Video by: Ignacio Torres
In New York, putting anything other than mustard, onions and sauerkraut on a hot dog can get you into a brawl. (Mentioning ketchup might actually get you punched!) In the South, a thick and hearty chili is the not-so-genteel topping of choice. In Chicago, it’s a decidedly more complicated affair, with mustard, fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers, bright green relish, dill pickles and celery salt sitting atop an all-beef wiener.
Yet all of this pales in comparison to what happens to the humble hot dog in the hands Hispanic cooks. As the 2012 World Series gets under way this week, and as millions of fans reach for the quintessential ballpark fare while watching the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers face off, we thought it timely to explore the Latin American interpretation of the perro caliente. Let’s just say there’s nothing humble about it.
Take Edgar Leon Gomez of North Miami Beach’s La Perrada de Edgar, who does what TV chef Anthony Bourdain recently described as “strange and wonderful things” to the lowly wiener. With more than 21 combinations on his menu, the closest to simple you’ll find is “The Colombian” whose toppings include mozzarella cheese sauce, onions, a home-made mayonnaise-ketchup sauce, a secret creamy avocado-infused green sauce (“I’ll never share that recipe!” he says), mustard and shredded fried potatoes.
Other versions, like the his Edgar Special, include mozzarella, pineapple, blackberry, plums, more special sauces and, yes, whipped cream. “People come in and think there’s no way that can taste good,” says Gomez, a former fashion designer who started his business in Bogotá, brought it to Miami a decade ago and plans on expanding to other US cities in the coming year. “But then they try it…and they can’t believe what they’re tasting.” Gomez is the mastermind behind the toppings and the key, he says, is his home-concocted collection of sauces, insanely flavorful blends that are as surprising as they are thick and luscious.
Miami may be the US capital of Latin America, but New York’s Jackson Heights is one of the most Hispanic neighborhoods in America, with a population that’s nearly 60 percent Latino—and so it stands to reason that they too know their way around a Latin-style dog. In fact, you can take yourself on Latino hot dog tour if you just walk down the city’s main drag, Northern Boulevard. (Don’t miss out our video above of the perro caliente makers at Xtasis, where the sausages are topped with “five sauces” and smothered in mozzarella.)
Of course, it should also come as no surprise that the Colombian style hot dog is even making its way into more hipster zones like New York City’s Lower East Side, where the self-described “Anglo-Bulgaro JewByterian” Alex Mitow next month opens Manhattan’s first Colombian hot dog joint, called Los Perros Locos. “I lived in Miami for five years and my Latino friends would go take me to these hot dog places. When I first tried them all I could say was, This is really, really good,” says the 24-year-old former manager for Neely’s Barbeque Parlor, the restaurant owned by Food Network stars Pat and Gina Neely. “I knew I wanted to open my own place and that I didn’t want it to be your next oyster bar or trendy grilled cheese place. I wanted something crazy and different.”
With his restaurant’s neon sign already up, Mitow is now waiting for the kitchen space to be operational. In the meantime, he’s been drumming up business by introducing seen-it-all New Yorkers to his fare at park festivals and special events, where he and his team don t-shirts that read “Coney Island Ain’t Got Nothing on Me.” So true.