"High concept" is usually reserved for describing movies, often disparagingly. It's also useful for describing some restaurants. The high-concept restaurant has an angle you can describe in a few words, one conceived to appeal to a well-defined market. While this seems primarily the domain of chains, the local restaurant that combines quality with concept can score big.
Which brings us to DogTownHots, whose owners, Fran and Peg Basil, have opened in the seemingly cursed off-street location across Monroe from Oxford. The curse looks doomed, done in by smart owners with a great idea and classy execution.
The concept is high-quality regional and creative hot dogs, with a dog theme for giggles. Remember Boners, which attempted the hot dog schtick some years back? Dumb name.Worse than dumb.DogTown hums off the tongue, though. And the hots and sausages are top-notch, all made by local companies, grilled nicely, and topped six ways from Sunday.
It starts with the dogs, a couple varieties from Zweigle's. The standard is a German-style frank, long and yummy. "We're one of only two places in the country that has our white hot," Fran Basil says proudly. Zweigle's has been making hot dogs for well over a century, and has never had a better rep than it does now. There is a reason.
But a hot dog --- even a great one --- is primarily an excuse for toppings. "I thought it would be interesting," Basil says, "to have hot dogs that were regional." So, you might try the Cincinnati Red Dog, topped with DogTown sauce and cheddar ($2.79). The sauce is a Cincinnati-style meat sauce akin to our Rochester sauces, but leaner, not as hot, and more complex (a bit of chocolate lights it up like a mole). Most of the hot dogs are named after, well, dogs. The Southern Hound Dog comes covered in coleslaw ($2.79). The German Shepherd will wake up your taste buds with sauerkraut, grilled onions, and mustard ($3.09).
"After that," Basil says, "we just started makin' 'em up." You won't find a Bernese Mountain Dog in Switzerland, but you will here: sautéed 'shrooms, melted swiss, and dijon mustard ($3.49). Other fun names include the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Russian Wolf Hound, and the Boston Terrier. You can get any of the dogs with a Zweigle's red or white, a Hartmann's 100 percent beef hot (the "Cattle Dog"), or an Yves jumbo soy dog (which is vegan, and most toppings are vegetarian).
Ultimately, every sandwich rises or falls on its bread. DogTown's answer?To quote a City Newspaper reader, "Martusciello's, capiscipaisan?" You'll find fancier breads, but not better.
Beyond dogs, the DogTown burger, a bargain at $3.29 ($3.49 with cheese), is superior to similarly priced competition (Gray's, Wahl's). It's good beef with enough fat to be tasty, but again the secret is the bread, cut from a loaf of Martusciello's French. There are also several varieties of Hartmann's sausages, including andouille ($4.29), Polish kielbasa ($3.79), and bratwurst ($3.79). There is also one interesting soup every day: cream of Brussels sprouts, Adirondack corn chowder, or Southwestern pumpkin, for example ($2.99 with bread).
The fries are coated, but burgerologist Stan Merrell still liked them ($1.79). Then there are the DogTownhomefries, breaded and deep-fried ($1.99). Those didn't work for me, but others obviously dig them. DogTown also has sweet potato fries ($2.29) and excellent onion rings ($2.29).
"The people who serve plates at the stands, we're not in competition with them," Fran insists. "We've got nothing to do with them." He's right; DogTown's breadth and quality set it apart. But you can get a plate, the Junkyard Dog: two pieces of meat on two sides with toppings ($6.29). I loved it with two white hots, DogTownhomefries, mac salad, fried onions, and sauce.
Fran Basil has fixed cars, taught English in Italy, worked in restaurants, and written books about the best of Rochester and Buffalo. He's proud of what he's doing now, albeit in a laid-back way. "Nobody has this," he says, "Nobody I know of anyway." Me neither. High-end-low-end: the wave of the future? I made four trips when two would have sufficed, and I hear that 16-month-old Ally Fear loves the place. If DogTown makes me and Ally happy, it must be doing some things very right.
El Rincon (not related to El Rincon Mexicano in Sodus and Canandaigua) has opened in a renovated brick building at 176 Genesee Street, near St. Mary's Hospital. Try some tostones, alcapurrias, bacalaitos, patelillo, and yuca con cebolla for appetizers in this Latin American restaurant. Open Tuesday though Saturday, 11a.m. to 6 p.m. (235-1290).
--- Michael Warren Thomas of www.SavorLife.com.