When brainstorming about our next food challenge, we rattled off a few ideas. Then Viggo suggested it: hot dogs. Ahh hot dogs, the overlooked cousin of the burger. I mean what's not to love about the humble hot dog? What sort of offerings did Sydney have for the humble sausage in a bun? Well as it turns out there were plenty to try!
Although they're not seen in as great a number as burgers they offered us a satisfyingly fun challenge, more relaxed with less stops to hit along the way. The options varied from hot dog specialists like The Hot Dog Man, Dogma and Snag Stand to places that offered hot dogs along with a varied menu.
I'll admit I'm not a huuge hot dog fan but since my friends are always so good about doing challenges (except we have permanently shelved Mr NQN's fruit salad challenge due to lack of interest by participants!) when Viggo suggested it I was more than happy to try it. Because I wanted to know if you could get a truly amazing must eat hot dog in Sydney. We would test a range of 2 to 3 dogs at each place to even out the scores because hot dogs really vary from place to place.
And for good measure we brought along our own little hot dog who accompanied us on our first two stops at beachside locations. Alas Louise was unable to make it due to illness but her husband Viggo came prepared with a knife, chopping board and napkins. And we end up with a good combination of people sharing wise because Belinda and Viggo like the ends while Mr NQN and I like the middles. Let's go!
The Hot Dog Man, Manly
Our first stop on these challenges always seems to be on the Northern Beaches and this time it was Manly where The Hot Dog Man resides on the Corso. He has a steady patronage even at 11am. They're mostly teenagers buying a basic dog although there is a good range of hot dogs on offer which makes it difficult to choose.
The hot dogs are a tad pricey for a takeaway sort of place although it's probably in line with Manly Corso's higher price tag and tourist friendly location. At around $13.50 we are expecting a good hot dog. We also buy some sauces-a black truffle mayonnaise and a Sriracha sauce.
Pork & fennel bratwurst $12 and Coripan $13
They're not bad hot dogs but there's something perhaps missing in them, you know that desire to take lots of bites and finish an entire foot long. The buns however are really nice and probably my favourite buns of the whole day.
Our little hot dog
But overall both Belinda and I felt like the chorizo sausage lacked a real smoked paprika and garlic taste. Viggo and Mr NQN were bigger fans though with Viggo saying, "lovely buns, tasty sausage, appropriate toppings" and Mr NQN "enjoyed the toppings particularly the pickle" although they both agreed about the chorizo's lack of punchy flavour. We use the spicy Sriracha sauce to boost the heat.
Average sausage score: 23/40
Average Bun Score: 29/40
Average Topping score: 28/40
Average overall score: 26.7/40
It's onto our next stop to Cronulla right across Sydney from North to South. Inner West lover and West resident Belinda groans as we make our way to Cronulla. She loves the west and it's only on these challenges that she deigns to visit the North and South of Sydney.
Google maps takes us on a bizarre route along an industrial estate which prompts Belinda to accuse Mr NQN of taking them on the world's most boring tour of Caringbah's industrial estates. This prompts Mr NQN to take on the role of Kramer from Kramer's Peterman Reality Bus Tour of New York. We reach Cronulla and by sheer miracle (actually my two lucky feathers in my glove box, Sydney people need these!) we get a park right near Dogma.
Green machine and sweet release $7 each
"Ooh this sounds like your sort of place," I say to Viggo pointing at the hot dog and stein of beer offer called "Frank N Stein". Dogma is a hot dog specialist led by former Aria chef Brendan Hill that serves "hot dogs with principles" alongside pressed juices. We get some juice - a Green Machine and a Sweet Release and they're both pretty fab especially for healthy juices. Then the hot dogs arrive.
Clockwise from left: Katsu dog $15, Veggie Dog $14 and The American $13
The katsu hot dog has nori, shaved cabbage, bonito, okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise although there isn't much katsu chicken inside and could use a bit more. My favourite and the overall highest rating is the American hot dog with the super soft caramelised onions, cheddar and mustard. The vegetarian hot dog has one of those distinctive vegetarian sausage tastes although I do like the delicious beans on top. In Belinda's words, "Say no to vegan food in the shape of animals in casing" and it ends up bringing the average score down.
Average sausage score: 23/40
Average Bun Score: 27/40
Average Topping score: 27/40
Average overall score: 25.6/40
Snag Stand, Sydney CBD
After dropping our little dog off to my parents' house we go into the city and make our way to the 5th floor of the Westfield Shopping Centre to Snag Stand, one of Belinda's favourite stores. We manage to grab a clean table in the food court and make an order there trying one regular American, one wagyu beef that sounded good because garlic mashed potato is always good and one of Belinda's favourite the Toulouse hot dog.
From left: American Classic $7.90, Wagyu Beef $10.90 and Toulouse $10.90 Hot Dogs
We aren't waiting long before our buzzer sounds. The American is a hit with the wood smoked frankfurter, mustard, tomato sauce, onions & sweet relish on a toasted brioche roll. I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying the plainer hot dogs. Belinda loves the Toulouse with a grilled pork, wine & garlic sausage, sautéed onions, chives, rosemary mushrooms & truffle aioli on a toasted brioche roll which is a bit strong in thyme for me although I do like the mushrooms on top. Viggo likes the sausage while Mr NQN prefers the toppings.
Toulouse hot dog $10.90
The Wagyu hot dog with grilled Wagyu sausage, butter & garlic mash, herbed gravy, sautéed onions, chives and fried shallots on a toasted rustic roll tastes like a Christmas dinner in one although the sausage itself is quite beefy but a little tough in texture. But we are all smitten with the fries that we dip in the truffle mayo.
The American Classic $7.90
Average sausage score: 27/40
Average Bun Score: 30/40
Average Topping score: 28.5/40
Average overall score: 28.4/40
Bavarian Bier Cafe, Sydney CBD
I'm pretty sure that if I were to leave a handwritten explorer's diary the page right now would read in faint scrawl, "So very thirsty. Help..." and perhaps my shrivelled body would lie next to it. Hot dogs are very salty and thirst making indeed. So it's time for a drink.
Schinken Griller $10 (front) and Munich Dog $10
Viggo tends to approach these challenges very scientifically which is quite a good quality to have in these challenges. He really thought a lot about the sausage. He's also Danish and hot dogs are a very popular item there. He suggested was that we try a German place for their sausages. We walk a couple of blocks to the Bavarian Bier Cafe where there are a few kinds of hot dogs.
I should also add that the hot dogs here are enormous numbers, the size of a small adult's forearm (okay my forearm). There is the Munich dog with a haus made frankfurter, sauerkraut, spiced mayo, mustard and ketchup which is a good respectable classic hot dog.
I have to admit that up until now, I haven't really loved the sausages. I've been more interested in the toppings but one of the hot dogs here changes my mind about the sausage. The sausage is grilled and takes on a lovely char to it. It's my favourite sausage of the day so far.
Size comparison with forearm
The Schinken Griller has a wonderfully charred smokey bourbon BBQ kielbasa, mustard seeds, slaw, onions and horseradish and it's moreish. For the first time the sausages are getting scores of 8 or 9 out of 10. They're also really well priced at $10 each.
The only thing we don't like are the floury, dry buns that really detract from the fillings and the reason why the overall scores were lower.
Average sausage score: 32/40
Average Bun Score: 14/40
Average Topping score: 24.8/40
Average overall score: 23.6/40
Stitch Bar, Sydney CBD
Our next stop is just a little further up the road from the Bavarian Bier Cafe and it's a cute little small bar, its entry marked by the hundreds of Singer sewing machines. We slide into a booth (it's always a yay when we can get a booth) and peruse the menu. "This menu is all about cocktails" Viggo says which delights me and if I had pointy ears they would have swivelled around in interest. I choose a "That Time in Band Camp" which is a delectable mix of marshmallow infused Woodford reserve, McVitties chocolate digestive biscuit and chocolate ice cream.
There are three hot dogs on the menu and we order all three. And these are the hot dogs that I've been waiting for the whole day. While the others were nice enough, these are in a different league. They're moreish and with a great balance of flavours and each hot dog is distinct from each other and you don't want to stop eating them. They're also pricier than other places at $15.50-$17.
Mac Ducky $17
The Classic Dog has a spicy Andouille sausage (not mild like the menu says) with sauerkraut, ketchup, mustard, onion and cheese. The Hipster Dog is a heavenly combo of cheese kransky, kimchi, kewpie mayo, Sriracha and pork floss with a distinct sweet flavour to it.
Hipster Dog $16.50
Their signature dog called the Mac Ducky is divine, a duck, pistachio, fennel and orange sausage with foie gras and squiggles of truffle and garlic mayo. It's wonderfully luxe. These hot dogs get the highest ratings of the day and comments like "excellent sausage, great toppings, best overall hotdog so far" from Mr NQN about the hipster dog although Viggo says about the classic dog sausage, "sausage was too spicy to be considered "classic".
Average sausage score: 28/40
Average Bun Score: 29/40
Average Topping score: 31/40
Average overall score: 29.4/40
El Loco, Surry Hills
It's full swing into the silly season with all of the customers at El Loco in costume and not a free table or chair in sight. We had heard good things about El Loco's hot dog so we were curious to try them and there are two kinds that come with fries for $15 each.
Chilli dog $15
Some guy spills his beer on my dress and then goes to wipe it off my bottom before Viggo stops him with a "I don't think that's a great idea" hand gesture. Our hot dogs couldn't arrive quickly enough as we feel like complete outsiders here.
El Loco Dog $15
The sausages are regular frankfurters and the El Loco dog tastes like the hot dog version of a McDonald's cheeseburger in terms of pickles and sauce. Belinda's comments for both the regular and chilli dog are simply a "meh". The fries are excellent though but you really have to like chaos to really appreciate the atmosphere here.
Average sausage score: 22.5/40
Average Bun Score: 24/40
Average Topping score: 22/40
Average overall score: 23/40
Rockpool, Sydney CBD
It's our last stop, and things get a bit silly at this point as we make our way back to the CBD for our final hot dog. "Getting Jiggy With It" comes on the radio and Belinda and I sing along (badly, we think we know the words but end up sounding like dolphins singing "eh eh eh eh eh eh"). "It's seven minutes til sunset," Viggo warns us and we realise that we've found our band name. At each gig we'd play two songs before retiring for a hot dog and a nap.
Rockpool's Bar is frantically busy this evening. Staff are rushing past and it's amazing how they can keep their cool and charm in the face of everything. And tonight even chef Neil Perry and his wife Sam are dining two tables away in the bar.
We try and end all of our food challenges on a high and this would no doubt be the most expensive hot dog of the day (by $1!). But all I want now is salad and somewhere to relax. We order a range of things including their hand cut chips with wagyu gravy (SO good!) and a burger as well as a radicchio salad (my request).
Rockpool Chorizo Dog $18
The hot dog comes with a gravy boat full of spicy green jalapeno sauce and a good chorizo sausage. Sometimes during this challenge the sausages have stood out, sometimes the additions and I think sausages stand out because they've got a good balance of flavour and good ingredients. This one has both and the bun is good although I guess I would have perhaps expected Rockpool to trick up the bun to something a bit fancy.
Oh salad I have missed you! Come to mama!
But it's a great last stop with people murmuring that we've been all around Sydney and it's nice to end on a good all rounder adn the highest rated hot dog at 29.5/40 closely followed by Stitch Bars three dogs at 29.4/40. There's no room for dessert so we make our way back to our homes and dream of what else, but hot dogs...
Average sausage score: 30.5/40
Average Bun Score: 28/40
Average Topping score: 30.5/40
Average overall score: 29.5/40
Hearing From Our Hot Doggies
Belinda: I've not really been a fan of hot dogs and haven't had one for the longest time. I remember as a kid going to the butchers and they would give my sister and I a cold hot dog to eat while we waited. My other memory is having boiled hot dogs and tomato sauce at birthday parties. Always I would get a headache and extreme thirst after these hotdog encounters.
Thank goodness times have changed and you can spoil yourself with a myriad of hotdogs with super fancy toppings. Because really it's all about the toppings.
My favourites were at Stitch Bar, the Hipster with Kim Chee and the Mack Ducky with hello lover.......foie gras and truffle.
Second for me was the charred and snappy skinned frankfurter from Bavarian Bier Cafe. Probably the best actual sausage of the day.
I just couldn't come at the vegetarian hot dog from Dogma, their other hotdogs were good options though and a cool place to have munch down on a dog.
The best thing to come out of our hot dog challenge was that we formed our band 'Seven minutes to sunset'. Not much rhythm but we have dope moves on the inside and some hot dolphin sounds.
The worst thing was Mr NQN's exciting, thrill a minute, breath taking cycling adventure tour of the back water industrial area of Cronulla. Worst because it was neither exciting, thrilling, breathtaking or an adventure. Wrong turns and bad navigation are his specialty. My advice on the day 'Just give up'. Getting him this motto on a bumper sticker for Christmas.
Lorraine: I started to wonder halfway through the challenge about whether I just wasn't a hot dog person. I mean I love sausages, I love bread and I love sauce and toppings but some places left my stomach filled but my tastebuds just weren't excited.
And then we had the grilled Schinken sausage at the Bavarian Bier Cafe, a place I haven't been to in a lot of years and I was actually excited about the sausage and then we followed it with the hot dogs at Stitch Bar (where have you been all my life?) and then my tastebuds were happy again.
As always a highlight is the camaraderie that happens in the car rides. This time everyone was in the same car. Usually it is Viggo and Louise in their car and everyone else in ours but you learn a few things when you share a car ride with others. Apparently Viggo only dances with his toes and not the rest of his body and hey we've got a new band name. So all in all a very successful day.
My favourite dog would have the bun from the Hot Dog Man but toasted and with any of the Stitch Bar dog fillings.
Mr NQN: Somehow I missed the repeated reminders that we're going on a hot dog challenge. I don't mind hot dogs, they're easy to eat and my understanding is that some people really enjoy eating them. I channelled competitive eater and hot dog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi who is pretty well known for his love of hot dogs. He has a somewhat unorthodox style to eating them however preferring to turn the bun to mush before swallowing it as quickly as possible. At each stop we ensured that we had a liquid refreshment however we chose a more standard way of eating a hot dog. We also ate at a much more sedate pace.
I enjoyed this challenge as it felt to be quite relaxed. No issues with getting tables and ordering just a couple of hot dogs (of course we ordered drinks).
Overall I found the toppings to be the most exciting thing for me with some disappointing sausages and mostly the bread was ok.
If I were to mix and match the most important component for me would be the toppings on the classic from either Dogma or Stitch Bar. Sausage and bun could be from any of the highly rated places.
Viggo: Ever since I was a kid I've been eating hot dogs - they're almost considered a "street food" in Denmark, and you can get them at "pølsevogner" (sausage trucks) on most street corners in larger towns - I fondly remember my brother and I getting one each as a treat, typically when we were going traveling on the train, so I was quite looking forward to this challenge.
Now there's quite a difference between Australian and European style hot dog sausages - for me I'm looking for a slightly smoked frankfurter, however I found that quite a few places used Australian style sausages, which I find are a little more chunky and meaty. This was definitely the case at the hotdog man, and dogma, and indeed most of the places, and I found that the sausage at stitch bar was a particularly good example of an Australian style sausage, and suited the"hipster dog" really well - it was my favourite overall hot dog of the day.
If I could pick and choose, my perfect hot dog would consist of the browned onions from Dogma, the bun from snag stand, and the sausage from the Bavarian, it was a standout smoked frankfurter sausage, absolutely delicious! I enjoyed the day immensely, and it was nice to have a smaller challenge than usual, and so we finished up at a civil time of night.
So tell me Dear Reader, are you a middle or an end person? And what is on your perfect hot dog? Do you have a favourite hot dog place?
The Hot Dog Man
30 The Corso, Manly NSW 2095
Phone: (02) 9977 3330
1/98 Cronulla Street, Cronulla (02) 9527 4446
5th floor, Westfield
188 Pitt St, Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9221 9600
Bavarian Bier Cafe
24 York St, Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 8297 4111
61 York St, Sydney NSW 2000 Phone: (02) 9279 0380
64 Foveaux St, Sydney NSW 2010
Phone: (02) 9240 3000
66 Hunter St, Sydney
Phone: (02) 8078 1900