I’ve written about a lot of different types of food on this blog. Mostly burgers, fine, but also Thai food, chili, tacos, barbecue and the like. What I haven’t touched on yet is hot dogs. And the reason is simple: There aren’t really any hot dog places in Milwaukee about which to get excited. If I have one complaint about the Milwaukee culinary scene, it’s that. To me, it’s a crime that Milwaukee, the land of Klement’s, Usinger’s and all things German, is so lacking in the hot dog department.
All of this brought me to Dr. Dawg (6969 N. Port Washington Rd.) on this blustery day. Although I tend to like my hot dog joints a tad grittier, a little more lived in, you do what you gotta do. And in this instance, that meant driving up to the sanitized world of Glendale (or Manitowoc, for you northerners) in search of that ever-elusive great hot dog. Situated at the far end of a strip mall that definitely wasn’t there eight years ago (don’t let the “cream city brick” fool you), Dr. Dawg is in a sort of no-man’s land. I guess there are some nearby medical facilities, and I’m sure the people on lunch break at Bayshore must love its proximity, but for an East Sider like me, this place better be special to warrant such a trip.
When you walk into Dr. Dawg, you immediately find yourself in the shadows of a massive menu. Five feet tall by probably 12 feet long, this thing takes a while to digest. For the indecisive (which will be most people when faced with this thing – seriously, I could have easily ordered half a dozen items), they offer the Da Big Half & Half (12 inch, $6.49), which combines their Chicago dog with their Polish in one giant 12-inch sandwich, as well as the Italian Beef & Sausage Combo (5 inch, $6.49; 7 inch, $7.49; 12 inch, $11.49). They even have a new burger menu that looked appealing (next time, Evan … next time). Luckily, I was accompanied by my good friend Nick and my future sister-in-law, Kayleigh, so we were able to try a little bit of everything.
Chicago, Cheese, and Chipotle.
Being a hot dog place, obviously I had to go with their Chicago dog ($2.99, $3.99 with fries or $5.49 for a 12 inch). On the other end of the hot dog spectrum, I went for their Duck Sausage (100 percent duck sausage with sweet and spicy “duck” sauce and caramelized onions, $4.49; $5.49 with fries). Kayleigh ordered a Chili Dawg and a Cheese Dawg (she’s a trooper), and Nick, the resident vegetarian, picked the only two veggie-friendly options on the menu – the Field Roast spicy Mexican chipotle sausage (they also have apple wood sage) and a black bean and cheese tamale.
As we sat down at a booth and waited for our food, and tried to wrap our heads around the radio station that was playing (what kind of maniac DJ transitions from Gogol Bordello to the Goldfinger theme song?), Kayleigh said that after our meal we needed to get one of those giant cookies (“Katie’s Monster Cookies,” according to the menu). So I quickly ran up and grabbed one. You don’t need to twist my arm.
As soon as the waitress set down our trays, I immediately saw something amiss (and this is something I’ve actually written about before). The pickle that comes on the Chicago dog is simply way too big. So big, in fact, they serve it on the side. So I’m forced to take a bite of the hot dog then a bite of the pickle and that’s just no way to enjoy a Chicago dog. Although the poppy seed bun was soft and nicely steamed, and all the other toppings (relish, onion, sport peppers, celery salt, tomatoes and mustard) were top notch, I can’t look past the pickle.
Duck and Chili.
The rest of the items were equally hit and miss. The cheddar cheese sauce on the Cheese Dawg was partially congealed (though, to be fair, that might be because it sat for a couple of minutes as I snapped photos of everything) and strangely sweet. The chipotle veggie sausage was nicely smoky and subtly spicy but dry. The tamales were, well, tamales. Three people who don’t particularly like tamales might not be the best judge of them, but we all agreed that they tasted pretty much like every other tamale we’ve ever had. On the positive side, I did enjoy the duck sausage (even if the “duck sauce” is a touch on the sweet side), and I heard no complaints from Kayleigh as she polished off her Chili Dawg.
The highlight of the meal, though, were the Garlic-Rosemary Fries. These things were fantastic. I was expecting a sprinkle of garlic salt and a quick toss in some rosemary. But, no, these things were doused in fresh diced garlic – and perfectly crispy, to boot. Even though we were all stuffed, we continued to pick at the sack of fries. So, those were unquestionably great. But no restaurant wants their fries to be the star of the show.
I like Dr. Dawg. I really do. The hot dogs themselves are good (and the Char-Grilled Salami sandwich and Italian beef are definitely in my future) even if some of their creations miss the mark here and there. Also, Dr. Dawg prides itself on using only the best products, be it Niman Ranch meats, Gonnella French bread, Field Roast vegan sausages, Scala’s roast beef, Vienna sausages or Maple Leaf Farms duck. And that’s certainly to be commended.
But it has to be pointed out that with the limited and underwhelming options in Milwaukee, the bar with which Dr. Dawg is being compared is awfully low. While no Hot Doug’s (Chicago’s “Encased Meats Emporium and Sausage Superstore”), Dr. Dawg is a valiant effort. And probably the best hot dog place in Milwaukee. For whatever that’s worth.