With the in-laws in town and wanting to go shopping at the outlets last Friday, I had the perfect excuse to haul up to the Hudson Valley in the Serious Eats Edge (on loan from Ford) and check out some of the local hot dog scene. First stop, Soul Dog in Poughkeepsie.
If you want to enjoy yourself at Soul Dog, you've got to be open to wild toppings, as they've got over 16 of 'em, ranging from baked beans to guacamole. Oddly enough, they completely eschew traditional ones like sauerkraut or chili sauce (they've got turkey chili and quinoa chili, but the closest they come to meat is their "Sloppy Joe" sauce).
I'm not as much of a crazy prescriptivist when it comes to hot dog toppings as I am with, say, pizza toppings, which is not to say I don't have opinions. As a New Yorker raised on Gray's (I still lament the day Columbia ousted them from their 110th Street location), sauerkraut and mustard are my go-to with the occasional concession made to sauteed saucy canned Sabrett's onions. When I moved to Boston, relish or perhaps grilled onions and peppers became my standards, unless you count late-night trips to the 7-11, in which case it was cheese sauce and chili unceremoniously squirted out of a metal nipple at the push of a button. Out in Michigan I go local and slather on the Coney sauce. I've even given that strange Greek chili a go in Cincinnati (can't say I was a fan).
That said, some of the choices at Soul Dog even pushed my limits. Happily, pretty much everything I tasted by way of toppings was remarkably tasty and fresh.
Of the sauce combinations I tried, the surprise winner was the Thai Peanut sauce, served with chopped cucumbers and cilantro on a grilled Sabrett's dog. A little spicy, a little sweet, and plenty savory, it's something worth experimenting with at home.
Sloppy Joe sauce is chunky, sweet, and salty, and totally reminds me of cafeteria Sloppy Joes in a good way. I went with the cashier's advice and added some chipotle cream to mine, which added a nice richness, though I honestly couldn't say I tasted much smoke or heat in it.
My favorite dog of the day had chopped red onion along with a good amount of their hot "Soul Sauce," essentially a house-made hot sauce.
Now, if you know a thing or two about hot dogs, you may have noticed something by looking at these pups here: yep, they are SKINLESS FRANKS.*
*A quick glance at the ends of the dogs where the sphincter-shaped lines from the artificial casing converge will tell you this.
Skinless dogs are an excusable offense at, say, a street cart or a ball game or anywhere where hot dogs aren't the main attraction—but seriously, how can a shop that bills itself as a hot doggery not serve genuine natural casing franks, especially when the dogs are already over a couple bucks a pop? Much like a pizzeria that has awesome toppings but some basic flaws in its crust, I found these hot dogs tasty but difficult to fully enjoy because of their lack of snap and texture.
Ya listening, Soul Dog? Just upgrade your hot dogs and you'd be seriously world class—you've got the atmosphere and the spark to pull it off.
By the way, the fries here are outstanding when you get them fresh. Crisp, thick-cut, super potatoey, they're great plain but are even better when you get them Soul-style with a dusting of their garlicky seasoning mix.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.