It’s the vague origin, perhaps, that makes the hot dog a vagrant in the world of haute cuisine. The sordid stories surrounding it a hundred years ago and more, as it struggled to become America’s ubiquitous sausage, perhaps shielded it from the embrace of chefs and fine charcuterers alike. Yet in the end, the hot dog prevailed – not in cutting-edge culinary creations, but rather in the world of everyday cuisine: baseball games, backyard cookouts, stands and carts and drive-thru windows. The hot dog is everywhere today, sans the vast majority of ‘serious’ kitchens.
So a few folks in Dallas who already have a serious kitchen or two of their own decided it might be appropriate to dedicate a new one entirely to this symbol of the American appetite – to treat it with a new respect and an approach intended to elevate it from casual snack to an indulgent entree. These few folks – Jean Paul Valverde and Richard and Tiffanee Ellman – created Bowery, designed for those with the desire to simply ‘eat good dogs.’
“Bowery is an attempt to create an innovative approach to what we perceive to be the Great American Food: the hot dog,” says Richard, who along with his wife Tiffanee also has an ownership role at Oak in the Design District. “The hot dog has a storied history, but to our minds, it got a little bit forgotten along the way; there’s been all this development around hamburgers, pizza, and all other sort of things you associate with casual cuisine, but the hot dog somehow got relegated to either the ballgame, the airport, or – in its best form – the backyard. Well, what we want to do here is bring together our global perspectives that we tend to have on our approach to food and to take a contemporary approach to the hot dog, while still incorporating some of its history. We want to focus on quality, focus on innovative creativity, and still make an approachable meal experience.”
They want to revolutionize the perception of the hot dog. Global perspective? How’s a Morroccan dog, served with house-made merguez, harrisa slaw and apricot jam? The Croque Madame is served with Paris ham, bechamel and a fried egg. The Dutchman and the Banh Mi incorporate some Dutch and Vietnamese influence into the menu, respectively, while the Korn Dog, Chicago Dog, and Chili Tickler take some creative spins on some classic standbys. Freshly baked buns and 100-percent beef dogs that weigh in at over a quarter of a pound are the norm at Bowery – that is to say, if there were anything truly normal about what they’re doing with hot dogs.
“This is no fast food restaurant. We have real cooks, accomplished cooks in the kitchen – fast food is not what we are trying to do,” says Richard. “We’ve spent a great deal of time crafting each dog to make sure that they have the right ingredients, the right dogs – making sure we have various textures and flavors in each dog. So each dog is really a gourmet experience.”
Having opened near the end of July, Bowery (named after the neighborhood in New York City that served as a proving ground for the hot dog in the 19th Century) creates a nice setting for a change of culinary perspective. Valverde, who also claims Oak Cliff’s Campo in his restaurant repertoire, has designed the former Lumi spot on McKinney Avenue into a casual, comfortable spot that – unlike the standard hot dog stand – encourages customers to stick around and have a drink or two. Televisions and historical recounts of the hot dog grace the walls, so those who want to watch whatever event may be on (keeping in mind college football starts this week) or learn a little more about the food they’re eating may do so with ease.
“I wanted to make sure that people felt like, ‘Wow, this is a hot dog joint?’ I wanted them to have a reason to linger, just to hang out and have a couple drinks with their friends. Our goal wasn’t really just to have a hot dog place that people would come in, grab a hot dog and then leave. Our goal is to have them come in with their families early and with their friends late at night,” says Valverde. “I would describe it as somewhat rustic. It’s a little more refined when it comes to the blinds and the shades we chose for it, but then I would say it was really just meant to be a hangout. I don’t have an actual term for it, because I don’t think there is an actual term for it.”
It’s a welcoming spot in which diners can come for dinner – dinner that happens to be a hot dog. With the use of high-quality ingredients and a focus on making each dog a meal unto itself, the Ellmans and Valverde emphasize the value of what they’re serving; so while a customer might be accustomed to needing more than a single hot dog for lunch, Bowery endeavors to make an entire dining experience out of just one.
“If our customers give us a chance and see the value once they eat one, they’ll see that it’s not just a small little hot dog and you’re still going to be hungry after you finish,” says Tiffanee. “If you come in and eat the Croque Madame or even the Mac n’ Cheese or the Dutchman, you’re going to leave satiated. They’re really very filling, and again, it’s the quality that really makes it a unique experience.”
And with the dogs of course come the drinks – beer and champagne cocktails are equally as creative. For example, there’s the Southern Rhubarb – which is wheat beer, lime and rhubarb – which provides a twist on wheat beer as a summer favorite – or the Hummingbird (Mionetto Prosecco, St. Germaine, Club Soda and Citrus Peel), which is light, crisp and refreshing. Of course there’s a respectable selection of drafts and bottles as well, but it’s clear that the owners take particular pride in their cocktails.
“Across the board, we put the same type of care into our drink menu; we have spent a lot of time creating these cocktails and in the same way that you see quality ingredients in our food, the same can be seen and tasted in the drinks,” says Richard.
Considering the drinks, and the design, if there’s any place that’s going to change the perception of the hot dog’s role as haute cuisine, Bowery is taking the helm. They intend to prove that the hot dog can be an entire dining experience – especially when it comes from a kitchen entirely serious about them.