Hot Dog of the Week: Fat Franks
"The menu has everything from the standard kraut and chili dogs to the signature blue cheese and bacon Fall Mountain Dog."
On a recent New England hot dog excursion that included Pete's in Newburgh, New York, and Gus's mini dogs, the biggest surprise was the place I knew the least about. Expecting a run-of-the-mill, small-town hot dog joint, Fat Franks was anything but. Driving through the sleepy town of Bellows Falls, Vermont, you can't miss the shimmering glass windows, memorable logo, and hot dog flag flapping in the wind.
The menu is a bit overwhelming at first but the proprietors are friendly and happy to guide you through the process. If you're just in for a quick bite, there are steamed self-serve "everyday dogs" for $1.50, which can be piled with toppings of your choice from the fixin's bar. But what you really want are the all-beef natural casing dogs, available in both "skinny" and "fat" with a variety of toppings.
Order up your dogs and head up to the second floor dining area with a view of the town and they'll bring the food up when it's ready. Enjoy their great selection of beer (everything from local Vermont beers to Belgians) while you wait.
The sides are all house-made, the fries hand-cut; brats and knackwurst poached in Vermont Long Trail ale before grilling. The franks and sausages are made nearby in Springfield and Boston, and everything's topped with Raye's mustard from Maine. Most importantly, it all tastes great.
First up: the hot dogs, which are steamed or grilled to your preference. Heavily spiced, ultra-snappy, all-beef natural casing franks, they really stand up to the delicious homemade chili. (Not sure who makes the hot dogs, only information we got was "Boston.") I preferred the "skinny" six-per-pound franks, longer that your average dog and served on top-split new England buns. The "fat," four-per-pound franks and sausages come on larger, standard buns. All varieties of dog and sausage are also available for purchase by the pound to take home—very cool and the first time I've seen this at a hot dog place.
The menu has everything from the standard kraut and chili dogs to the signature blue cheese and bacon "Fall Mountain Dog," as well as sausages from Andouille to Kielbasa. Don't miss the sides here either.
The fries are fresh-cut and twice fried, as good as any gastropub, and even better piled with chili and cheese. The baked beans made with bacon and maple syrup were outstanding. You can tell the owners and cooks really care about the food. I wouldn't be surprised if they were former chefs or line cooks who traded in the chef coats for something more fun.
Fat Franks self-serve condiment bar was not the usual 7-Eleven trainwreck of sweaty onions and saltines floating in pickle juice. Fresh diced onions, good pickles, celery salt (awesome), Sriracha, malt vinegar for the fries and at least eight varieties of mustard—everything from classic yellow to brown mustard with ginger, also available in jars to take home.
We didn't get to the burger but they're also made from local hormone-free beef from a local farm, ground fresh daily. Even their plastic glasses are biodegrable (and made from bamboo or something?). If it sounds like they lay it on pretty thick with the local and natural, it doesn't get in the way of the food, born more out of a desire to serve the freshest and best ingredients than to lecture.
This is the vibe I got in general eating in Vermont, where fresh, local and craft-anything means better and cheaper and actually local.
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.