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Review: Franks 'N Dawgs

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Apr 6, 2010 6:00PM

L-R: Franks 'N Dawgs' "N'awlins" dog, the "Foss Hog," the Mystery Corn Dog and Veal Percik sausage.

If a hot dog joint dares to venture beyond Chicago-style territory and up its game with gourmet sausages, comparisons to Hot Doug's are inevitable. Alexander Brunacci apparently understands this, which is why he's gone to great lengths to distance himself from the reigning king of gourmet encased meats on my visits to Franks 'N Dawgs. "I understand that people are going to make those comparisons," Brunacci said. "But I think we're more akin to a place like Kuma's Corner with what we're doing."

This may be true if Brunacci was making burgers bigger than one of my quadriceps muscles while playing death metal over the PA. Aside from Franks 'N Dawgs' menu, however, the place is as nondescript as any other hot dog joint in the city, including Hot Doug's. And it's that menu and Brunacci's personality, honed to a rapier sharpness after years in marketing, that begs the comparisons to Sohn. Like Sohn, Brunacci engages his customers and runs a tight ship in the kitchen. Unlike Sohn, Brunacci gives you the hard sell from the moment you belly up to the counter that Franks 'N Dawgs is "five-star gourmet dining on a bun." To the uninitiated, Brunacci can come across like a P.T. Barnum trafficking in tube steaks: "a showman by profession... and all the gilding shall make nothing else of (him)." Unlike Barnum, Brunacci isn't selling snake oil or human oddities.

Franks 'N Dawgs menu has something for everyone. Many of the condiments and toppings are made in house. fries are cut fresh daily and twice fried. Standard hot dogs and chili dogs use Boar's Head encased meats; the gourmet dogs are sourced from Chef Martin's Alpine Brand sausages ("Wolfgang Puck's former chef," Brunacci crowed), with about a half-dozen sausages made in house by chef Joe Doren, who Brunacci picked up via his brother, chef Frank Brunacci of Sixteen restaurant in Trump Tower. Frank Brunacci consulted on the menu (and Alexander Brunacci stressed that his brother has no other involvement in Franks 'N Dawgs other than that), but for the most part it's informed by Alexander Brunacci's global travels partaking in street food. Served on buttered and griddled lobster roll-style buns provided by Nicole's Crackers, Franks 'N Dawgs is sincere about making the hot dog a gourmet experience.

It doesn't get much better here than the mystery corn dog Brunacci touted as one of Franks 'N Dawgs' staples. A beef curry sausage dipped in house made Anson Mills polenta and served with grain mustard, it was so light and airy, like biting into curry-flavored cotton candy (the sausage changes from day-to-day). A veal percik dog is an $8 revelation served with date chutney, toasted almond slivers, marinated carrots and ginger mayonnaise. Another conceit is the monthly "celebrity chef" dog. Last month's selection, the "Foss Hog" in tribute to Lockwood chef Phillip Foss, was a sweet pork link served with bacon, maple aioli and a fried egg. Foss told me he had no real consultation with Brunacci about it — "he gave me his word that it’s good," Foss said — but when his Kosher-keeping wife heard about the ingredients "she nearly collapsed." Foss has since given his seal of approval to the Foss Hog. (The next celebrity chef up for the Franks 'N Dawgs treatment is Avenues' Curtis Duffy.)

As good as the sausages are I can't stress the importance of those buns. They're sturdy enough to handle all the condiments and toppings Doren loads atop the dogs. With homemade sausages, buns that stand up to piles of toppings and word of mouth and reviews starting to trickle in and extend the lines, it might not be long before Brunacci welcomes the comparisons to Sohn.

Franks 'N Dawgs, 1863 N. Clybourn, 312-281-5187