I may not be a huge fan of this city’s pizza (see “Best pizza on this side of the pond”) but if there’s one quintessential New York food that I’m completely for it’s the hot dog. I love it with sauerkraut and mustard, with just ketchup, with chilli and onions, from street vendors and from sketchy holes in the wall, kosher or not, in summer and winter. But as much as I enjoy a good dog, Flaneur loves them even more. So Friday night we set out for the East Village (once again) with our friend Vanessa to try the wieners at Crif Dogs, which I had heard were among the best in the city.
First sign a place is good: it’s packed. And Crif Dogs, when we walked in around 8, was just that, with people crammed around tables cluttered with PBRs and paper plates of hotdogs, fries, and—is that what I think it is? — tater tots.
Feeling good about our soon-to-be dinner we walked up to the menu, which read like a stoner’s fantasyland of crazy combinations, ridiculously high calorie counts and toppings on top of toppings on top of toppings.
There was the “Jon-Jon Deragon,” a Crif dog (handmade, naturally smoked beef and pork) with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions and everything bagel seeds. Or the “Good Morning,” a bacon-wrapped dog smothered with melted cheese and a fried egg. Or the interestingly named “Spicy Redneck,” a house dog, bacon-wrapped, with chilli, cole slaw and jalapeños.
Yikes, this really is a stoner’s heaven, I thought to myself while trying to decide if a fried egg on top of a hot dog would propel the calorie count into the four or five digit count.
In the end, both Vanessa and I opted for a more classic hotdog, which compared to the other ones almost seemed tame, the good ol’ chilli dog: smothered in mustard, onions and secret chilli sauce. We both also added a side of waffle fries for good measure.
Flaneur on the other hand, went for two different hot dogs. First, he took the classic route and got a Crif dog with sauerkraut and mustard, and then, for his second choice he ordered a Crif dog “ casually attired” in cheese and sautéed onions. The name of that one? The Philly Tubesteak. That’s right, my boyfriend ordered a tubesteak. Moving right along…
Lucky for us, a few people cleared out and the three of us squeezed into a table to wait for our dogs. Minutes later the Tubesteak and company arrived.
The first thing I noticed was the waffle fries which were a good firmness, not too soggy or too crispy, but just right. And they weren’t too salty either, which I appreciate in a fry. It’s always worrisome when a fry leaves actual grains of salt on your fingertips. Makes you wonder what its doing to your insides, mainly your arteries.
After a few fries, I went for the dog before it could get cold. The bun was soft, which I like. (I’m not a fan of the extra toasted bun, which is how my mom’s hot dog buns always came.) The chilli was a nice deep brown color and not that weird orangey, red chilli color that screams artificial when you bite into it. It packed a good amount of taste made just that much better by the chopped onions underneath. The mustard added the extra spicey zing I like in almost everything that’s not a dessert.
I had a couple bites of Flaneur’s hot dogs and those were pretty good too. Flaneur, who’s eaten his fare share of hot dogs all over Manhattan in the few months he’s been here, seemed to thoroughly enjoy them as he as he wolfed both down in a few gigantic mouthfuls. The Philly Tubesteak in particular seemed like ideal munchies food. I mean really, a hotdog with cheese whiz? That has stoner written all over it. And that’s ok with me.
Crif Dogs won me over just with its tasty, over-the-top franks but to make it even better, it’s also home to a speakeasy style bar, Please Don’t Tell, accessible through an in-house phone booth. We didn’t make it in because apparently it’s not much of a secret and people were lining up just to be given wait times of up to an hour.
So now, you see, I have to go back. And if I’m going, I might as well get another Crif dog or two to hold me over while I wait. Maybe even with a fried egg.