A few years ago, high-end hamburgers started a new wave of restaurants in Phoenix. If Maui Dog is an indication, high-end hot dogs are poised to break through as the next local food trend.
The Hawaiian-themed hot dog restaurant at 3538 E. Indian School opened about a month ago, and business already has a brisk appearance – especially during the noon hours.
And the same conditions that caused the Phoenix burger renaissance are likely to work in Maui Dog’s favor. The burger phase started when economic conditions were getting tough. Fancy burgers were a way to get people dining out without the hefty price of a steak.
There’s also something comforting about a burger – it’s simple, backyard leisure food. But now it has a gourmet spin.
Finally, there’s novelty. Many of the burger places have their own stamp on the humble burger: the brick-shaped burger of The Grind, the applewood-smoked bacon on the Delux signature burger and the high-quality puck of beef used at Zinburger, just to name a few.
How does this relate to Maui Dog?
Well, we’re not out of the woods economically yet. And hot dogs are even easier on the wallet than burgers. A turkey dog with chili -known as a Lava Dog in Maui Dog parlance- is $5.25. Spam sliders (which cash in heavily on the Hawaii theme) are $1.25 each.
There’s also the comfort food factor in hot dogs’ favor. They’re simple. Their nostalgia rating is off the charts. And the Maui Dogs owner was smart to include a wealth of cylindrical meat objects for every taste – not just hot dogs, but bratwursts and -for the health conscious- turkey dogs.
Finally, there’s the novelty. Maui Dog taps the island vibe with its toppings and sweet Hawaiian-style bread, along with the décor.
Looking beyond Maui Dog, the Phoenix area is known for its free-standing carts serving Sonora-style hot dogs. The hot dog trend could truly get rolling if one of these entrepreneurs would take advantage of the glut of empty restaurants and get a permanent location nailed down.
And there’s more – if Phoenix can have Hawaii or Mexican-themed hot dog joint, why not Icelandic hot dogs? During my recent visit to Iceland, I learned that Icelanders are nearly as proud of their hot dogs as they are of their glaciers and seafood. One hot dog stand in Reykjavik has allegedly served President Bill Clinton, Madonna and Metallica founder James Hetfield. My curiosity to discover what makes a hot dog Hawaiian brought me into Maui Dog. I would imagine the same curiosity would bring people into a place in Phoenix offering Icelandic hot dogs (which are a mixture of beef, pork and lamb).
As for Maui Dog, its owners have shown some vision. It stands out from all the hamburger joints. It’s friendly, inexpensive and tasty. A few more gourmet hot dog restaurants with different themes could only make dining in Phoenix a little more fun.
AZCentral.com (Competition heats up for specialty burger restaurant – Aug. 29, 2010)
The Atlantic (Hot Dogs: The Pride of Iceland, Jan. 22, 2010)
Phoenix New Times (Where’s the Bacon?, July 1, 2004)