Taking a stab at what exactly might be inside your generic grocery store hot dog makes it difficult to imagine the origins of the staple snack. The original frankfurter was an all pork sausage served as a celebratory delicacy that began with the coronation of a Holy Roman Emperor some eight hundred years ago. Centuries of integration into the German diet brought it to the United States, where legend says that the ingenious wife of a St. Louis, Missouri sausage vendor came up with the idea to serve them in buns so that they could be sold hot without people burning their hands. Other stories allege it was already a Coney Island staple some ten years earlier.
Whatever benevolent soul is responsible, they are surely rattling in their grave every time someone orders a pancho from a Buenos Aires kiosco. We’ve all made the mistake (or given in to desperate midday hunger) and ordered the lukewarm hot dog boiled in water of questionable hygienic standards, the result being a wiener so soft it could be sliced with a dull wooden spoon. I hope, at least, that they have also cursed the restaurant in Colonia that had the gall to charge 40 pesos (in 2012!) for what was neither German nor a sausage.
Although the gourmet hog dog hasn’t taken on the fanaticism that Burger Joint — Pierre Chacra’s fast food spot that launched a thousand hamburgueserias — brought to the paty, a handful of restaurants spread throughout the city are upping the standard of your neighborhood pancho, like Diggs global street dogs in Palermo Soho or the newly minted Argentine joint Los Infernales in San Telmo.
Although Chacra’s restaurant is often credited with being the pioneer in casual gourmet eateries, Máximo Togni is another unsung hero of the street food dining craze that has swept through Buenos Aires over the last few years. His mini hot dog empire DOGG just opened its third location on an unassuming street on the edge of Barrio Chino last April.
“It all started back on Staten Island,” Togni begins, where he was renting a room from an older woman during a residency program and came downstairs one afternoon to the then foreign smell of hot dogs being cooked on the grill.
He would go on to work in fine dining, as a cook at both the Hotel Elysee in New York City and the Argentine Embassy in Washington, DC, and was decided on opening a high end restaurant upon his return to Buenos Aires in 2009. “I worked in the US in fine dining, and thought I’d open a high end restaurant here but I couldn’t get simple street foods from the States out of my mind. I was really fascinated by the passion that people put into such simple, traditional foods like a Philly Cheesesteak for example. I wanted to bring that idea to Buenos Aires where that kind of casual food didn’t exist.”
While many of his colleagues who were also returning from years abroad did open high end eateries, Togni opened DOGG in December of 2013 in a small space in Microcentro on the bustling calle San Martin.
“At the time the lunch culture downtown was a lot different. There weren’t very many fast lunch options,” Togni explains, “People didn’t quite understand what we were doing. They didn’t associate a hot dog with a meal. They didn’t get the pricing. People were wary initially.”
Prior to opening, Togni and his team spent five months testing out different combinations before landing on an all beef sausage that uses three different cuts of meat and a secret spice mixture. Hot dogs are grilled right in front of you and served on fresh made buns. About a dozen toppings can be mixed and matched to create your hot dog of choice. Togni always recommends the chili with bacon and cheddar cheese, but guacamole, pico de gallo and tortilla chips aren’t a bad choice either.
White subway tile transports you to New York City, and a communal table and bar seating offers just enough room for maybe two dozen diners. It’s normal to see a line out the door and tables piled full with the suit and tie business crowd. Diners share sauces, your standard ketchup and mayonnaise as well as in-house made sweet barbecue sauce or salsa crema. A large set of shelves in the back house hot sauces not found anywhere else (La Carniceria’s selection of imported sauces being the exception), like a liter size bottle of Valentina or regional hot sauces like Louisiana Hot Sauce or Crystal.
Over in Belgrano, Togni gives a glimpse of what to expect next: a diner style restaurant with breakfast and comfort foods that is meant to be a “summary of eight years spent eating in the United States.” Fingers crossed there will be free subpar coffee and soda refills. On the menu you’ll find deep fried chicken fingers served with a cheddar cheese dip; the purists can squeeze barbecue sauce on top and the impostors can use the homemade chipotle mayo. Sweet chili sauce and spring rolls pay homage to the new Barrio Chino location; the sweet sauce goes excellently with their homemade pickles, by the way. To top it all off, ice cream sundaes are served with crushed up cookies, fresh raspberries and caramel, and if the time is right you can order a gin and tonic.
The new restaurant is still without an exact launch date, but will most likely open just as quietly as Togni has slowly expanded DOGG. One thing is for sure, Togni will continue to be one of the invisible hands that thankfully leads the constantly evolving porteño palate.
Blanco Encalada 1651, Belgrano
Friday and Saturday 11:30 AM to 1AM, Tuesday through Thursday, Sunday 11:30AM to Midnight
Lavalle 1134, Tribunales
Monday through Friday 10AM to 5PM
San Martín 657, Microcentro
Monday 10AM to 4:30PM, Tuesday through Friday 10 AM to 8:30 PM