A few weeks ago, on our way to the Stress Factory Comedy Club, my boyfriend, Mike, and I were discussing where we would go for dinner before the show began.
“Why don’t we go to Destination Dogs?” he said.
I don’t really eat hot dogs (except for this one time, which you can read about here), hamburgers, French fries and the like. “Eh, I don’t feel like eating a hot dog,” I said, imagining eating a greasy fast-food item on a New Brunswick curb. I wanted to eat a real meal, at a restaurant.
“No, you don’t understand,” Mike said. “It’s not a hot dog like you’re thinking. They’re fine dining hot dogs, from all over the world.”
I still didn’t really believe him – I mean, how different can one hot dog from the next really be – but relationships are about compromise, so off to Destination Dogs we went.
And then, in a rare occasion, I had to admit that I was wrong.
Destination Dogs, which has been a staple of New Brunswick since 2012, serves gourmet sausages from across the globe, inspired by the travels and tastes of owners Jimmy Cronk, Sean Hosty, Michael Parker and Frank Karthaseur.
Although Destination Dogs does serve some classic dogs, such as the Chicago Bull, an all-beef hot dog with onions, tomato, pickle, green relish, hot peppers and yellow mustard for $4.25, (“Because why mess with perfection,” said Cronk), those with a more curious and international palette have much to choose from.
Some of the more popular – and adventurous – dogs include the Bun Mi, inspired by Vietnamese cuisine, which is Cantonese sausage with shaved foie gras, pickled vegetables, fresh jalapeños, Sriracha mayo and cilantro ($8.50) as well as El Borracho, inspired by New Mexican cuisine, which is an all-beef hot dog wrapped in a corn tortilla with jack cheese, deep fried, topped with cheese sauce, chipotle sauce, sour cream and cilantro on a stick ($5).
“Usually, from first-timers, we get, ‘I didn’t expect that from a hot dog place,’” said Cronk.
During the first week of September, three new hot dogs will be added to the menu which will offer other international meats, including python in the “One Bite in Bangkok” dog, which has python sausage topped with cucumbers, red peppers, onions, house-made pepper jelly, crushed peanuts, and cilantro as well as kangaroo in “The Underdog,” which includes kangaroo sausage topped with frizzled onions and vegemite aioli.
Cronk recognizes that this worldwide hot dog concept, developed by he and his wife Diana, can be difficult to grasp for someone who hasn’t visited.
“When we first started, my family would ask me, ‘Are you going to sell hot dogs out of a window?’” said Cronk. “My motto for this place says it all – we’re first-class dining on a bun.”
Cronk, who grew up in Elizabeth, said that he has always been a fan of hot dogs, especially from city staples such as Jerry’s Famous Frankfurters and Tommy’s Italian Sausage & Hot Dogs. Hosty, a Chicago native and co-founder of the restaurant alongside Cronk, has also always loved hot dogs and sausages.
“Our hot dogs are inspired by using past experiences from places we have traveled to or from dishes we have eaten,” said Cronk. “For instance, I have never been to Vietnam, but I love banh mi sandwiches.”
Cronk, who has visited about 10 countries including Canada, Spain, Italy, France, Egypt, England and India as well as most of the states throughout America, said that they are also sometimes inspired simply by traditional ingredients used in a specific region’s food.
He said, “We all love to get out there and experience different cuisines and cultures. It’s not just about sausages and hot dogs. It’s about seeing what a country has to offer in terms of cuisine.”
Cronk met his business partner, Hosty, while Hosty was working at Clydz of New Brunswick in 1998. A regular patron, Cronk was soon working at Clydz as well in 2000, and for eight years, the pair consulted on different ideas for their own restaurant.
Once Cronk had the idea alongside his wife to make travel-themed hot dogs in 2008, “I knew I had to do it,” he said. Four years later, they were open for business at 9 Spring St. in New Brunswick, which was a tenth of their current space at 101 Paterson St. and it did not have a liquor license. They could seat 25 people, 15 comfortably.
When they moved to their new location in 2013, which can seat 100, they perfected their recipes and added more, bringing their menu to 33 international hot dogs as well as six appetizer options. During the second week of September, they will also be opening a second location at 1111 Walnut St. in Center City, Philadelphia and they are also in the process of franchising.
Another reason that Destination Dogs has been so successful in just a short four years – besides their stellar hot dogs – is that the affordability of a hot dog makes trying something new much more accessible, especially since most people eat more than one hot dog and can try a few of them during dinner.
“If you were going to try alligator, python, wild boar or kangaroo in a fine dining restaurant, you would spend way more than you would here,” said Cronk. “The ability for people to try something and not destroy their wallet is what we want for Destination Dogs.”
Where: 101 Paterson St, New Brunswick
Price Range: $4.25 to $10.50 per hot dog
Contact: destinationdogs.com, 732-993-1016