Once school starts and there's the thought of fall en route, I start getting ridiculously excited about tasting the finest junk food my palate has known. My passion for the freshly made Fletcher's Corny Dog at the annual State Fair of Texas is legendary among my family and friends. Even as I spend the rest of the year yammering on in my pious way about the garbage that people eat from drive-throughs and frozen packages, I harbor a terrible weakness for this sizzling-hot, crunchy cornbread coating around a dog-on-a-stick dispensed at the authentic Fletcher's stands at the Fair.
Last weekend, however, I realized that my lifelong love affair with the FCD has probably come to a screeching halt. The breakup was most unexpected. But I met another corn dog with far greater attributes than even my beloved Fletcher's, and I don't have to wait long months between liaisons with my new object of desire.
Visiting the new gourmet hot dog bistro called Bowery, opened just a couple of weeks ago in Uptown, I found out how a dog can be exquisitely dressed. Just as burgers have found their way to beautification on a plate, the hot dog can be seen as something as much more grand than ballpark fare.
Bowery comes to a stretch along McKinney Avenue's bricks, next door to Urban Taco and about midway between stalwarts Primo's Tex-Mex and Hook, Line & Sinker. Its pedigree is most impressive, as its owners are John Paul Valverde, owner of Campo Modern Country Bistro; and Richard and Tiffanee Ellman, the husband-wife team who own Oak. That the trio could find time between running brand-new, smash-hit restaurants to open a cleverly conceived fast-casual concept is a testament to their energy. (And Tiffanee, a new mom, does a darn fine job of busing a table with a 9-month-old son on one hip.)
As they've already proven, this is a threesome experienced in the ways of feeding your palate with enticing flavors and doing so in stylish surroundings. Bowery proves that the same can be done with a much more casual food genre, as the edibles, beverages and setting all elicit approval even from jaded diners like us.
Perusing a lengthy menu took a bit of time; too many shiny objects seemed to lurk in each offering. Still, I had no trouble skipping classics like the Chicago Dog and Bowery Brat to get to the Korn Dog ($6) and to discover the new gold standard for my great junky weakness. Encased within an enormous fluffy grits-like cornmeal jacket, a brat-size beef frank offers up a freshness that seems blessedly free of the nitrites that mar the common hot dog taste experience. It's serve with a yellow mustard, but I loved dipping it into the Dijon I nabbed at the condiment bar.
From the Travelers section of the menu, we skipped over The Mexican (a dog wrapped in smoked bacon and served with pintos, jalapenos, tomatillo salsa) and the Moroccan (Merguez sausage with harrisa slaw and apricot jam) for the Bahn-Mi ($8.50), a Vietnamese-esque spicy pork sausage topped with slices of pork belly, shaved cucumber, chopped scallions, pickled daikon, shredded carrots and a squiggle of hoisin sauce. The combination of flavors proved exceptional; I only wished for the really crusty French roll that I enjoy at Vietnamese joints.
In the High Brow section of the menu, we thought about the Duo of Duck (a lofty $18 dog), combining duck sausage and seared foie gras with bluebbery jam and scallions. But Valverde told us the Croque Madame ($8) was a big hit, and we bit. Then, we fell hard. The frank was wrapped tightly with slices of ham and Swiss cheese, swabbed with a bechamel sauce, then topped with a fried egg. The exquisite effect prompted my lunch date to draw a comparison between eating this divine sandwich and enjoying delicious sex.
Such sinful indulgence meant we skipped the sweet potato tots and onion rings, listed among Extremely Good Sides, and went for the more virtuous crispy kale chips ($3.50). The basket of flash-fried dark leafy greens, dusted with sea salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon, disappeared on the tongue instantly, but the flavors and texture remain a good memory.
Before our food arrived -- you order at the counter and the friendly staff brings out your food when it's ready -- we enjoyed some of the inventive cocktails crafted with champagne and beer, instead of hard liquor, an also took in the smartly adorned interior. Sipping a very summery Sparkling Cucumber (champagne blended with cucumber vodka, lime, muddled fresh cucumber and orange bitters, $10) and an equally refreshing Basil Shandy (lager mixed with lemon soda, simple syrup, fresh basil and lemon bitters, $8), we admired the black-and-white scheme that features photography and street signs from Lower Manhattan.
What's even more attractive about Bowery? It's open until 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. While we think it's a great place to go before gallery-hopping, it's obviously a cool joint to get some grub on after a night of clubbing.
Though my Fletcher's romance is ruined, I'll be OK -- as long as I can get a Bowery fix now and then.