National Hot Dog Day, celebrated this week at ballparks far and wide, may be an American invention. Nonetheless, it seems like a fitting time to investigate the humble tube steak's local evolution.
If the Windy City has the Chicago Dog and Detroit its beloved Coney, Vancouver's claim to fame is Japadog. Or perhaps more specifically, Japadog's Kurobuta Terimayo, a Berkshire pork sausage in a bun loaded with fried onions, teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and nori shreds.
Japadog hot-dog carts are operated by a former Tokyo ad salesman who came to Vancouver with the dream of opening a sidewalk crepe stand, only to discover that the city's archaic bylaws limited street food to precooked hot dogs, popcorn and pretzels.
Undaunted, the intrepid street-meat hawker developed a menu of Japanized wieners garnished with everything from grated daikon to sautéed okra. Celebrities stopped by for lunch. Foodies from afar were abuzz. The lineups kept growing.
And now, just as Vancouver city officials have deigned to allow a greater variety of hand-held food to grace our streets (the mobile food vendor pilot project launches next week), the legendary Japadog has headed indoors.
To call the new bricks-and-mortar Japadog outlet a bona fide restaurant would be a stretch. It's really just a glorified takeout counter with a roof. There are seats - 16 stools crammed around tiny tables and a narrow back counter. And a washroom, which doubles as mop closet. But the eating area is so tight you'll have to hold your breath and squeeze past other customers to access it.
The lineups here aren't much shorter than you'll find at the sidewalk carts. I tried, without luck, to visit a couple of times; once with a friend who never would have made it back to the office within the hour, so long was the wait. The lineups also seem a lot less orderly, especially when the front floor-to-ceiling window is rolled up and customers come and go in all directions.
Friendly as the staff may be, their command of the English language is limited. Thus, the counter clerk couldn't tell me which of the hot dogs are unique to this location. Nor did he explain that the Tonkatsu dog (a new recipe, I only later discovered) is actually a deep-fried pork cutlet. The carts have plenty of signage to help customers navigate the menu, which would certainly help out here.
Now, on to the good stuff, like Japanized French fries and other greasy goodies that can't be reheated on an outdoor grill.
My favourite new Japadog find is a range of golden skinny fries ($2.39), served in paper bags and shaken with a choice of four toppings: teriyaki powder, shio salt, nori flakes and the weirdly decadent butter and shoyu (which smells like popcorn and tastes like a mild, slippery soy sauce).
Other new thrills include the aforementioned Tonkatsu ($5.95), a surprisingly satisfying deep-fried pork cutlet smothered in sweet, Worcestershire-style sauce, piled high with cabbage and squiggled with Japanese mayonnaise.
I also quite enjoyed the Yakiniku Rice ($6.25), a pork hot dog wrapped in a pressed-rice bun and topped with a juicy mess of teriyaki beef.
Didn't try the Love Meat ($5.75), a hot dog garnished with Bolognese sauce and blow-torched cheddar cheese shreds. But I did swoon over the very messy Choco Banana dessert dog ($5.29), served in a sugared bun and bursting with whipped cream.
Japadog doesn't, for the most part, serve great food. But it is fun food. And I'm sure this new indoor location will only add to its cachet - unless Dougie Dog starts stealing its thunder.
If you haven't tried Dougie Dog yet, you must. This new Granville Street takeout and sit-down eatery actually does serve great dogs.
The delicious wieners (most cost $6.95) are custom-made by a German butcher in the Fraser Valley, using locally raised, hormone-free pork with no chemical additives, preservatives or fillers.
The casings are natural, which gives each bite a tight, Euro-style snap. The buns are soft and squishy. And the 20 varieties - which range from a proper Chicago Dog (with neon-green relish and poppy-seed bun) to the unfathomably popular Trailer Park Dog (slathered in processed cheese and crushed potato chips) - are as exacting as they are amusing.
This friendly late-night joint is owned by dougie luv, a colourful local comedian with platinum-blond hair, rockabilly style and an oversized passion for hot dogs.
The first time I went in, he pulled up a stool beside me and poured out his sob-story-turned-fairy-tale as we both drained a root beer - he carries 20 suggested pairings - and argued about mac 'n' cheese. (His creamy, homemade side dish needs a dash of salt, in my humble opinion. He says we already get enough sodium in our diet and refuses to add any.)
The story is explained in a droll "dogumentary," which you can order from the website. But here's the gist:
Local comedian gets depressed and retreats to his couch. One anxiety-filled day, he has a vision of a giant hot dog. He and his buddies hit the road, travelling across the United States in search of the perfect hot dog. They meet many celebrities along the way, including hot dog aficionado Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, after which a whisky-infused Dougie Dog is now named. They come back to Vancouver and open their dream hot-dog stand.
It's hokey and homey, but these hot dogs are doggone good. Japadog may want to watch out. There's finally some serious competition in town.
Dougie Dog: 1011 Granville, 604-438-3647
Japadog: 530 Robson, 604-667-4663