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Show Dogs

Fancy Franks on Market St.

"Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs." So said Dwight D. Eisenhower, and thus quoth ShowDogs, the latest venture from Gayle Pirie and John Clark of Foreign Cinema.

The concept is simple: super-premium sausages with toppings, and cultured beers to match. But there actually aren't many such combos in San Francisco, despite the recent proliferation of hot dog joints. Perhaps the closest would be buying sausages at Rosamunde Sausage Grill in the Lower Haight and heading next door to Toronado to sample its vast selection of brews.

Situated on Market in the Tenderloin, Show Dogs features about a dozen high-end sausages daily. For example, the Organic Basque ($7) is a Fatted Calf wine-soaked pork and garlic sausage with a kick of piment d'esplette (Basque chili pepper). Show Dogs bumps it up by topping it with whole cloves of soft, sweet garlic confit, fresh tomato slices, and unctuous housemade mustard. Paired with an Anderson Valley oatmeal stout ($5 for a pint), the Organic Basque is one of the tastier dogs of the pack.

For those who want an actual hot dog (something juicier with snap, rather than a courser artisan sausage), a good choice is the organic 4505 dog ($7.65) from Ryan Farr, or the straight-up beef frank from Let's Be Frank ($5.50), the hot dog outfit started by Sue Moore, former "food forager" for Chez Panisse. For those who eschew meat, a vegetarian chipotle sausage ($6) comes with fire roasted tomatillo sweet corn salsa.

All dogs are served with a spear of half-sour pickle, and come encased in a toasted Acme sesame seed bun, which plays its supporting role to perfection — just substantial enough in taste and texture to hold everything together, but not so bold as to interfere. Sides include fries ($4) and onion rings ($4), which rank among the city's finest. Lightly dusted with cornmeal (gluten-free), these thick onion slices are fried to crispy perfection and alone are worth making the trip.

Another plus is Show Dogs's commitment to place. With its lovely remodel, the eatery definitely has helped spruce up the neighborhood. Plate-glass windows and shiny tile provide lots of light and a modern gleam, while refurbished wooden church benches and a tin ceiling give a respectful nod to the history of the Flatiron building. Show Dogs has also created a special "Prop D Dog," an organic Fatted Calf duck sausage with Dijon mustard and daikon sprouts ($8), to raise awareness of Proposition D, which would allow new lighted theatre marquees to line the street in hopes of reviving the neighborhood.

In addition to local and sustainable meats, the beverage pairings, such as Speakeasy Prohibition Ale and 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, stick to our regional beershed.

But despite these laudable efforts, Show Dogs isn't perfect. One night the smoked chicken apple sausage ($6.75) was buried under a landslide of house mustard and apple-ginger chutney, obscuring the flavor of the dog. Another night, the apple and horseradish sauce on the boudin blanc ($7.50) didn't seem to add much at all. When you're paying almost $8 for a dog, you expect to be wowed.

Indeed, it's easy to part with almost $20 and only get a couple of sausages and a side of fries. For the same money, you could go to Farmerbrown's and get a big plate of fried chicken with the works, or buy four banh mi sandwiches. The charcuterie trend, along with its star-studded events like Chochon 555, has elevated butchers and baloney to great heights in terms of quality, public appreciation — and price.

But if you know a few tricks, there are deals to be had. For example, the $9 lunch special, featuring wild boar sausage and a side of fries is actually valid all day. Order that during Show Dogs's killer happy hour (4-7pm), with a $2.75 beer, and you can, at a reasonable price, relish the champagne and caviar version of beer and dogs.

Show Dogs
Hot dogs
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