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Fancy hot dogs are coming to Toronto in a big way

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Pizza Hut will be stuffing its crusts with wieners for the next six weeks and just last Tuesday this city’s latest stab at a gourmet hot dog joint opened on College Street to brisk business and much enthusiasm.

Toronto is having a hot dog moment.

“Looks like this will be the next new thing,” says Dinah Koo, owner of Fusia Dog, the year-old, haute hot dog storefront in the Entertainment District.

“This is a good thing. The hot dog is making inroads. It’s been lonely out there all alone.”

From Oct. 15 to Nov. 5, Pizza Hut chains nationwide are tempting palates — or grossing them out — by offering the hot dog pizza. They’ll stuff a small hot dog into the crust of any pizza, but recommend it in The Ultimate. A special slice created around the hot dog, it boasts tomato, bacon, red onion and jalapeno nacho cheese sauce.

It’s a combination that won tremendous applause in London, England last year, Pizza Hut spokespeople say, noting it sold out in just three weeks and had radio hosts halfway around the world wagging their tongues and campaigning for it to come to Toronto.

The pizza, which retails for about $17, comes with mustard and ketchup dipping sauce.

“It’s taking people’s two favourite foods and combining them,” Beverley D’Cruz, Pizza Hut’s marketing director, says. “It’s the whole hot dog experience on a pizza.”

That whole experience is exactly what restaurateur Angelos Economopoulos is out to create at Fancy Franks Gourmet Hot Dogs — although at the opposite end of the hot dog experience spectrum.

These hot dogs are glammed up and adventurous. Frankie Goes to Buffalo smears hot sauce and blue cheese on a panko fried wiener, Franko Fancy-Aano is a wiener wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with balsamic Dijon mustard. Chick peas, carrots and coconut curry top the Fancy Massala dog.

The College St. restaurant itself screams urban-chic.

The mural on the building’s exterior was painted by ultrahot artist Andrew Kidder, a.k.a. RCade, who is responsible for some of the art at hipster taco spot La Carnita. Inside, the ceilings are high. There’s a long distressed wood and iron communal table slicing the lofty, rectangular restaurant in two so patrons — adults and kids, when lifted on by an adult — can sit while they eat, a novel concept in hot dog dining.

A trendy barn door separates the storage area from the open kitchen, where a raft of staff, all wearing cool, but understated Fancy Franks ball caps, busily deep-fry French fries and dress hot dogs with arugula, gruyère, extra-virgin olive oil and jalapenos — depending on the order, of course.

“It’s a whole new look, style, design,” says Economopoulos. “It’s like what’s been done for the gourmet hamburger.”

Economopoulos, who is tall and cuts an imposing, but friendly figure, has a decade-long history as a fine dining restaurateur, he says, but he’s adamant the Fancy Franks brand stand on its own.

Economopoulos, a father of three, owns Local Restaurant and Lounge on the Danforth and last year sold Trapezzi Supper Club, which was close by. Fancy Franks is his first foray into fast food and he’s been thinking about the wiener for more than two years.

In the name of research, he sampled hot dogs in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, top hot dog consuming cities, according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, trying to figure out how to make Torontonians crazy for a gourmet version of the tubular meat sandwich. (In 2011, Americans spent $1.7 billion on hot dogs. There are no corresponding Canadian figures.)

It’s been a hard sell in the past.

Picton’s Buddha Dog, which opened in Roncesvalles Village in 2007, closed with little fanfare three years later according to Now magazine. Frankz Finest Hot Dog Palace, near Yonge and Dundas garnered lacklustre reviews and didn’t last.

Koo, who tops one of her signature dogs with kimchi and wraps it in a paratha rather than a bun, says Fusia Dog is “plugging away.”

Torontonians have only been able to commit their love to “street meat” at the hot dog stand, a ubiquitous fixture in the downtown core.

This “low quality” product is giving the hot dog a bad rap at a time when people are increasingly conscious of what they’re putting in their mouths. That’s one challenge Economopoulos has to overcome, he says.

Fancy Franks’ dogs are made from locally sourced, top quality beef, fashioned the “old school way” with lamb casings, so they “snap” when bitten. Toppings are fresh and from neighbouring Kensington market.

“I don’t think anyone’s done it right before,” Economopoulossays, of why haute hot dogs have never taken off in this city. “Until now.”

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