These Toppings Call for Top Hats, but They Still Go on Dogs

Dogma Grill offers dozens of choices, from pineapple and crushed potato chips to Kalamata olives and feta cheese, on kosher, turkey or vegetarian hot dogs.

While hot dog makers duke it out in a wiener war, South Florida restaurants are turning the frank into a gourmet treat.

The hottest trend in franks is dogs with a pedigree -- be they gourmet, all-natural or just plain eclectic. South Florida restaurants are even serving up Kobe beef hot dogs and ''Duck Dogs'' -- dogs made from duck meat that were introduced by D'Artagnan, a gourmet brand that also makes franks from buffalo meat. Opus 5, a popular Boca Raton bistro, sells $14 Kobe beef hot dogs.

Local hot dog chains Dogma Grill and Franktitude also are adding a gourmet spin to the all-American hot dog. Both restaurants serve Hebrew National hot dogs, not the warring Oscar Mayer and Ball Park franks.

''Hebrew National is like buying Versace,'' insists Terence Clemmons, chief operating officer and co-founder of Miami-based Franktitude. At Franktitude, diners can choose between beef, salmon, turkey or tofu franks.

''We wanted to unbridle people's limitations,'' Clemmons said of the restaurant's unique franks and 50 toppings that range from wasabi mayonnaise to sunflower seeds.

Jeffrey Akin, owner and co-founder of the Dogma Grill, said his eateries are bringing respect back to the hot dog.

''It's an old-school hot-dog place with a new school taste,'' Akin said of the three Dogma Grill restaurants in Miami, North Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Hot dog enthusiasts can eat dogs like the Cali, with fresh avocado, or the Athens, with feta cheese and olives, at Dogma. For those longing for the taste of Latin America, there's the Tropicale with crushed potato chips and pineapple. 

But bringing respect back to the hot dog is an uphill battle.

One reason: Sales of standard hot dogs were off by 4 percent in 2006, marking the third consecutive year of declines, according to the Washington-based National Hot Dog & Sausage Council.

Experts say the trend toward healthier and more organic fare has hurt the frank.

Akin said that the hot dog does have a stigma attached to it. Dogma Grill tries to combat that rep by using natural ingredients and offering turkey and veggie dogs along with the traditional beef frank.

Franktitude COO Clemmons said that each Franktitude restaurant posts nutritional information, but he acknowledged that it is sometimes difficult to convince people that hot dogs can be eaten in a healthy way.

''It's still a bit of a mountain,'' Clemmons said.

Both Dogma Grill and Franktitude also offer their clients salads, wraps and sandwiches.

In a nod toward healthiness, diners can choose to have their franks on whole wheat buns.

As Americans turn increasingly toward fancy fare -- even fast-food places serve sandwiches on ciabatta bread these days -- they also expect more taste in their franks.

''It's the irony of doing something hip and new with the hot dog,'' Akin said of the national movement to serve gourmet franks.

But Akin warns that not everything tastes great on a hot dog.

''The hot dog,'' he said, “is not entirely forgiving.''

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