If hot dogs evoke only images of backyard barbecues, campfires and sports venues, then it's time to visit Dog Haus Biergarten for a different perspective.
The Pasadena, Calif.-based chain earns kudos for high-quality ingredients and the imaginative names of its menu offerings. Consider the "Chili Idol," the "Scott Baioli" or the "Cocky Balboa." I'll come back to these. They aren't simply cleverly christened; they taste good.
They also have a lot of eye appeal thanks to the myriad toppings and colorful drizzled sauces.
Admittedly, I've limited my hot dog consumption to football or baseball games where I load up on mustard, relish and diced onions. Yet I know those garnishes are too pedestrian in many places, Sweden for example. There, a hot dog covered with mashed potatoes, shrimp salad and lots of mayonnaise is practically a national dish. After trying a few of the options at Dog Haus, I now acknowledge that hot dogs lend themselves to some very creative possibilities.
That Scott Baioli ($5.99) did catch my attention with a few of its accoutrements. It's a smoked, bacon-wrapped beef hot dog with caramelized onions, a slice of white American cheese and, wait for it, garlic aioli.
The Sooo Cali ($5.99) whetted my appetite thanks to the inspired addition of avocado. Tomato, arugula, basil aioli and thin, crispy fried onions practically smother the meat held together by a King's Hawaiian bun, which is slightly sweet. What's more, the lightly toasted bread doesn't crumble or lose its shape.
In addition to all-beef, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, there's the Free Bird ($5.99). Yes, it's a turkey dog, and it's topped with avocado, tomato, bacon and miso Ranch dressing.
The sausages feature more variety, including Polish kielbasa, Italian, currywurst, bratwurst and a vegetarian smoked apple option.
It should come as no surprise that the Cocky Balboa ($7.49) is made with Italian sausage. Gooey, melted mozzarella, roasted red peppers, arugula and basil aioli make this a colorful and tasty choice.
The Sooo Veggie ($7.49) tops the smoked apple sausage with avocado, tomato and the same thin, crispy fried onions on the all-meat version. The accompaniments may be the same, but the taste is different. The sausage is well-seasoned with a hint of smokiness.
We enjoyed an order of crispy, seasoned sweet potato fries ($3.49). French fries and tater tots are other side options, both of which can be saturated with house (haus)-made cheddar cheese sauce and chili.
If hot dogs really aren't your thing, Dog Haus offers several alternatives, including a number of hamburger variations and the not-so-subtly named "Bad Mutha Clucka," a chicken breast, which is served either grilled or beer-battered with lettuce, tomato and miso Ranch.
It's also possible to create your own dog or sausage by changing the toppings.
The vibe here is more sports-bar than hot dog stand. The numerous televisions, all on sports channels, are in nearly every line of vision. Yet one of the most eye-catching elements is the lineup of 30 beer taps. Even one of the employees acknowledged that the number might be too many. The industrial décor is appealing. Staff is friendly and quick to answer questions.
When we arrived, there was no wait at the register where orders are placed, and the food arrived within a reasonable period. Business picked up as we were leaving. This literally made it difficult to exit the building, as the line to order begins practically at the door. Conversely, it could make it hard to enter, but it's worth the effort.