Few meals are as quintessentially summer than a hot dog and a cold drink. Hot dogs could once be found only under specific circumstances: at a ball game, a backyard barbeque, from a cart in a busy city. But with comfort foods still having a big resurgence and mobile food stands become de rigueur, the humble hot dog is starting to become a food star in its own right.

Case in point: Baltimore is home to not one, but two gourmet hot dog establishments. Both Stuggy’s (www.stuggies.com) and Haute Dog Fabulous Franks opened about two years ago. I visited each to discover the dog delicacies they had to offer.

Stuggy’s

809 S Broadway Baltimore, MD 21231
(p) 410-327-0228
www.stuggies.com

Stuggy’s is a father-and-son venture in the heart of Fells Point, just south of Jimmy’s. The place is tiny – two tables outside and seating for maybe three people at a small counter inside. Their extensive menu is hand-written overhead and is at first a bit overwhelming. They have six types of basic dogs (Beef, Bison, Turkey, Veggie, Italian Sausage, and something called a “bacon dog” listed as “deep fried”). Once you’ve decided on your meat you can keep it simple and order toppings a la carte, or select from one of their many speciality menu items. Condiments are plentiful and range from free (such as mustard, ketchup, Old Bay), $0.69 (Barbeque sauce, grilled peppers), $0.99 (grilled bologna, chili), $1.29 (fried egg, bacon). The specialty dogs have a lot of geographical preparations (Chi Town, Carolina, Bean Town) as well as some truly original concoctions (The Mac and Cheese is a regular dog smothered in Mac and Cheese, Old Bay, and Hot Sauce). All dogs are prepared to order so it takes a couple of minutes.

I went with a classic beef dog prepared the way I like it – topped simply with chopped onions and spicy brown mustard ($3.99). The foil-wrapped dog came split down the middle to better hold in the toppings, which I like. The dog came on a soft, fresh Martin’s potato roll. The dog definitely tasted better than average and had a nice freshly grilled taste going on. Stuggye’s offers fountain Boylan’s soda (bonus!) and you can purchase their signature beef dogs to take home. They appear to be well known for their fried Oreos, which is not my thing, but while I was waiting for my dog a couple came in and ordered several of them.

Even though there’s not much seating, this is Fells Point, so there are plenty of places nearby to sit and enjoy your dog (my personal favorite are the large cement steps behind the Bond Street Wharf). I can absolutely see coming back here to grab a quick (and dirt cheap!) bite when traipsing about Fells.

Haute Dog Fabulous Franks

6070 Falls Road, Baltimore MD 21209
http://www.hautedogcarte.com/

I first noticed Haute Dog a while back when I was cruising up Falls Road one afternoon, and saw a huge throng of people milling about next to Bonjour Bakery. There were so many people in line, I couldn’t even tell what they were in line for. Later I found out: it was Haute Dog Fabulous Franks. This adorable little stand took up shop in a garage adjacent to Bonjour in 2010. They are open everyday from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm. This is definitely a cart-like set up, but since they share a space with Bonjour, customers are welcome to sit on the bakery’s porch or inside if they like.

Haute Dog’s menu consists of five regular dogs and two “Chef Dogs” that vary daily (and are thoughtfully posted daily on their website, Facebook, and Twitter). I really liked that the menu was varied but manageable. The regular menu includes a signature dog, a sweet and savory Filipino dog, Spicy Italian, and a Veggie Pup. All come with house made toppings. Here’s the coolest part: they don’t use regular hot dog buns, they use a full size unsplit roll (“a cross between a baguette and a sub roll”, the owner explained) and impale them on this stake-like contraption that bores a large hole into it, and then heats up, toasting it from the inside. It is seriously one of the most menacing – and awesome – looking things I’ve seen in a while.

Once the bun is toasted the dog and toppings go inside the toasty crevice, creating a fabulous gourmet pig in a blanket kind of thing. Arranging it this way keeps the toppings from getting anywhere. It’s genius. Dogs are then wrapped in paper and served in a cone. All of their hot dogs are $5.00 (again – I love the simplicity) and they offer soft drinks and chips as well.

I went with the “HD Signature” – a whopping ¼ pound black angus beef frank topped with house made tomato and onion jam, bacon and onion marmalade, and actually-imported-from-Dijon Dijon mustard. This is a lot of food for five dollars. The homemade toppings were sweeter than I expected but countered the salty goodness of the dog perfectly. I was also generously offered a bite of two of their other franks to try, the Maharlika (the Filipino dog with miso glaze and a hot sriracha sauce) and one of the Chef’s Dogs of the day, the Butifarra, which I was told was an ancient Roman sausage. It came with a delicate tomato bruschetta. They were both outstanding and I was seriously yearning for a larger stomach so I could keep sampling.

Who won the show down?

Both Stuggy’s and Haute Dog have their merits. Stuggy’s is open until 3am Thursday – Saturday which I can’t argue with – I am sure they are a big hit with the Fells bar crowd. Who wouldn’t want a cheese slathered hot dog and Boylan’s Cream Soda after last call?

But I have to say I was really blown away by Haute Dog. Their franks are original and different but not snooty or too fancy pants, and the amount of dog and bread you get for five bucks is amazing. Their customer service is also top notch and the whole place just has a really cozy, local love vibe to it.

If you have a favorite hot dog in town, let us know in the comments section!