Oh my dog! Since I wrote about the hot dog craze that was steaming across Toronto last year it seems that more sausage sellers are popping up on even more corners. When, if ever, will our love affair end? Who knows? Who cares? While still in the throes of frank passion, we decide to visit one of the newest additions to the hot dog haute cuisine market.
Celebrating its first anniversary, Fancy Franks is a more upscale hipster-friendly version of the typical purveyors of tube meats. Its corner lot has presence. The outer west wall, which looks over a paved patio, is painted with a huge mural created by Toronto artist Andrew Kidder, of Rcade Design.
We squeeze into a warm red-walled and wood interior for a VIP hot hog tasting. All seats are occupied by “tasters,” invited guests who are eager to gobble Fancy Frank’s dogs, which are cut in half and presented on trays. Fashion photographer Spiro Mandylor is in the company of a beautiful woman. As they sample the goods, both look over a selection of children’s books in the book nook corner of the upscale-cafeteria-style room. All, of course, are about hot dogs. The dog should be proud. It has a history that very few comfort foods can match.
It is believed that it was Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar's cook, Gaius, who accidentally discovered the first sausage. But the fine people of Vienna (Wien), Austria point to the term "wiener" to prove their claim as the birthplace of the hot dog. In 1852 the butchers’ guild in Frankfurt, Germany, introduced a spiced and smoked sausage. They called it a "frankfurter" after their hometown and this name travelled with it to America. It did not become a hot dog until it was placed between a bun or a roll, which is believed to have happened sometime between 1867 and 1902 and is credited to up to five different men in the USA.
In the last few years, though, hot dogs have changed. With the addition of better, healthier ingredients, trendy toppings and its place on the menus of finer dining establishments, the hot dog has moved up off the corner and into the realm of trendy cross-over cuisine.
Rummaging through the book nook, while devouring a dog, Spiro holds up one titled Two Hot Dogs with Everything. “Isn’t this a porno?” he asks, in all seriousness. No, I say dryly, hardly looking, hoping instead to snag myself an FFGHD TX. The initials stand for Fancy Franks Gourmet Hot Dogs Texas. Topped with Cajun spiced grilled onions, barbecue sauce, shredded cheddar cheese and chipotle mayo, it’s the one that everyone wants. Fighting off the fake fingernails of one hungry lady, I bite down the dog and let its goodness fill my mouth.
“I think it is a porno,” Spiro says. “And look — there’s the poster for it.” He points to a section of the black, white and red wall mural on the east side of the long eatery. Behind the communal harvest table, he points at an image of a 1970s-era woman sucking back the biggest wiener I’ve ever seen. I nearly spit out my meat on the back of Miss Long Fake Fingernails. But it’s too good too waste.
Owner Angelos Economopoulos, who has been in the restaurant industry for 10 years, is busy chatting up guests, posing for pictures and shaking hands with his big hands.
“My friends were going to LA and telling me about all these gourmet hot dog places,” he says. “I kept it in the back of my head. It wasn’t something I was going to do right away, but about two years ago I began to develop Fancy Franks.”
Why not continue in the world of fine dining? (He’s owned two restaurants in Greektown.)
“The fine-dining business is challenging. I wanted to find something a little bit simpler but still provided a great product. People aren’t expecting this much quality in a fast-food concept.”
“I picked this location for the excitement and energy of [neighbouring] Kensington Market. It’s an eclectic neighbourhood.”
What’s your favourite dog?
“The Coney Island Hotdog. It’s where hot dogs first came to the United States. I went to Coney Island, had the corn dogs, the works. It’s what this place is based on; we just dress it up a little bit more.”
How is your hot dog different from most hot dogs?
“They’re all 100-percent shoulder beef with lamb casings. It’s a very clean hot dog. It’s not mystery meat.”
Though they have a veggie dog, for those Kensington Market clubbers, they do not serve any kosher offerings.
How is your shop different than other gourmet hot dog spots around town?
“We keep everything very simple even though our toppings are gourmet. We do beef ribs on a hot dog for Franks Got Soul [other toppings include panko-breaded shrimp, pulled pork, fried eggs, smoked Gruyère, mashed potatoes, kimchi and peanut butter and jam]. We do an excellent poutine. Plus mini doughnuts are given to our customers. Everybody loves our doughnuts.”
Everybody does seem to love their mini-doughnuts (they have six sweet concoctions to choose from), but my companion Travis seems to have fallen in love with Angelos's big hands. You know what they say about a man with big hands: he can hold way more hot dog (and a couple doughnuts, too).