Staffers were still reviewing the basics of the condiment bar (this topping is veg-friendly, this isn’t); crews, including co-owner Scott Bennett, were still laboring to install the massive menu board over the counter; and sleet was threatening to turn the streets of Adams Morgan into an ice rink. But despite it all, folks were lined up—six, seven, eight deep at the counter—to sample the designer dogs at M’Dawg Haute Dogs during yesterday’s soft opening.
M’Dawg partner Greggory Hill, better known as the chef at David Greggory in the West End, stood right in the middle of the chaos, plopping tube steaks onto the griddle or explaining to one anxious customer that the veggie dog is not boiled in the same water as the meat links. Hill had spent much of the previous evening preparing all the sauces and toppings, which include onion chutney, a spicy-creamy slaw, mushrooms in garlic butter, and two kinds of four-alarm (well, maybe two-and-half-alarm) chili. He admitted that he’s going to have to surrender his control-freak tendencies if he expects to run the kitchens at two different restaurants.
Like the Amsterdam Falafelshop across the street, which Scott and Arianne Bennett also own, M’Dawg is an interactive enterprise. You pick your bun (potato, whole wheat, or poppy), select your dog (from 13 different options), and then pay a $2 surcharge (already a point of contention among quick-to-judgment online foodies) to raid the “Uptown” toppings bar. The “Downtown” toppings—-ketchup, onions, mustard, and relish—-are free.
Hill and the Bennetts spent months sampling links for the 13 dogs that grace their final menu. Each unadorned dog comes with a different kind of dressing—-a cutesy, tarted up name apparently meant to lighten up the serious efforts that went into sourcing the sausages. No. 1 on the list is a Chicago red hot that M’Dawg has dubbed the “Cheap Trick,” a nod to the band got its start in, ahem, Rockford, Illinois. “We want you to want it,” the menu reads.
Other dogs include “Da Pimp” (“This spicy Italian sausage has your number”); the “Kobe Bryant” (“The Bentley of Dogs,” a $20 link made with Wagyu beef from Australia); the “Wunderbrat” (an “Old World-style” Wisconsin brat); and “The Chubby,” a Manger “all-beef D.C. Half Smoke” that, as City Paper recently explained, is actually produced in West Baltimore.
I sampled the crunchy “Brokeback” corn dog, an all-beef red hot coated in a thick (maybe too thick) cornmeal batter and sprinkled with panko. I asked Hill why the name.
“Because it’s poked and rolled,” he says. “Hey, I don’t make up the names.”