At Fire Dog, Chicago-style weenies shine and the Blue Bunny is radiant
Iam occasionally asked how on earth I come up with the restaurants I review. It's all less mysterious than you think, for apart from whispered conversations in corridors, notes tossed over transoms and stuffed into hollows in designated trees, and meetings in darkened parking garages, I often let my fingers do the walking. It was on one such digital amble through the Yellow Pages that I came across the Fire Dog: Chicago-style Vienna beef hot dogs, Italian-Peruvian deli sandwiches, breakfast tacos, coffees and - ta-da! - Blue Bunny ice cream. Who could resist?
|Fire Dog's authentic Chicago-style hot dog and Philly cheese steak sandwich, shown with a can of Inca Kola - a nod to the Peruvian influence in some of the restaurant's fare. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)|
A phone call revealed that Fire Dog is run by a husband (Peruvian) and wife (Italian) team, and that the place is way-the-hell-out on Blanco, beyond even 1604, in a reviewing black hole. I also learned that Friday night there would be "light entertainment" and a B.Y.O.B policy (the wine and beer license is still in the works).
So I holstered up a dog-worthy bottle of South African 2003 Goats do Roam and tanked up for the trip - on gas, not wine. Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was the giant oak tree shading Fire Dog's entry deck; it's a heritage specimen and creates a welcoming environment even before you enter the restaurant. The interior, though friendly enough with red, yellow, and blue accent paint, is nothing special, but this is deck weather, anyway. A quick conversation with the hostess revealed that the Peruvian influence, not immediately apparent in the menu, can be found in three sandwiches - turkey breast, pork, and chicken breast - that the Fire Dog got its name from a chile sauce used in both the namesake dog and on the Peruvian sandwiches, and that the kitchen was out of yucca fries. Oh, no.
Blame the dearth of yucca on Katrina. Apparently, this Latin American product is shipped through the Port of New Orleans and hasn't been available from the usual sources. The Blue Bunny ice cream in the freezer chest next to the order counter (turns out this made-in-Iowa dessert has a local following ) also appeared a little depleted. One carton was down to nothing but dregs and, brilliant turquoise, it looked like nuclear waste. My advice? Run as though it were; it's cotton-candy-flavored and totally repulsive. We ordered our appetizers, dogs, and sandwich, and headed for the deck and a purgative swig of Goats. Outside, the sky was shading from indigo to indigone, the nearly full moon brightening a cloud-clabbered sky, and Out of the Blue, a guitar and fiddle duo, was well into "Me and Bobby McGee." What more could you ask for?
Well, maybe a few more onion rings in the $4.99 order. Beer-batter-dipped, they're just OK, but even indifferent rings are skimpy at eight to a plate. The chili-cheese nachos are of the mix-it-all-together variety, and thus a mess to eat, but are not bad for all that. But a steamed, 7-inch Chicago dog complete with fluorescent pickle relish, a pickle spear, tomato wedges, mustard, and a single Italian pepper was way better. The same poppy-seed-sprinkled bun enveloped the Fire Dog, which was tricked out with fried onions, Italian pepper, and a light slathering of the signature hot sauce, a lively orange product with an assertive taste reminiscent of the Peruvian aji chile. Chicago deserves to win one for a change, and windy beats fiery in this confrontation.
| The Fire Dog
Price Range: $3-7.25
The Peruvian pork sandwich deserves a better roll. Although the sliced pork, folded with fried onions and accessorized with lettuce, tomato, and mustard, is good, it's hardly as distinctive as Peru's truly famous culinary contribution to the world, ceviche. Get your "fire" sauce on the side and add in at will to control the heat. Use it all.
The taste of chemical cotton candy having faded at this point, we relented to a rudimentary root beer float (as usual, it tasted better when everything had melted together into a slush) and a dish of basic Blue Bunny chocolate. The latter was adequate but not reason enough for me to make a return drive. However, there are still the pizzas, numerous Italian dishes, and seven more dogs, including a Polish model and the usual dyspepsia-causing perro with chili, to warrant a second trip. Plus the return of yucca fries once FEMA gets its act together. Just like Fire Dog's globe-trotting menu, everything's connected. •