking project.

Once he took control at Pilar, Miller made it a priority to resurrect the sausage works, recruiting Sous Chef John Burley to help him compose a next generation half-smoke.

The end product seems well worth the effort.

Each oversized link proudly bears the scars of a roll around a fiery grill, the skin slightly blistered and crisscrossed with grate marks. The underlying marriage of beef and pork bears loads of spice and the surrounding bacon jam adds a savory-sweet spark, while a crown of fried onions brings the crispy.

Miller’s already got plans for a few other haute dogs: an “Icelandic” version taking flight at Saint-Ex and a lamb-based production he hopes to treat Pilar patrons to in the future. “We have a tiny smoker on our roof top that we ‘overuse’ a bit,” he quipped.

1833 14th St. NW; 202-265-1751; barpilar.com

Average entree: less than $12 ($). Open for dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.

Stachowski’s Market and Deli

It’s no surprise some local carnivores continue to seek out charcuterie wiz Jamie Stachowski almost exclusively for his gut-busting, pound-plus pastrami sandwich. One recent convert could not stop raving to staff about how he had wandered in unknowingly, ordered the mammoth meat stack, hauled it home and then wound up slowly savoring the two-handed feast over several days.

We recommend showing the sausage side of the carte some love. The only thing better than a caramelized onion- and roasted red pepper-topped hot Italian sausage — the chubby, spot-grilled link is split right down the middle, revealing juice-dribbling, seasoned ground pork — might be the uncommonly creamy White Hot, featuring oniony, veal-based bratwurst bolstered by bold brown mustard and piquant red onions.

1425 28th St. NW; 202-506-3125; stachowskis.com

Average entree: less than $12 ($). Open for lunch and dinner daily.

DC-3

The playful arm of the Matchbox Food Group specializes in the fun stuff (Fried foods! Soft serve! Cotton candy!) our younger selves never would have dared cobble together and call a complete meal.

The specialty dogs, however, are no kiddie fare. From the jalapeno-relished Tucson Sonoran to the creamy coleslawed West Virginia dog, DC-3 puts in the work required to try replicating the regional tastes that pepper America’s snacking landscape.

The most impressive mash-up has to be the bulgogi- and kimchi-laden masterpiece billed as “Q’s Seoul” dog. An all-beef frank is tucked into a warm bun and then decorated with fermented cabbage; tangy-sweet, citrus-soaked beef and streams of fiery Sriracha. The garlicky hot sauce is impossible to ignore, but the kimchi proves most alluring — balancing out the abundant heat with mellowing bursts of exquisitely sour vegetables.

423 Eighth St. SE; 202-546-1935; eatdc3.com

Average entree: less than $12 ($). Open for lunch and dinner daily.

Ivy & Coney

“It’s quite the clubhouse we have here,” a friendly barkeep explained as we strode into this tiny little bar where all things Chicago are devoutly worshipped.

The fledgling watering hole falls somewhere between a social club and a speakeasy. Anyone is welcome to seek out the hard-to-spot main doorway, ascend the rickety staircase to the second floor landing and then partake in whatever liquid refreshment — the bar fields a handful of beers (canned PBR and Stroh’s, Pabst Old Style Light, Goose Island Beer Co.’s 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale on draft) and just under a dozen liquors (ranging from Tito’s vodka to Jeppson’s Malört, a Chi-Town born liquor) — happens to be available. Some regulars, however, also maintain private lockers stocked by staff with whatever adult beverage is requested. (Bar Pilar appears to have laid claim to bottles of Avion tequila and Midleton Very Rare whiskey tucked beneath the bar.)

As it happens, we scouted the place during what appears to have been an incredibly opportune time: the World Cup. Because while the rest of the world was busy fomenting regional rivalries, Team Ivy & Coney was making lifelong friends by serving free specialty dogs with every beer purchased (before 4 p.m. on weekdays, anyway).

The Detroit Coney delivered everything it promised, yielding a quarter-pound frank outfitted with beefy chili, mustard and diced onions. But it was nothing special.

The Chicago dog, on the other hand, guarantees we’ll darken this place’s door again. The nattily dressed dog smacks of celery salt (sprinkled on top), vinegar (tender pickle spears hitch a ride astride the snappy frank) and blossoming heat (well played, delectable sport peppers).

1537 Seventh St. NW; 202-670-9489; ivyandconey.com

Average entree: less than $12 ($). Open for lunch Saturday and Sunday, dinner and late night dining daily.

Shake Shack

Hospitality mogul Danny Meyer almost certainly doesn’t need our help drumming up additional business for his mushrooming grill spot.

Then again, why should the signature burgers (tremendous) and super thick shakes (rich as can be) garner all the attention?

The DogMeister features a juicy frank doused in gooey melted cheese and layered with peppery fried shallots — a solid choice for any red-blooded American looking to spice up a ho-hum dining regiment. Custom chicken dogs are opportunities to make-your-own culinary fun; the alterna-frank is fixed to your liking, allowing one to coax a host of complementary sensations (diced onions and minced sport peppers worked like a charm for us) out of the mildly sweet and subtly smoky link.

Multiple D.C. metro locations; shakeshack.com

Average entree: under $12 ($). Open for lunch and dinner daily.

El Centro D.F.

Given the scope and breadth of his global dining empire, one might not expect restaurateur Richard Sandoval would invest a lot of time reinventing the humble hot dog.

The El Centro Dog begs to differ.

This happy hour perk (available only on the “Siesta Menu”) is an absolute scorcher. The bacon wrapped-dog bites consumers back courtesy of two concerted heating elements: zesty habanero-spiked mustard and Mexican slaw composed of pickled hot peppers, crunchy shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes and dulcet golden corn niblets. Savory black bean puree almost gets lost in the gustatory shuffle, but manages to steal a few flavorful moments.

Multiple D.C. metro locations; richardsandoval.com

Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Check locations for times.

Bold Bite

Venezuelan ex-pat Alonso Roche didn’t get into the casual dining business to make just any old food. He wanted to share the taste experiences he’d amassed across his lifetime.

Hence the reason his featured beef franks and half-smokes emerge from the kitchen clad in tongue-teasing pico de gallo, crunchy toasted sesame seeds and pungent sauerkraut.

The curiously named DC Tango could just as easily appear on the menu of an Argentinean steakhouse; the hybrid link is sliced down the middle — the edges of the smiling wound appearing visibly charred — and then carefully filled in with herb-laced chimichurri.

His paean to Caribbean street food, the innocuous sounding “house” dog, goes all in on oddly compatible toppings, tying together a trio of sauces (ketchup, mayo and yellow mustard), shredded cabbage and crunchy potato sticks. The sauce medley is alternately spicy (when mustard kicks in) and sweet (mayo-ketchup marriage births an ersatz Russian dressing), while the matchstick spuds contribute enormous crunch and a smattering of salt to every bite.

Multiple DC-metro locations; boldbite.net

Average entree: less than $12 ($). Check locations for times.

Vinoteca

Chef Lonnie Zoeller is not one to let the gas grill that serves as the centerpiece of his sun-drenched, fan-enabled outdoor bar go to waste. We, in turn, see absolutely no reason to pass up the patio-only meal deals he’s conjured to sate seasonal diners.

The quartet of specialty dogs run the gamut from a traditional frank (topped with ketchup, mustard and relish) to a jazzy pick-me-up tossing boudin sausage into the mix with grilled onions and chunky, house-made remoulade.

The aptly named “Barbie” dog is a thing of beauty; a well seasoned chicken sausage is nestled into a grilled bun, showered in shredded cheddar, swept with mesquite-style barbecue sauce and artfully finished off with preserved slices of green apple. The tart fruit and sweet barbecue sauce play very well off one another, while the grilled sausage and sharp cheese come together famously on the savory front.

1940 11th St. NW; 202-332-9463; vinotecadc.com

Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

“This is gonna get messy,” one Ben’s vet alerts a companion while ushering a chili dripping half-smoke towards his widely grinning face.

Given the army of admirers that continue to crowd into the cramped little booths at the District’s venerable lunch counter, soiling one’s shirt or pants (or, quite possibly, both), appears to be a small price to pay for a taste of history.

The late Ben Ali built a name for himself, and a thriving enterprise for his family, with the humble half-smoke. His legacy lives on via Ben’s Original Chili Half-Smoke.

The signature beef- and pork-frank, fixed just as it has been for the past half century with beef chili, mustard and diced onions, remains a crowd pleaser. The jumbo sausage is plump, meaty and pleasantly spicy. The robust chili (don’t bother with the vegetarian version, it’s a thin, unfitting substitute) jibes well with the flavorful frank, whereas the mustard, quite often, tends to fade into the background.

Multiple DC-metro locations; benschilibowl.com

Average entree: less than $12 ($). Check locations for times.

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