Dat Dog scores smiles, one wiener at a time

There are adult foods — pate de foie gras, say, or roasted brussels sprouts with anchovy vinaigrette— and then there’s the kids menu (think chicken nuggets with ketchup), but few and far between are the stalwarts, those iconic, fiercely beloved dishes that light up the faces of diners whether they be 7 or 70. Among those rare treasures, of course, is the humble hot dog.

Skip Murray and Constantine Georges, owners of the quickly expanding wiener empire Dat Dog, realized that New Orleanians craved the simple, elemental joy of a good hot dog not long after opening their first shop, a small shack on Freret Street. After lines of frankfurter fans began to snake around the block, they moved into a bigger location, still on Freret Street, and began thoughts of further growth. With a large, new Dat Dog outpost on Magazine Street just opened, a future location to come on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny and a catering business up and running, Georges and Murray are, truly, the hot dog kings of the Crescent City.

Many have been familiar with the Dat Dog phenomenon for some time. The question remains, though: Why is a chain of hot dog restaurants, of all things, exploding on the local culinary scene?

For Georges, an affable former federal prosecutor now doing something he clearly adores, the answer was simple. “Hot dogs make people happy,” he said. “I never even realized how happy they made people until we started this thing. For some folks, even just the mention of hot dogs will bring a smile to their face. And that’s a wonderful thing.”

From the brightly colored walls to the festive artwork and the smiling employees in their Hawaiian shirts, Dat Dog is a place that screams happiness. The Magazine Street location adds an ample outdoor dining space with picnic tables, plus a full bar with an expanded selection of beers, spirits and specialty cocktails.

But it would be all for naught, of course, if the food wasn’t up to snuff. New Orleanians have high standards when it comes to cuisine, even if it’s just a hot dog. Murray and Georges, however, have made sure not to skimp on the menu.

Dat Dog offers 17 varieties of sausages and hot dogs, all served on steamed and grilled sourdough buns, with a variety of toppings and condiment combinations numerous enough to make a math professor’s head spin.

There is the traditional German wiener, of course, and no respectable hot dog emporium would dare disrespect it — a classic beef or pork sausage that’s emulsified, smoked and stuffed into a natural casing in the traditional fashion for that singular “snap” appreciated by all hot dog aficionados. It is simple and perfect.

However, sausage alternatives abound at Dat Dog, spanning the globe from Polish kielbasa to Cajun-German bratwurst, Slovenian sausage, classic Italian sausage and even a Guinness sausage. And, since this is Louisiana, you can expect a turducken sausage, alligator sausage, crawfish sausage and even a “sea dog,” in which the frankfurter is replaced by a sausage-shaped link of beer-battered fried cod.

Then come the toppings, all of which are free additions to your choice of sausage, and range from the classics (ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, onions, relish, etc.) to the exotic: andouille sauce, guacamole, hummus, Asian coleslaw, crawfish etouffee, pico de gallo, even wasabi, for those who like their dogs with a Japanese bite.

A recent visit to Dat Dog’s new Magazine Street store began with cocktails, most notably the bacon vodka-infused bloody mary, as well as a beautifully layered black and green concoction called “sex with an alligator.” The place seems to revel in its whimsy, which, for a hot dog joint, isn’t a bad thing.

Then it was on to dogs, each link piled to heaven and spilling over with toppings in the most delightfully egregious way, the napkin dispenser quickly becoming a dear personal friend. Size matters here, too; where two traditional dogs might have normally filled you up, one Dat Dog will likely suffice, depending on your appetite. These things are made for hungry people.

Of particular note were the crawfish and alligator sausages, both made in Louisiana, as well as the Chicago-style dog — homage to the classic “dragged through the garden” version found in the Windy City — and the hilariously named “Bacon Werewolf,” good enough to make you want to howl.

The seasoned french fries are similarly fulfilling, and like the hot dogs, they take well to toppings, particularly the bacon-cheddar-ranch fries, as well as the baffling but delicious variation topped with sour cream, diced tomatoes and crawfish etouffeé. While Georges holds his cards close to the vest when asked in detail about future plans, he’s both quick and eager to share his mission. “I want to bring happiness to the world,” he said, “one hot dog at a time.”