A couple years ago, Will Brown and Sal Frustaci were laid off from their jobs at the same restaurant company. Frustaci, a native New Yorker with a background in fine dining, asked Brown if he wanted to team up and open their own restaurant. “I said no,” Brown says. “I had a mortgage, a car payment, and two grand in the bank.” But going to work for another big company didn’t appeal to Brown, either. So he decided to take Frustaci up on his offer.
The men came up with a recession-friendly concept: High-quality hot dogs with premium toppings and sides at an affordable price. Since New York Dawg Pound opened in December 2010, it has made a locally famous fan (98.9 The Rock’s Johnny Dare is a regular) and become a buzzworthy lunch spot for both white and blue-collar workers.
The most popular “dawg” on the menu is the Bulldawg ($4), a Coney Island-style chili dog with cheese, mustard and onions. The Chicago-style Buttercup ($4) is another top seller. It’s served the traditional way, on a fresh-baked poppy seed bun with mustard, onion, tomato, a pickle spear, sport peppers, celery salt and lots of neon green relish.
Brown’s personal favorite is the Kansas City-inspired Ol’ Blue ($3.50), topped with barbecue sauce, a pickle and onion straws.
The menu is completely customizable: Any signature “dawg” can be made with your choice of a Nathan’s all-beef frank, brat, Italian sausage, Polish sausage or carrot “dawg” — a hefty carrot roasted with olive oil and seasonings to bring out its natural sweetness. It’s surprisingly satisfying, especially in a topping-heavy dog like the Buttercup. Brown says he has lots of vegetarians in his family, so he wanted to make sure his menu had plenty of meat-free options. New York Dawg Pound also serves a chipotle-black bean veggie patty called a Veggie Bite ($5).
The place has a fun, casual atmosphere — there’s cartoonish graffiti on the walls, and arcade games and pinball machines in the back dining room. The service is fast and friendly. When I went, Frustaci was running the cash register, joking with customers in his thick New York accent between transactions.
The menu is full of surprises. Aside from the expected big city-inspired hot dogs, there’s a Goofy Dawg ($4) with peanut butter and bacon, a cake-and-ice cream Cool Dog ($3) and sweet potato waffle fries ($3). Those popular waffle fries strike the perfect balance between soft and crunchy, salty and sweet.
“I’m not a big sweet potato fan myself,” Brown says, “but I love these.”
Brown and Frustaci are always tweaking the menu and looking for new ways to improve the classic hot dog. Brown, who worked for a chain of sandwich shops for years, says he likes being his own boss. Even when that means manning the grill or running the cash register.
“It’s still stressful,” he says, “but it’s a different kind of stress.”