I reviewed Kalamazoo downtown lunch spot Dogs With Style a couple years ago, but it’s recently come under new management, and the changes are significant enough to warrant another review. The ladies who run the place are taking it to the next level. They still have the usual standbys, like Coney, Polish and Chicago dogs, and they’re all good. But the real draw of Dogs With Style 2.0 is the visionary new hot dogs they have.

The one on the left is the Mad Max, and the one on the right is the Guatemalan. Say hello, boys.

The one on the left is the Mad Max, and the one on the right is the Guatemalan. Say hello, boys.

The two I’m reviewing, the Mad Max and the Guatemalan, are like edible works of art. The Guatemalan is similar to a Chicago, in that it features a number of vegetables accompanying the frank. The Guatemalan includes cabbage, avocado, tomato, and a couple different salsas and sauces. There are a lot of flavors at work here, and they all harmonize wonderfully. It’s a bit spicy, but the avocado helps to cool it down. It’s a great example of the kinds of interesting things you can do with hot dogs if you have a solid imagination and palette.

But on to the main event. The Mad Max is an evolution of the Swanky Franky, a fabled hot dog concept involving cheese and bacon my parents told me about as a child. I never imagined I’d see one in a restaurant in my lifetime. The Mad Max starts with a hot dog frank, split and filled with pepper jack cheese and then wrapped in bacon and cooked. It improves upon the Swanky Franky here though, by topping it with macaroni and cheese and sriracha and serving it on a pretzel bun. It’s a decadent delight. The central frank is delicious and well-crafted. I’ve never had a problem with cheese leakage or bacon falling off. The mac and cheese uses think bow-tie pasta and is dry enough that it works as a topping without making the whole thing soggy. You haven’t had the true Dogs With Style experience until you’ve had the Mad Max.

Just because I've waxed poetic about their specialty hot dogs doesn't mean their regular fare isn't great, as these Chicago and Coney dogs prove.

Just because I’ve waxed poetic about their specialty hot dogs doesn’t mean their regular fare isn’t great, as these Chicago and Coney dogs prove.

The new Dogs With Style is even better than before, and definitely worth checking out. Most dogs range from between $2-4, well worth the trip. As far as I know, they’re still cash only at this point, so keep that in mind. They’ve also expanded the previous hours, so they’re not only open for lunch (11AM-3PM) but for late night snacks from 10PM-2AM Monday Wednesday and Friday nights.

The newspaper I write for, The Kalamazoo Gazette, was part of an ongoing project last week by reporters throughout the state to find the best Coney dog in Michigan.  As a sandwich aficionado, I’m all for this.  A lot of people don’t realize that Coney Island hot dogs originated in Michigan, rather than New York.  Throwing chili, onions and mustard on a hot dog is one of the best things you can do with it (in my humble but correct opinion), and there are places throughout the state which do a great job.

A Polish and Chicago dog from Dogs with Style. I've tried (and enjoyed) their Coney as well, I'll probably be posting a review soon.

The full archive is available here.  I’ve also included a link to my thoughts on some of the non-Coney offerings at Dogs with Style, one of the Kalamazoo spots the team visited.

I’ve been on kind of a hot dog/sausage kick recently, but this post is special. The Wurst Bar is a relatively new addition to Ypsilanti, Michigan, and came highly recommended to me from a friend of mine.  It’s a pretty standard college bar, drinks-wise, but what separates it from the rest (and gives it its name) are the numerous bratwursts they prepare on site and serve.    Their bratwursts range from classic style to some interesting variations, namely rattlesnake.  You better believe I’m not gonna pass that up.

I hate snakes, Jacque!! I hate 'em!!

I opened with the Rattlesnake Chorizo.  In addition to the snake meat, it had (primarily, I believe) pork, chipotle, oregano and red wine.  I had it on a pretzel bun topped with sauteed onions and sweet peppers.  It was surprisingly delicious.  I don’t know if I could tell you specifically what rattlesnake tastes like, but the brat had a full flavor, and the chipotle gave it a heat which I feel is appropriate to eating the meat of a venomous animal.  The toppings went well with it, and the saltiness of the bun helped offset some of the spiciness.  I’d definitely recommend this one.

I followed it up with the PBR Poached Bratwurst, which is one of their standard brats.  This was kind of a mistake on my part.  While there was nothing wrong with it, it couldn’t really compete with the chorizo from a novelty perspective.  The bratwurst included majoram, ginger, celery seed, and coriander along with the pork.  It was a solid, tasty brat, but it didn’t have the hook that some of the more unusual fare did.

I’d definitely recommend checking out The Wurst Bar for some bratwursts I can’t imagine you’ll find anywhere else.  They offer brats made from bison and lamb, as well as alligator (although if I remember from New Orleans, alligator basically tastes like chicken, but with a texture more similar to fish).  The regular brats are $5.75 and the more whimsical are $7 a la carte, so it’s not the kind of place I’d go every day.  Still, if you’re in the area and looking for something decidedly different, stop by.

Sandwich Link: JAPADOG

January 30, 2012

I recently found this website, and I can’t stop thinking about it.  It belongs to a Canadian hot dog stand chain called JAPADOG, whose stated mission is “making the world happy and alive through hot dogs!”  The chain boasts five locations in Vancouver and a new one in New York City.  JAPADOG prepares their hot dogs “Japanese-style,” which means that they include a number of traditional Japanese vegetables, sauces, and even meats in their recipes.

No JAPADOG, No Life!!

The thing I love most about JAPADOG is their boundless enthusiasm for hot dogs.  The owners are truly living their dreams, as evidenced by the comparatively detailed history section on the website.  Although the English isn’t always perfect, the website is fun and ambitious.  It’s not often I come across someone whose passion for sandwiches rivals my own, and it’s a nice feeling.

I have no idea what kind of hot dogs these are, but they look AWESOME.

The hot dogs at JAPADOG also look delicious.  I’ve always wanted to eat hot dogs with regional themese, and the use of Japanese ingredients lends it a somewhat classier look.  (These are the kinds of recipes I expected from the famed Yesterdog of Grand Rapids, by the way.  I got pickles and mustard with a side of condescension instead.)  A couple offerings which look particularly tasty are the terimayo, which includes teriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed, the yakisoba, which is an arabiki sausage topped with noodles, and the ebichiki, which is a shrimp sausage topped with chili sauce and dried shrimp.  They also offer traditional undressed hot dogs, for the less adventurous visitors.

All in all, JAPADOG looks great.  I don’t anticipate being in Vancouver or NYC any time soon, but next time I am it’s definitely on my list.  Anyone who’s in the area, be sure to check them out and let me know what you think in the comments.  And on a related note, can any Japanese readers confirm that this is anything like how hot dogs are prepared in Japan?  I honestly have no idea.

I kind of try to avoid talking about my personal life on Sandwichtalk, but I was recently hired by the Kalamazoo Gazette as a news section intern (you can see my work here).  One of the effects of this job is that for the first time, I’m in downtown Kalamazoo between the hours of 11 and 3, when the hot dog shop Dogs With Style is open.  Dogs With Style is a bit of a rarity in this day and age; a cheap lunch option with limited hours and a menu of hot dogs and other quick sandwiches, french fries, and a couple of soups.  Seating is limited, and they actually have a walk-up window outside to the street.

The Polish Dog on the left, and the Chicago on the right.

I ordered the Chicago Dog and the Polish Dog, and was impressed by both. The Polish was a bratwurst with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard.  It was good, and both the bratwurst itself and the sauerkraut were generously portioned.  I had tried a Chicago-style hot dog previously but hadn’t been too impressed with it.  This one was much better.  The inclusion of celery salt was a small but important addition, and while the hot dog frank itself wasn’t quite on the level of Steak ‘n’ Shake’s, the other ingredients, namely the chopped onions and tomatoes, tasted fresher and much more authentic.  While I’m still warming up to Chicago-style, this is obviously the place to do it.

All of the hot dogs and most of the sandwiches at Dogs With Style cost $2.50.  You can get a cheap combo, which includes fries and a drink, but the two hot dogs themselves made a pretty satisfying lunch.  Dogs With Style is on Burdick Street next to the Kalamazoo State Theatre, and if you happen to be going to lunch downtown, it’s a good bet.

You may recall my pleasant surprise at Steak ‘n’ Shake’s Carolina Slaw hot dog.  I was impressed by the quality of the frank itself, as well as by the clever use of ingredients.  I’ve been back a couple times to sample some more of the line, and it’s been up and down.  I haven’t tried all of them, but I did sample the Chicago Style and the Cheesy Cheddar.  Here’s what I thought.

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A while back, Steak ‘n Shake introduced a line of hot dogs topped with various cheeses, sauces and other stuff.  They’re not unlike their regionally themed burgers in terms of ingredients, and come with fries and a drink.  I’ve been dragging my feet on trying one.  Hot dogs aren’t a super high quality meal, and while they’re a staple of ball parks and food courts, the idea of going out to eat and ordering one over a burger doesn’t seem too appealing to me.  I finally bit the bullet and decided to try the Carolina Slaw.

Third from the top.

And I’m really glad I did.  If you’re going to order a hot dog from a restaurant, Steak ‘n Shake is the place to do it.  While “signature steak franks” sounds a bit grandiose, but this is actually a genuinely high quality, tasty frank.  The Carolina Slaw’s hook is the addition of cole slaw and mustard.  It’s good cole slaw, and there’s plenty of it.  It adds a nice texture to the dog, and is light enough that it doesn’t overpower the meat.  All in all it’s a clever idea executed well with top shelf ingredients.

The Carolina Slaw, like other steak franks, runs for about $4-5 as a combo.  I’d definitely recommend the one I tried, and would be willing to try another one.  Like I said before, it’s rare that I recommend a hot dog from a restaurant that serves other things, but this is one to try.