Saturday, July 2, 2011

Just In Time For The Holiday Weekend: Man Bites Dog

No Longer In A Trailer
It’s a couple of days before the 4th of July. Nobody really refers to it as “Independence Day” anymore. Apparently, the day has lost its formal title and is now commonly referred to as “the 4th,” as in, “Hey Bob, what are you going to be doing on the 4th?” Well, one thing I won’t be doing this year is watching fireworks.

The ongoing drought in Texas is severe, and there are burn bans in effect for the vast majority of counties in the state. Many cities and counties have cancelled their traditional fireworks display, and, have also taken the unusual step of banning the sale and use of fireworks by the public. That means no “Buy One Get Eleven Free” banners being hung at the fireworks stands this year. It’s all very necessary of course, because the cedar trees which cover the hill country are very dry, and would act as an extremely dangerous propellant in any fire. Nevertheless, I’ll miss watching the fireworks exploding above the various communities which line the banks of Lake Travis.

If fireworks are out of the picture this year, than I still have hot dogs. I love hot dogs, and I always have. In my mind, there is no better symbol for the 4th of July than the good old American hot dog. And, happily, no one is suggesting banning the hot dog. Fireworks I can easily do without, but not hot dogs.

Jeremiah Allen
Yesterday I decided to get an early start on the holiday weekend, and I headed into Austin for dogs. And, in Austin, there is no one who can build a better hot dog than Jeremiah Allen, owner and operator of Man Bites Dog. Jeremiah grew up in Bowie, Texas but has been an Austin resident for many years. Holding an MBA from Texas State, he is not your average hot dog slinger. His educational background, work ethic, and love of hot dogs have served him very well, and his business is growing.

Like many young food entrepreneurs in Austin, Jeremiah started his business in a trailer. But his goal was always to open an indoor restaurant of his own, and a couple of weeks ago he did just that. And so, Man Bites Dog is now permanently located on Burnet Road. He had originally hoped to keep the trailer on South First Street up and running after the new restaurant opened. However, shortly after opening the new place, it became very clear that it was difficult to operate in both locations without sacrificing quality, so Jeremiah wisely decided to close operations in the trailer and focus on the restaurant. Although I’m really a big fan of trailer food, I must admit that I’m glad he made the decision. I’m well past the point in my life where I enjoy sitting in a hot automobile when it’s 103 degrees outside, wolfing down some take-out food.

After Jeremiah activated the red neon “Open” sign yesterday morning, I was first in line. Because the menu was so extensive, I had a hard time deciding exactly what I wanted, because, truthfully, I wanted everything. The hot dog and sausage selections at Man Bites Dog are unique, and they all looked good, but I finally decided upon the “Danger Dog,” and the “Abe Froman.”

"Abe Froman" and "Danger Dog"
The “Danger Dog” is a bacon wrapped beef frank, deep-fried with queso fresco, jalapenos and danger sauce. The “Abe Froman” is a Chicago-style dog which features a Vienna beef frank with yellow mustard, diced onions, sweet pickle relish, tomatoes, a dill pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt.  Given the absence of fireworks this year, I probably should have ordered the “Bottle Rocket,” a smokey Denmark hot link topped with Sriracha mayonnaise and jalapeno relish. That would have taken some fast creative thinking on my part, and unfortunately, I didn't make the connection until after I had ordered.  Perhaps I'll celebrate with one next year.  Additional selections on the menu included, “Hair of the Dog,” “Buffalo Hottie,” “Beer Brat,” “Boss Dog,” “Cuban,” “Chili Cheese Dog,” “Reuben,” and “Old School.” There were also corn dogs, salads, a kids menu, and an ample selection of sides. Drink selections included soft drinks and ice tea, and for those so inclined, beer and wine.

The Perfect Bun
The first thing I realized when Jeremiah brought the food out is that I had probably made a mistake by ordering two hot dogs. These weren’t a couple of puny little hot dogs shoved inside tiny steamed buns like the kind you find at many places. Each of these dogs was a meal in and of itself. The hot dogs were huge, piled high with toppings, and served on toasted oversized buns. Often overlooked, is how important the quality of the bun is to the hot dog. The buns served at Man Bites Dog look to be an inch thick, and are firm enough to hold the hot dog and the toppings intact while it’s being eaten. Few things are more annoying than eating a loaded hot dog on a cheap thin bun and have it all fall apart on the very first bite.

Upon leaving Jeremiah Allen’s place, I felt a lot better about not being able to see any pyrotechnics this year. After all, aside from July 4th being a day of celebration for our country’s independence, hot dogs are truly what the holiday is all about. So, now you know what I did this July 4th weekend. Man Bites Dog.