Say goodbye to the hot dog cart, Fort Lauderdale.
Five years ago, downtown was home to a handful of vendors who slung cased beef on the cheap. I remember one cart at Broward and Federal Highway where you could buy two dogs and a can of soda for $3. Now that cart is history, just like the bikini-clad ladies who once hawked franks and stopped traffic a few miles north at Oakland Park Boulevard.
Enter Dogma Grill (900 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-1319), a gourmet hot-dog stand that aims to resurrect the cart dog as haute fare. Owners David Tunnell and Jeffrey Akin, former MTV execs who have a knack for marketing, started the Miami-based chain in 2003. Since then, they've grown the concept to four stores in the South Florida area, including the Lauderdale location.
Dogma Grill comes with its own philosophy, which, according to its website, includes creating "an urban oasis and a nostalgic place to celebrate the hot dog." The pair has high hopes for the chain: franchises, endorsement deals, a line of clothing printed with more dogmas. If things go as planned, people all across America will soon be able to remember what it was like to eat an actual hot dog.
The marketing is a bit over-the-top. Still, that wouldn't be a problem if it didn't creep into the food. Of the 15 gourmet dogs on the menu — each made with kosher beef, turkey, or vegetarian soy and served on a poppy-seed or wheat bun — most feel like canned attempts to create international flair. For all this ostensible creativity and the respect allegedly paid to the hot dog, what you end up with is the Athens ($4.15): a dog with red onions, kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomato, and feta. Did someone think this out? Does anyone really want feta on his frank? Not the Greeks, I'd bet, who lend their name to the sauce typically on Coney Island dogs.
How about West Coast fusion? I wanted to enjoy the Sedona dog ($4.15), topped with sliced avocado, bacon, tomatoes, sour cream, and a "spicy salsa cream" — but it was dreadful. The salsa cream was so tangy, it quashed even the powerful bacon.
A Mexican dog dubbed "el macho" and "the pomodoro," Dogma's version of Italian (both $4.15), are far too predictable. It's as though the owners tried to condense entire cuisines rather than create something unique or celebratory.
Dogma also offers standards such as the "L.A." chili dog ($3.95). Even here, I have issues: Beef chili, melted cheddar cheese, and chopped onions make this a hearty, satisfying item — but it's uninspired. A more interesting L.A. dog would be wrapped in bacon and fried with onions and whole jalapeños. You'll find that kind of dog at street carts all over Los Angeles and nowhere around here.
This is where Dogma misses its opportunity. A real hot-dog joint could seek the cool variations you can't find anywhere else in South Florida and give them space to grow. That would show real love for the noble dog.