It was fun to bring Montreal food insider Katerine Rollet into the world of hotdogs. Her refined palate is more accustomed to the culinary masterpieces she unearths in her home town, and she has the impeccable judgment that a food-illiterate like me can only admire. But, for a moment in New York and a moment farther north, she decided to come down to my level and explore the world of hotdogs.
Katerine and I formulated a fun plan. When she was in New York last month, we met for a hotdog at Chelsea Papaya, on West 23rd Street and Seventh Ave. This is one of many hotdog-and-papaya joints in the city, and I chose it because of the contrast with the surrounding neighborhood. Who would think to grab a dog in one of the trendiest parts of Manhattan? The restaurants in Chelsea are beyond impressive, which made a great backdrop for our experiment. Two days later, in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood (a French Canadian cousin to Chelsea), we’d meet again for a local dog – this time at Mont-Royal Hot Dog. In the end, we’d compare notes on our respective blogs.
The major difference between New York and Montreal – or, specifically, their hotdoggeries – is style. In Manhattan, the dogs are grilled, and the roll may be warmed on the grill briefly before preparation, but the dog itself is the main event. Montreal boils its hotdogs, but what it does with everything else is most impressive. This is something I’ve noticed elsewhere outside the United States, especially in Scandinavia – the dogs are passable, but the surroundings are winners.
The fare at Chelsea Papaya snapped when bitten. It was crisp, with a burst of distinct grilled hotdog flavor unleashed on your taste buds from the instant consumption begins. While some prefer onions or slaw on their dogs, I tend to go with just a little ketchup and mustard at Chelsea Papaya – to enhance the hotdog without concealing its flavor.
Mont-Royal’s dogs were at a slight disadvantage, being steamed instead of grilled. Steamed dogs do come across a tad on the bland side, making the ketchup and mustard more important to the experience. Yet, if you adopt the local style for “dressing” a hotdog, the entire experience changes.
Order a hotdog “all dressed,” and you’ll receive it with coleslaw, chopped onion and mustard, with the fresh slaw providing the feeling of crispness missing in plain boiled hotdogs. A complexity of flavor results that uses the hotdog as the canvas rather than the masterpiece. The other aspect of the Montreal hotdog that shouldn’t be missed is the toasted roll. Again, you get the crispy feel, but the warmth is also important. There’s nothing worse than cold soggy bread (which happens, sometimes, with hotdog rolls) – this will never happen when you order your hotdog “toasted.”
The dog shops in Manhattan would be wise to offer a toasted roll, though it’s probably impossible to do so, given the number of people places like Chelsea Papaya serve every day.
As we navigated the hotdog world, I have to admit that I let Katerine go down a road that couldn’t end well. While at Chelsea Papaya, she decided to mix in her mouth a bite of hotdog and a sip of the papaya drink for which these establishments are known. Sometimes two good things aren’t good together, as you’ll see in the video. (Sorry about that, Katerine!)
So, who wins?
Well, in the interest of maintaining friendly Canadian-American foodie relations, I won’t say which is better. But, I will tell you that when I head up to Montreal, I’ll definitely end every hotdog order with, “toasted and dressed” – there’s no other way to put a few back up there.Disclosure: Tourisme-Montreal picked up the tab for this trip, but my views are my own.