You don't walk into Franks 'n' Dawgs expecting a traditional Chicago-style hot dog. It's not that kind of place. While the basic formula of sausage + bun governs their entire menu, to achieve "Five Star Dining on a Bun," as their tagline puts it, requires a great deal of creativity inserted into the equation.
That creativity begins with the sausage, which is often house made, sometimes with unusual ingredients, and goes on to explore all manner of toppings, relishes, and condiments. The result is a menu of crazy ideas, some more successful than others, but all of them ambitious.
Of course, it's pretty difficult for Chicago to escape the influence of that Chicago-style hot dog. So I started with a Chicagoesque ($5.45), the Franks 'n' Dawgs take on the classic.
First, the dog is from grass-fed beef. Then the mustard is upgraded from yellow to a "beer mustard," the tomato and pickle elements of the original are turned into an artisanal relish, the onions are caramelized instead of raw, and the bun is a buttery split-top custom-made roll, the kind usually piled high with East Coast lobster, toasted on the griddle.
On its own terms, it's a well-prepared sausage. But sadly, the hot dog itself didn't have nearly the depth of flavor or snap I've come to expect from a good Chicago-style hot dog (it's a skinless dog, for one). Lacking the crunch of the onions was a big loss as well, and on the whole, it was much sweeter than I expected. I have to admit that eating it really just made me crave the authentic version.
But on the Franks 'n' Dawgs menu, many of the items have a chef's hat next to them, indicating they're house made. And that's the real story of this restaurant: its own creations and their sundry toppings.
Like the Brunch Dog ($8.50), which tops a breakfast sausage made with the addition of bacon with a fried egg and maple mayo. Or the Great White ($11.95), a scallop sausage with a carrot ginger aioli, dehydrated grapefruit, shark bacon, and cilantro.
On my recent trip, I had great difficultly NOT ordering the Frank'n Stein ($10.50), a hanger steak and foie gras sausage, which comes on that same buttery bun, along with caramelized onions, a rich and sweet "beer mustard aioli" and a topping of crispy shallots battered and deep-fried.
The sausage itself was full of beefy flavor, with a background of funk from the foie gras; the crisped shallots provided a textural contrast, and the tangy-sweet aioli tied it all decadently together.
"Five-Star Dining on a Bun" might be tongue-in-cheek tagline, but what it does mean is an inventive menu based around sausages. And that, no doubt, is worth a visit.