The 'Bird Dog': September Special at James Coney Island

Although the chef series of specialty hot dogs has been going on all summer, I only jumped on the bandwagon in August but with delicious results. Thus, I needed little convincing to go for round two in September when James Coney Island is showcasing Mockingbird Bistro chef John Sheely's creation, a bacon-wrapped kobe beef dawg.

Early on a weekend evening, I stopped in at JCI and was immediately distracted by the spotless dining area, which looked freakin' cleaner than a French hospital. Clearly, someone at this location does not tolerate mess.

In a lovely twist of fate, Frances, the same employee who waited on me during my visit to JCI the prior month, was again poised to take my order. When I asked for the Bird Dog, she smiled and scurried off to the kitchen, where, I imagine, the ingredients for the show dogs are kept (in, I like to think, fancy monogrammed containers). While waiting for my order, I was also able to chat with affable manager David, who told me that the hot dogs featured as part of the Chefs and Show Dogs series were consistently very popular. I was happy though a bit surprised to hear this, given that the chef-designed hot dogs are almost twice the price of regular JCI fare. Guess H-towners (myself included) don't mind paying a few extra shekels for a quality frankfurter.

The first thing that struck me about the Bird Dog, still gloriously presented albeit in a takeout box, was that it did not smell like most hot dogs. Most dawgs, even the fancy-schmancy classed-up kind vended at many Houston restaurants, emit a rather overwhelming odor of salty meat that tends to dominate your olfactory experience. The redolent Bird Dog, however, projected a slightly spicy botanical fragrance that suggested more complex layers of flavor.

My hypothesis proved correct as I slowly consumed the Bird Dog, which alternately boasted sweet, savory and sour notes thanks to the combination of plump kobe beef with a relish of tomatoes and cornichons and a liberal dressing of Dijonnaise. Wrapping anything in bacon is an easy (and some might say cheap) way of upping the deliciousness factor of a dish, but in the case of the Bird Dog, Sheely was wise enough to go easy on the pig portion. The inclusion of applewood-smoked bacon thus does not overwhelm the hot dog with greasy porcine flavor but rather adds some welcome fatty, crisp texture that nicely balances the lighter crunch of the microgreens. Finally, by resting in a brioche rather than a pretzel or poppy-seed bun, the Bird Dog gains an eggy richness without too much additional salt.

Although I salute the Mutt Barkus dog for its noble composition, I have to say the Bird Dog is the (slightly) better dawg of the two. But will it win best in show? Time will tell as I sample the rest of the series.

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