DEFCON Dining: Good Dog

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Dining out with children is an exercise in situational awareness. Each experience is unique, with different variables leading to different possible outcomes, DEFCON-like in their escalating threat levels. Keen observation, forward planning and prior experience are critical in determining the proper strategy. Here at DEFCON Dining, we do the grunt work for you. It ain't always pretty.

Good Dog is pretty much begging for the DEFCON treatment. I mean, what food is more kid-friendly than the hot dog? Couple that with the type of attention to detail that makes food-loving adults take notice, add a friendly and casual atmosphere, throw in beer and grown-up milkshakes, and it's pretty much DEFCON heaven. Hell, they even have a "Cry Room."

OK. So that last part might not be entirely true. There is no Cry Room, per se, but there is a little alcove tucked in next to the counter, separated from the main dining room. That's where we found ourselves on a recent weeknight visit, after my wife noticed a similarly be-infanted family enjoying a relaxed if slightly more rambunctious dinner in the slightly secluded spot. Out of sight out of mind, they were free to manage the adorable outbursts of babble, and the occasional toy sent skittering across the table and onto the floor, without the disapproving glares of non-breeders aghast at the effrontery of a baby in their grown-up dining midst.

This was our first collective visit to Good Dog, our eight year old daughter having Columbused the place with a friend a few weeks prior. As we looked over the menu, she offered some sage advice: "You should get a hot dog. They have really good hot dogs here." Thanks, kid. Duly noted.

As for those hot dogs. Turns out the kid was right. She's a purist, ordering her dog naked, with sides of mustard and ketchup. The better to appreciate the snappy casing and snappier pepper bite of the dog itself, she might say. Or she might just be picky. Your guess is as good as mine. The whims of an eight year old are inscrutable, man.

I tend to lean in the direction of the basics myself, though not quite as bare-bones as the kid. I bounced back and forth between the Chi-Town and the New Yorker right up to the moment of truth, settling on the stripped down kraut dog. It was good, but not great. I find that when sauerkraut is braised for too long, it can lose some of its character, and I think that's what happened here.

Had there been a better balance between the briny funk of the cabbage and the malty sweetness of the beer braise, and had the kraut kept a bit more of its crunch, this would have been a tremendously good hot dog. What with that snappy tube-steak itself and the swipe of assertive and highly textural mustard, the bones were there. A trick I use when serving a braised kraut dish is to reserve some cabbage uncooked and mix it in at the very end. It reasserts the flavors that make sauerkraut so appealing in the first place, along with a bit more texture, while still allowing for the mellowing and nuance afforded by braising.

My wife opted for the Ol' Zapata, whose kaleidoscopic mix of ingredients seemed like sensory overload. I ended up loving it. Somehow, the mix of bacon, muenster cheese, caramelized onions, tomatoes, jalapeño relish, ketchup, and mayonnaise wound up reading like a Texan take on the Chicago dog. Something about the balance of sweet, tang, freshness, and crunch, I think. I'd get it again in a heartbeat. Be forewarned, though; its a messy one.

Almost as big a surprise was the side of collard greens I ordered, not knowing my wife had already put in for both fries (a bit under-seasoned, but fried masterfully) and chips (as elegantly cooked as their French cousins, but a hair over-seasoned). I'm glad I did. Tender but still a bit meaty, with a pot liquor that made me wish for a straw, they were startlingly good. Add the punchy chow chow on top for a bit of balancing acidity, and these greens would make a killer hot dog topping. Turns out the Good Dog guys have already thought of this. It's called the Southern Comfort Dog, and it's what I'm getting next time.

Another thing I'm getting (again) next time? The Cajeta and Caphin milkshake. A sinister collusion of excellent local products hell-bent on turning us into a bunch of jittery diabetics, it's well worth the hit to the glycemic index.

As for the baby, we discovered that a plastic hot dog basket makes an excellent IED*.

*Improvised Entertainment Device

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