Where hot dogs become haute dogs

by Brian Clarey

I`ve spent a fair amount of time lately talking about our nation’s quintessential dish: the hamburger. But this week I’d like to address the hamburger’s down-market cousin, the hot dog.

Hot dogs get no respect. You can buy them for a dollar on the street.

They look like phalluses. Nobody takes them seriously.

But the Red Onion in downtown Greensboro makes a case for the hot dog as gourmet fare.

Billed as a “gastro pub” — which is somewhat misleading, since the menu centers around hot dogs, fancified and dressed up though they may be — the Red Onion lives in what used to be the Center City Café, Bar Fry before that, the Next Door Tavern before that… I could go on all day.

Brad Semon placed the kitchen near the front when he created Bar Fry, and there it still stands, turning out excellent fare even as it bisects the space into a front vestibule and back barroom, shielded from the action on the street.

The menu is a real sausage fest, with eight options: your basic dog; a turkey version; a Nathan’s all-beef frank; a veggie dog; bratwurst and garlic-red pepper sausage, both made in house; Hebrew National kosher dogs; and Polish kielbasa.

The rules are simple: Select a type of tube, and then figure out how you want it. The choices run all the way from your basic mustard-andkraut, Carolina and chili-cheese dogs to combinations that turn hot dogs into haute dogs.

The Washington Apple has cream cheese, onion strings and applejalapeño compote. The California Dog wraps the frank in bacon and adds avocado, cilantro-lime slaw and chili powder. The Buerre Blanc has… buerre blanc, with sautéed spinach and provolone. The Campfire Dog — basically a s’more mashed up in a bun with a hot dog — sounds like a joke but the bartender assures me that people love it.

It’s crazy, man. So much so that upon my visit I am torn between the California and the Chicago. In the end, I go with what I know, choosing the house bratwurst as a base.

I should say here that I am breaking two of my own rules. I always say that if there is a dish with the same name as the retstuarant, then you should get that dish. And there is indeed a red onion dog, topped with a hot, red, onion sauce that I cannot usually find outside of New York. I also am a big one for homemade sides, and the Red Onion crafts many of their own side items, like the sweet-potato chips, three kinds of slaw and cous cous salad. I get fries because, dammit, I just wanted them.

My Chicago dog, with pickled peppers, relish, tomato, onion and a pickle spear, dusted with celery salt, may sound a little vinegary to some, but the fatty (in a good way) brat could handle the accoutrements. Served on a high-quality hoagie roll, it was easily the best hot dog I have eaten all year. I washed it down with a genuine Arnold Palmer: iced tea with lemonade squeezed fresh at the bar. Fabulous.

There’s a full bar, of course, with almost a dozen drafts and a decent wine selection along with the full complement of hooch. But how can you turn down a fresh-squeezed Arnold Palmer. I ask you?

They have other stuff on the menu, too: burgers, salads, chicken sandwiches, homemade chili, pulled pork and some interesting appetizers, along with a kids’ menu that takes the child’s palate into consideration. But I promise that when I return, and I will, I will stick to the hot dog menu until I’ve run it through. And I am always down for a handmade Arnold Palmer.

wanna go?

The Red Onion 219-A S. Elm St., Greensboro 336.253.7878