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The humble hot dog is a food that takes a lot of flack, but really this simple staple of American cuisine gets a bad rep. Hot dogs go hand in hand with some awesome events and experiences: camping, Fourth of July cookouts, and sporting events. Just about everyone has memories involving hot dogs, and many people have a favorite brand and/or way of cooking them. Americans eat billions of hot dogs every year, but hot dogs rarely get the same respect as their cook-out cousin, the hamburger.
Many of us only think of eating hot dogs when at a sporting event or before hailing a cab after a night out on the town, but hot dogs can in fact be a blank canvas for creative culinary artists. Sure, some great hot dogs are sold wrapped in foil paper at the stadium or pulled out of a vat of water from a sidewalk cart, but these are just two iterations of this all-American staple. Today we bring you some more creative and high quality variations.
When I arrived in Nashville a little over two years ago one restaurant that I frequently heard of was The Dog of Nashville, located in the Hillsboro Village area just a block or so from Vanderbilt University. The Dog of Nashville is a popular spot for both Vanderbilt students and professionals. I’ve eaten there numerous times, and always been pleased, especially at the selection of unique dogs.
Another Nashville hot dog shop, which happens to also be about a block away from Vanderbilt (in the other direction), but has only recently become known to me is Cori’s Doghouse. Today we bring you a comparison of The Dog and Cori’s, a Hot Dog Face-Off to decide where best to spend your hard-earned dog dollars.
Day 1: The Dog of Nashville 2127 Belcourt Ave. Nashville, TN http://www.thedogofnashville.com/ @DogOfNashville
While this wasn’t my first visit to The Dog, it is the first appearance on Eat It, Tn. The Dog sits in a converted old house on Belcourt Ave, and has a 5-10 tables inside plus a small porch and decent sized patio. The old house really gives a great personal feel, even if it limits the seating capacity. The Dog offers an excellent selection of jumbo dogs, from the standard angus beef dog, to turkey dogs, veggie dogs, polish sausages, and beer brats, served between a variety of buns. Their “Top Dogs” are their creations and run the gamut from traditional (Classic Chili, Chicago Dog) to out there (Fiery Redneck), but you also have the option to create your own dog. Homemade chips, fries, tots, onion rings, chilli, and even cucumber and onion salad are available as sides, and they also offer a selection of craft beer in bottles and cans. They also offer hamburgers, which as of this writing are appearing as a $3 Wednesday special.
For the face-off I decided to go with 2 dogs per restaurant (I know, tough job, but someone has to do it), one traditional chili dog, and one of their more creative options. For the creative choice at The Dog I went with their Buffalo Dog, a fried dog topped with housemade buffalo sauce, ranch, blue cheese crumbles and diced celery. For good measure I added a side of fries (super thin) and a diet coke (watching my figure).
I like almost everything “buffalo” (and fried), but I’ve never had a fried hot dog before, so my curiosity was piqued and my expectations high. The buffalo dog did not disappoint. Frying the dog added a distinct and delightful texture that was noticeable from the first bite. It didn’t change the flavor much but altered the texture just enough to make it stand out, a well done twist. The buffalo sauce had good flavor and a nice, but not overwhelming hotness, remaining approachable for almost anyone. The ranch and blue cheese crumbles add that buffalo wing flavor, but it was the diced celery which coupled with the fried texture really stood out to me. The flavors all came together for a great dog. It reminded me of buffalo wings without tasting LIKE buffalo wings, and still maintained that authentic hot dog flavor. A very well executed, and flavorful dog. It was delicious. I highly recommend for fans of all things buffalo.
The Classic Chili dog was just that, a classic all beef dog topped with mustard, house-made chili, shredded cheese, and diced onion. This is an old standby, and there are a few things that differentiate chili dogs like this: the dog, the bun, and the chili. As this is a high-end hot dog shop, the dogs and buns are all top notch, so this dog really comes down to the chili. Chili is one of those things that is largely based on personal preference. The Dog’s chili is bean-less (like most hot dog chili) and packed with meat. It has an almost paste like consistency, neither soupy, nor chunky, just right for slathering on a hot dog. While the flavor didn’t disappoint, it also didn’t amaze, a solid hot dog chili to top a good solid dog. For fans of the chili dog, this one won’t let you down, but it won’t change your life either. Its a tasty, traditional take on a classic hot dog, and you won’t go wrong here. There is definitely something to be said for staying true to tradition.
While the dogs are the main attraction here, the fries should not be overlooked. They are light, crispy, and really just right. If you like thin cut fries these are a must have, and the lightness pairs great with one of the robust hot dogs.
Overall, The Dog offers high quality, flavorful dogs and tasty sides in a neighborhood atmosphere. Whether you are a traditionalist or looking to try something new and adventurous, The Dog has you covered. While The Dog is definitely more than just a step up from your typical stadium, street corner, or backyard grill dog, it isn’t the kind of hot dog experience that will change your life, or how you fundamentally think of hot dogs. That said, lunch (or dinner) at The Dog certainly won’t let you down.
Day 2: Cori’s DogHouse 106 29th Ave North Nashville, TN 37203 (615) 329-9444 http://corisdoghouse.com/ @corisdoghouse
Like The Dog, Cori’s DogHouse is near Vanderbilt University, in close proximity to Centennial Park and West End Avenue. While Cori’s lacks the charm and quaintness of an old home location, it offers more parking and seating than The Dog, and draft beer as well. Cori’s atmosphere isn’t anything to write home about, but hey, its a hot dog shop. The day I went for lunch there was exactly one female in the entire building, and she was working the register. Thats right, not a single female customer. Not sure what this says about Cori’s, but it was certainly notable.
The first thing you notice upon entering Cori’s is the large menu board which dominates the left wall beside the counter/kitchen. Cori’s menu is laid out geographically by regions (The East, The Midwest, etc.) and each dog is named after a city or state. The idea is that you can eat your way around the country by trying all of the dogs. Just don’t try to do it in one day.
For the Hot Dog Face-Off, I was sticking to one traditional dog and one adventurous dog. Looking for the traditional dog that most closely resembled a Classic Chili, I settled on the Cincinnati Dog which comes with chili, cheese, onion, and mustard. For my adventurous dog I stayed closer to home, opting for the Memphis dog which comes dressed in bacon, grilled onions, cole slaw, and bbq sauce. We got a couple orders of fries and onion rings for the table (as well as some deep fried cinnamon rolls) and took a seat to wait for our dogs.
Cori’s is famous for is their butter grilled “New England Style” buns and when the dogs came out, you noticed the difference in the buns right away. To compliment these substantial buns, Cori’s all-beef dogs are slightly larger than those at The Dog, but just as tasty and high quality. But the buns don’t just look different, they also taste different. Deliciously different. They are soft and fluffy on the inside, but warm and just slightly crispy on the outside thanks to the butter grilling, and they really do enhance the overall experience. I may never want a regular hot dog bun again.
Before we dive into my two dogs, let’s talk about the sides. Cori’s onion rings are fantastic, they are hand breaded and reminiscent of blooming onion. They are served with a fantastic, slightly tangy/spicy dipping sauce and are highly recommended. The fries are also good, more hearty than those at The Dog, but this one is really a personal preference. The cinnamon rolls? Artery clogging deliciousness.
I’ve never been to Cincinnati, and I probably never will. The Reds? Meh. The Bengals? Ugh. But the Cincy dog, thats something to be excited about. The Cincy dog was good, very well executed with a good balance of flavors. The chili was the captain of this team, but no one flavor dominated. This is a pretty standard dog, but the thing that stood out here (besides the bun) was the chili. It was just right. Cori’s chili had just the right consistency and mix of flavors to bring out the best in the Cincy dog. Compared to TDN’s chili, Cori’s appeared to have been made with more care and perhaps better ingredients. I have no evidence to support this claim, but the taste-bud test gives me suspicions that Cori’s chili is made in-house, while TDN’s could possibly be from a can (not that hot dog chili from a can has to be bad). Overall, Cori’s Cincinnati dog tops TDN’s Classic Chili dog on the strength of the chili, with the bun giving an added bonus. When the chili is the key component of the dog, the stronger chili is going to carry the day, almost every time.
The Memphis Dog. Wow, this was definitely the MVP of the hot dog face-off. As much as I love all things barbecue, I was a little worried about bbq sauce on a hot dog. Would it overpower the hot dog? Would it be too sweet? Would it taste cheap?
NO! Cori’s manages to pull off the bbq sauce on a hot dog magically. The substantive dog and bun combo help, but the grilled onion and the slaw really help balance out the flavors. Oh man, the slaw. As you may remember from my prior reviews, I have a bit of a slaw fetish. Cole slaw on a sandwich you ask? Yes! That’s how we do bbq where I’m from. Bad slaw can become a wasted side or ruin a sandwich, but good slaw, that can be the perfect side dish compliment, or the magic addition to a great sandwich. Cori’s slaw is amazing. It is thick chopped, but with a creamy consistence thanks to the dressing which has an orange tint (but it’s not the same as the onion ring dipping sauce). Red cabbage adds color, as do the cranberries (yes, cranberries) which are almost imperceptible until you look for them, but add a unique and delightful flavor. Cori’s slaw is fantastic. It has the same impact on the Memphis dog as the chili does on the Cincy dog, only better. The flavors come together beautifully on the Memphis dog. The New England bun is strong enough to stand up to the sweet bbq sauce, the creamy slaw and the wonderfully grilled onion, holding them all together in a warm, buttery embrace that is absolutely delicious. And I haven’t even mentioned the bacon! Instead of a strip of bacon, Cori’s uses bacon crumbles which add good texture while not overpowering the flavors, merely serving as a great compliment to the other toppings, the perfect role player in this all-star lineup. I would get this dog again and again if I didn’t feel compelled to eat my way through the menu.
While both The Dog of Nashville and Cori’s Doghouse offer a variety of delicious, high quality hot dogs, Cori’s takes the Hot Dog Face-Off Crown, coming out on top in my book. Cori’s buns are their calling card, but they are just one of the many little details that Cori’s gets right. It is the attention to these little things that makes Cori’s the champion. Excellent renditions of cole slaw and chili, coupled with great sides, jumbo all-beef dogs, butter grilled buns, and creative flavor combinations are too much for the competition to overcome. In order, my ranking of the 4 dogs sampled were: Cori’s Memphis dog, TDN’s Buffalo dog, Cory’s Cincy dog, and TDN’s Classic Chili. All four dogs were good, and I enjoyed both lunches, but given the choice Cori’s is where I’ll return the next time a hot dog craving strikes. If you’ve never been to Cori’s, give them a try. Just don’t go looking to pick up women- the only hot buns you’ll find here are coming off the grill.