Five-dollar* lunch: Dion Antic gives wieners another shot at the Haute & the Dog | Bleader

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Five-dollar* lunch: Dion Antic gives wieners another shot at the Haute & the Dog

Posted By on 03.26.13 at 09:48 AM

A lot less frightening than it looks
In this feature Gwynedd Stuart seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

Opening a creative hot dog restaurant in Chicago seems like a losing proposition, mostly because your restaurant will never be Hot Doug's. This will automatically be treated as a deficiency and people will repeat the refrain like it was the chorus in a pop song about nitrite-laden meats: "It's OK, but it's no Hot Doug's." You could even try to preempt copycat criticism by calling it something like Not Hot Doug's or Definitely Not Hot Doug's and That's OK!, but everyone is still going to draw the comparison. And the comparison bodes poorly for the one that isn't Hot Doug's.

Restaurateur Dion Antic must be a masochist. His first foray into hot dogs, Rockstar Dogs, didn't make it. Judging from Yelp reviews and reader comments on a post Mike Sula wrote about it in 2008, people thought it was overpriced ("more expensive than Hot Doug's") and a subpar spin on another local hot dog joint (Hot Doug's). Also, it had a stripper pole and after 10 PM women could "dance" for a free hot dog. Grinding one's pelvic parts onto a cold, metal pole for processed meat products has to be one of the most depressing things I've ever heard. Why not just slide them, buns and all, into their underpants? If anything, it sounds like Rockstar was trying to differentiate itself, but tried too hard and maybe did it wrong.

Located in the space that used to house Antic's Bagel on Damen, the Haute & the Dog is refreshingly free of stripper poles or anything decorwise that you'd associate with "haute" cuisine—in fact, it's rustic (even if it's in a slightly manufactured way). An enormous taxidermied buffalo head stares toward the counter and his sad-eyed deer friend on the opposite wall. Exposed brick, antique-looking fixtures, tables made of what looks like reclaimed wood: a bright, vintage hunting lodge in Wicker Park.

The menu shows less restraint. There's a bacon-wrapped dog, one topped with barbecued pork, another smothered in mac 'n' cheese, and the menu specifies that all of the dogs are "jumbo" (which seems to mean not long, necessarily, but girthy—sorry). Of course there are things that sound less gruesome—a classic Chicago dog, an all-natural German sausage with sauerkraut and mustard, a chicken sausage with Gouda and apples—but I have a passive suicidal streak.

I ordered both the green-chile mac 'n' cheese dog and the bacon-wrapped dog with poblano relish, onions, and cheddar, and a side of baked beans. Major disappointment: they had a sweet corn and black bean side dish in lieu of succotash, which I was really looking forward to. At the risk of burying my hot dog lede, the baked beans were good. A little soupy, but they were made with three different kinds of beans—which benefit the appearance and the texture—and were packed with smoky bits of pork.

So, the hot dogs. The bacon dog was a lot less horrifying than I'd imagined. The bacon was limp rather than crisp, so it kind of mimicked the texture of the hot dog rather than forcing you to pay attention to it, which I appreciated. It added just a touch of smokiness. Two criticisms: the poblano-jalepeño relish isn't really a relish, just sauteed peppers. Sauteed peppers are great on hot dogs (especially poblanos), so there's no need to call it a relish. Also, one side of the bun was slathered with a sort of pimiento-ish spreadable cheese that was great, while the other side was slathered with yellow mustard. I found myself avoiding the mustard side of the bun because its DayGlo zip overpowered all of the other nice things that were happening.

The mac 'n' cheese dog was surprisingly fun. I talked myself through it this way: it's not weird to have a side of mac 'n' cheese alongside a hot dog or even chop up a hot dog and add it to mac 'n' cheese (at least I was raised to believe this was normal), so it's not that weird to just plop the stuff on top. (Also, I have a history of topping hot dogs with potato salad, which is arguably grosser, but so delicious.) By itself, the mac 'n' cheese was pretty bland, so it actually worked really well atop a salty hot dog. It's a nice, creamy backdrop.

If Antic took to heart any (or all) of the Rockstar-era criticism, it's apparent in the pricing. Nothing on the menu is more than $5 (the mac 'n' cheese dog is only $4, and it basically comes with a side item . . . that lives on top of it). It's counter service, so you can easily get out of there with a sausage and a side (they're all $1.50 with a dog) for less than the $7 maximum we've imposed on ourselves here.

So, no. Maybe it's not Hot Doug's. But eventually we have to get used to the fact that there can only be one.

The Haute & the Dog, 1252 N. Damen, 312-720-8185, hauteanddog.com

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