We’ve all done it at some point in our lives — picked up some cheap piece of meat on a street corner after a drunken bar night and secretly shoved it in our mouths in some dark alley, juices dribbling down our chins. Stop feeling guilty about it: hotdogs have changed! With better, healthier ingredients, trendy toppings and a place on the menus of some finer-dining establishments, the hotdog has moved into the realm of trendy crossover cuisine.
But where did this curious creation come from? It is believed that Emperor Nero’s cook accidentally discovered the sausage in Roman times. But the people of Vienna (ie, Wien), point to the name “wiener” as proof of the claim that their city is the birthplace of the hotdog. In 1852, the butchers’ guild in Frankfurt, Germany, introduced a spiced, smoked sausage and called it a “frankfurter,” and this name came with it to America. Sometime between 1867 and 1902 an American put a frankfurter in a roll, and the rest is history.
Fusia Dog is situated in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District. Operated by Dinah Koo, who has been making waves in the catering and restaurant worlds for more than 30 years, the five-month-old operation, which specializes in multicultural dogs, is poised to do a thriving business.
Choices include the Mediterranean, a lightly grilled frank with fresh grilled vegetables, feta cheese and black olives; the Boston Dog, which is smothered in baked beans and cheddar cheese; and the house special, The Fusia Dog, an Asian-inspired creation that, like the city itself, is a cultural mosaic of all the cuisines that have immigrated to Toronto.
“I noticed a resurgence of the hotdog in other cities, like Vancouver, and saw that it wasn’t being done here,” Koo says. With all the upgrades, an abundance of top-quality ingredients and all-beef, kosher, gluten-free franks, a dog here averages about $8. Dinah don’t do cheap.
Located in Little Italy, one-year-old Little Dog is a little shop with a little price tag. Owner Sam Santino’s baby is famous for Esther’s Steamies, a Montreal staple. These soft, steamed dogs are available in four styles: the Original Montreal Steamie, slathered with mustard, relish, onion and creamy coleslaw; the larger-format Chicago 58; the Nathan; and a soy dog for vegetarians. “People don’t just have one; they have two or three,” Santino says with a mischievous laugh. “They’re only five inches long.”
Bent on creating a better-tasting organic hotdog, Mario Fiorucci, the owner of Toronto’s Healthy Butcher, began experimenting a few years ago. To make a creamy and smooth dog, cooks at the Healthy Butcher blend lean ground beef and chicken with Dijon mustard (instead of milk), then pack the mix into skinny lamb casings for a juicy snap.
Meanwhile, Rowe Farms, which operates a number of retail locations around the city, has seen a resurgence in hotdog sales over the last year. Amanda Harriss, who manages the Bloor and Bathurst location, says Rowe Farms carries all-local product and can tell customers not only what farms their meat comes from, but what’s in their hotdogs and why it’s there. “We carry a very popular already-cooked frozen beef hotdog that has no preservatives or nitrates that aren’t naturally occurring. These are not the hotdogs that we grew up eating.”
Times have indeed changed. Come out of the alley; devour your dog with pride. There is no shame attached to sucking back a healthy, juicy red-hot, whether it’s in public or in the privacy of your own backyard. Just make sure you know where it’s been.