Dog Days, Vol. III: A.W. Dawgs
Dog Days. The name is derived from the lingering appearance of the brightest star in the night skies of summer. Sirius, the main attraction in the constellation Canis Major, or Big Dog, is a prominent throughout the days of June, July, and August. It’s no coincidence that the hot dog gets a special place on summertime tables. As cuisine has evolved to a high level in the Lowcountry, so has the hot dog. I present you EatThisCharleston.com’s Dog Show.
Dog Days, Vol. III: A.W. Dawgs
By Patrick Graham
I have never been a little brother. I am the elder of my parents’ two children, and I have known many little brothers. In my experience, it is not uncommon for the younger of the two to strike out on his own and strive to be nothing like his senior sibling, especially after taking a crack at emulating that big brother as a result of an innate sense of reverence. Few role models present themselves as easily or more prominently early on in a boy’s life.
Such may be the case for the relationship between A.W. Dawgs and A.W. Shuck’s. If you’ve been in downtown Charleston’s Market area for more than a half an hour, you probably know about A.W. Shuck’s. The catchy name and better-than-average reviews have helped tourists find the usual sought-after seafood plates and plentiful outdoor seating, and the locals have been coming around for more than thirty years. But just last month, the raw bar that included the storefront at 70 State Street was converted into a hot dog joint, and thus the transformation of the rebellious little brother was realized.
Having never visited the establishment in its life as a raw bar, A.W. Dawgs appeared well laid out as a simple hot dog (and taco) operation: a flat-top and a fryer dominates the food preparation area, all the cooks need to construct 90% of the menu. Elevated booths and tables line both sides of the dining room, and on the shelves, a fantastic collection of vintage lunchboxes are convened as a point of nostalgia, many of them dating back to the restaurant’s birth in the late 1970s. I myself am still a proud owner of this fire engine red Peanuts container, complete with the standard mini-Thermos, but it unfortunately resides at my boyhood home in suburban Dayton, Ohio. Back to the restaurant!
One of the distinct advantages of this frankfurter funhouse relative to the other two that have been reviewed in this series is the presence of beer taps and wine bottles. The business model dictates that this will appeal to a younger, thirstier crowd, and, having observed the 2 a.m. closing hour, it’s likely that this particular crowd doesn’t let less sleep get in the way of a good hot dog and a good time. In addition, the outdoor seating in the Linguard Alley provides an arena for aficionados of that easygoing yet maddeningly difficult game of cornhole. A.W. Dawgs has also stretched the canine metaphor to the point of allowing our four-legged friends a place to hang out (and possibly the occasional snack as well).
As for the hot dog menu, A.W. Dawgs has followed the simple rule of this specific category of restaurant: use the best raw materials. The Vienna Beef company, stars of the other two weiner lists, once again supply the main ingredient in most of the various choices of AWD’s menu. Of particular note were the classic Coney Dawg (chili n’cheese), The Big Brat (a Johnsonville product with brown mustard and sauerkraut), the Philly Dawg (in the foreground with the green peppers, onions, and provolone), and the Boston Dawg (in the background with sauerkraut, bacon, sweet relish, and yellow mustard).
Both of the first two (the Coney and the Big Brat) were solidly prepared and made a good showing in comparison to the other versions of these preparations found in the other restaurants. The originality of the Philly Dawg struck me because I am a recovering cheesesteak addict, and I was tempted to put mayonnaise on it to complete the picture. To avoid certain ridicule, I rethought that addition, but I was advised by my wife (my Southern food translator) that mayo on a dog was widely accepted in many circles down here, and as it turned out, it was an unusual but satisfying twist on an old recipe. The sweetness of the sautéed peppers and onions along with the requisite provolone reinforced a familiar flavor profile I knew and loved. After all, it was still a beef hot dog.
But by far the most unusual combination was the Boston Dawg, a veritable train wreck of the taste buds. The acidity of the sauerkraut, the savory bacon, the sweetness of the relish, and the twang of the yellow mustard? “Si, si, I am very intrigued!!” (If you understand that reference, you get a cookie.) This gastrological schizophrenia is appreciated by a marginal few, but I, a fan of the Cincinnati coney--with its cinnamon/cocoa/allspice/clove chili along with the cheese, onions, and mustard--can appreciate the unpredictable flavor aggregate this dog exhibits. An acquired taste, to be sure, but for the uninitiated, it’s a challenge.
Flanked by the recently retooled Palmetto Pale Ale and my wife’s Westbrook White Thai, the consumption of all four hot dog selections was complete. I then came to the conclusion that the proprietors had wanted me to arrive at all along: that beers and dogs were an obvious combination.
And I apologize for being unintentionally sexist for the sake of the “little brother” analogy at the beginning of the article; I just figured that ladies wouldn’t want to be compared to a hot dog restaurant.