Around the World in 30 Dogs
Dining in New Brunswick used to be pretty tricky. Things are looking up lately, but for a long time, it hadn’t really gotten a handle on a cohesive food scene. Between The Frog and the Peach and the infamous grease trucks, the middle-of-the-road options were sparse while the city’s demographics ran the gamut. These days, though, more places are popping up to meet in the middle and make great grub a little more refined.
Enter Destination Dogs. Before assuming its new home on the corner of Paterson Street and Joyce Kilmer Avenue, the sausage purveyor had a small and successful operation toeing the line between grub and gourmet. The storefront, though, was tucked away on a forgotten block and the counter ordering system wasn’t as efficient as it could have been. In September, the owners moved into the sprawling spot formerly occupied by Doll’s Place and have, truly, made themselves a destination for both food and ambiance.
Destination Dogs’ new identity as a “space” rather than a “spot” is apparent the second you walk into its corner door. Diners are greeted with high ceilings, a spacious dining area, and a generous bar mixing some tasty signature cocktails. My friend and I visited on the first night that was chilly enough to be considered fall, and the dim, antique light fixtures and pub-industrial decor provided a perfectly warm and cozy catch-up sanctuary from the newly-crisp air. Large picture windows line the perimeter of the space, making it an optimal location for people watching (or for subjecting yourself to public scrutiny while smushing hot dogs into your face).
In theory, the chasm between sustenance and surroundings may seem a bit disjointed. Dark woods and vintage light bulbs don’t necessarily align with typical hot-dog-shop design aesthetic. Upon further investigation, though, you’ll see these are no ordinary dogs and DD no ordinary joint. The sausages themselves range from the traditional pork and beef to the more adventurous: shrimp and alligator, duck, and wild boar. Refreshingly, the new location has done away with counter service in favor of friendly, efficient table service, making the experience more streamlined and more akin to having dinner instead of grabbing a bite.
Categorized between “domestic” and “international,” the offerings depict quite a stereotypical homage to each namesake city’s respective cuisine: Chicago (with signature pickle spear), Boston (topped with baked beans), Hawaii (with pineapple, duh). The international dogs are equally predictable (the Hebrew Hammer, topped with a potato latke). But while the toppings are obvious, the quality, flavor, and complexity of each dog is exciting and unexpected.
First of all: they’re huge. I’m no Takeru Kobayashi, but I can plow through a respectable (or appalling, whichever) amount of regular-sized hot dogs in one sitting. When the sturdy metal tray was placed before me, I was blown away not only by the size of the two dogs I ordered, but by their rustic, almost artisan appearance.
My first choice, the Kansas City Beefs, was an all-beef hot dog topped with BBQ braised short ribs and coleslaw. It arrived at my table prominently displayed, the homemade beef dog cradled atop a large, crusty, toasted bun that is more accurately described as a hot-dog-length loaf of bread, split lengthwise to hold each dog’s contents. Given the utmost importance of meat-to-bun ratio, Destination Dogs might suffer with purists—without the additional accouterments, the dogs would be dominated by bread. This isn’t where you come to get a simple, portable dog with a squishy bun. They are big and kind of unwieldy, causing your upper body to awkwardly contort as you try to get every component into your bite.
Nontraditional doesn’t mean non-delicious or poorly made, though. While they require intermediate skill to eat without necessitating a dry cleaning, the flavors are complex. The BBQ sauce that slathered the short rib on the KC Beefs hit several notes in succession: a little spicy, a little sweet warmth from a touch of what struck me as cinnamon. It wasn’t like any conventional BBQ sauce I ever had. The sweetness put me off a little bit (not enough to not eat it, of course), but simply because it isn’t my thing, not because it was bad. I’m simply a Carolina BBQ kind of gal. But I appreciated a new and unexpected take on the classic. The only shortcoming in execution was that the meat wasn’t shredded finely enough. The large chunks of beef sliding off the dog made it even messier and made getting the perfect, representative bite difficult.
However, where the Kansas City Beefs fell short, the El Borracho delivered tenfold. El Borracho is, admittedly, everything I love in the world on paper. Hot dog on a stick? Check. Covered with jack cheese and wrapped in a corn tortilla? Ya got me. Deep fried? Oh boy. And THEN covered in cheese sauce, chipotle sauce, sour cream, and sprinkled with fresh cilantro? I can’t. In my experience, these things can get a bit muddled, or the one of the components gets compromised to the point of sullying the entire dog. Not the case here, thankfully. I’ve had plenty of novelty dogs whose chefs didn’t account for varying cook times, and whoever made this clearly knew what he/she was doing. The dog was juicy and snappy, the cheese melted, and the corn tortilla crisply encased the dog despite being covered with wet ingredients. And the flavors! Super fresh and bright, not greasy at all, and you could taste each component contributing to the overall bite. I was particularly impressed by how corny and crunchy the corn tortilla remained. My spice tolerance has increased over the years so the heat minimal but present. A more sensitive palate might find it pretty hot, but the creamy, cool sour cream provided the perfect balance.
Each dog is served with a scoop of DD’s homemade BBQ chips that I hope they eventually bag and allow me to take home. They’re delicious—irresistibly thick and sturdy, with a salty, sweet, spicy BBQ seasoning. The fries, however, left a bit to be desired. I ordered the truffle fries that tasted entirely truffle-less. The base French fry flavor is great, but the best part of skin-on fries is getting them nice and crisped to the point that the skin almost separates into potato cellophane. These fries were kind of sad and limp. I’d get them again because, well, fries, but I hope they’ve since worked on the execution.
Small hiccups aside, Destination Dogs is serving killer food in a setting suitable for students, suits, and everyone in between. Come with a crowd of people who won’t judge you, order a smorgasbord, and take your taste buds on a trip. You’ve got a lot of places to visit!
101 Patterson Street
Jessica Perry is a lifelong New Jersey resident and Journalism and Media Studies graduate whose love of music, food, and writing about both have taken her far beyond the Garden State lines. She hasn’t heartwarming childhood memories of Sunday suppers, but she does have a lifelong commitment to eating across the map and fervently consuming food media. While she loves traveling and sampling from her nationwide restaurant document, little can compete with readily available pork roll and 24-hour diners. When she’s not eating, she’s at a punk show or researching where to eat en route to one. She’s always accepting recommendations for the best brunches, bagels, burritos, buffalo wings, barbecue…you get the idea. Not to mention she will happily dole out some of her own, whether you’re in Long Beach, NJ, or Long Beach, CA.