Destination Dogs offers pub-like atmosphere, international flavors
To many, the hot dog might seem a bit elementary. It’s a cinch, right? Pop an all-beef frank into a bun, add some ketchup and voilà! But could such a simple sausage sandwich ever be considered gourmet?
Against a society whose franks frequently face a mustard-laden monotony, one restaurant in New Brunswick dares to dish out dogs a bit differently.
Though Destination Dogs recently celebrated its first anniversary, it moved from Spring Street to Paterson Street a little more than a month ago. A short walk from Fresh Grocer, Destination Dogs has been gaining popularity for its handmade sausages.
In its new location, Destination Dogs offers a conventional pub atmosphere perfect for students wishing to relax, grab a beer and watch a game. In addition to sitting at the bar, patrons looking for a sit-down meal with waiter service can be seated at one of the many tables.
The restaurant features an airline theme, but does so modestly. Unlike other themed eateries, Destination Dogs is neither gimmicky nor over-the-top. Though the walls may hold a picture or two of an airplane, the restaurant never loses its air of maturity.
Much of the Destination Dogs menu is inspired by international cuisines, spotlighting exotic meats and ingredients likely to seem unfamiliar to the typical American diner. Proud of the restaurant’s unique fare, business partner Michael Parker explained the restaurant’s allure.
“Our goal with this food is to make wild game and all these ingredients approachable for people not wanting to spend 30 dollars a plate with white linen tablecloths,” Parker said. “We wanted to kind of take the pretension out of exotic food.”
And that is exactly what they have done. The menu features a plethora of “domestic dogs” based upon regions of the United States, as well as “international dogs” modeled after cuisines from around the world. Patrons will find themselves indecisive over whether to try boar, duck, lamb or even alligator sausage.
Customers can order dogs featuring traditional toppings, including sauerkraut and chili, as well as more atypical ingredients, such as foie gras and ful. For those wishing to forego the joys of meat, they offer vegetarian sausage and salads.
The dining experience is further enhanced by the variety of puns present in the titles of the menu items. There’s the “Guten Dog” from Germany, the “Charles Dog Gaulle” from France and the “Bun Mi” from Vietnam.
Each hot dog on the menu is intriguing in its own way. I truly wish I had the stomach capacity needed to experience all of them at once, but common sense dictates it’s best to limit my level of consumption.
After considerable deliberation, I decided to order both an “international dog” and a “domestic dog.”
I chose the “Swede-Dreams,” a Swedish-themed hot dog featuring Swedish meatball sausage topped with mashed potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jam. I ordered “The Howlamo” as well, a Texas-inspired hot dog consisting of wild boar sausage with pork belly, scallions and baconaisse.
Yes, that’s correct. Baconaisse, a housemade condiment combining mayonnaise and bacon. Could it get any better?
While waiting for the sausages to arrive, I decided to quench my thirst. With a well-stocked bar, Destination Dogs offers a wide variety of drink options. Though beer and a hot dog might be an all-American pairing, I couldn’t pass by the opportunity to try one of their homemade sodas.
I opted for the buttered peach cilantro soda — a one-of-a-kind beverage for sure. I was initially hesitant to try a carbonated drink made from fruit and herbs. As far as I’m aware, coriander isn’t part of the Coca-Cola secret formula.
To my surprise, the combination was refreshing. With its sweet, juicy peach taste balanced by the subtle herbal freshness of cilantro, the beverage proved the perfect accompaniment to the smoky, meaty flavor of sausage.
The sausages arrived on a metal tray with potato chips on the side. The chips were lightly seasoned with a sharp crunch, contrasting the heavy saltiness of store-bought potato chips.
In every way possible, the hot dogs at Destination Dogs put the traditional frankfurter to shame.
The Howlamo was glorious, and it all began with the bun. Lightly buttered and toasted, the fresh-baked bun provided a delicate crisp, setting the stage for an explosion of smoky meat flavor.
The boar sausage was well-seasoned with a bit of spice, just a hint more gamey than beef or pork. Its smokiness was amplified by the addition of pork belly and baconaisse. In many ways, the Howlamo is an impressive and commendable ode to meat.
At first, the combination of mashed potatoes and sausage in the Swede-Dreams seemed excessively starchy and rather dull. The gravy did little to offset the heavy potato flavor. However, once the lingonberry jam hit the taste buds, I encountered a trio of sweet, starchy and meaty flavors.
The tanginess of the jam really takes it beyond the average hot dog, adding a fruity essence that offsets the savory flavor profile of the sausage. The only thing it needed was more jam.
To resist the urge to consume the hot dogs at lightning speed, I needed to pace myself. Thus, I decided to place an order for a side of truffle fries.
The thin-cut fries arrived in a small metal bowl. The first few provided a pleasant peppery kick, but seemed to lack the truffle flavor — then, it hit me. As I ate more and more, I detected a soft, earthen quality provided by the truffle butter used in its preparation.
The truffle flavor was light and complementary to the potato taste. Though they were a bit too greasy, these fries truly outshine the regular fries on the menu, and are a side dish customers should experience at least once.
By this time, I was thoroughly satiated, my stomach gratified with the preceding meal. In the wake of my meaty ecstasy, I sat down with Jimmy Cronk, the creator and visionary behind the restaurant.
Cronk started Destination Dogs with business partner Sean Hosty. The two met while working at Clydz in New Brunswick and soon set forth to make their vision of a sausage-wonderland a reality.
Cronk and his associates are all fans of traveling, having experienced the cuisines of countless countries around the globe. During our conversation, Cronk made clear his desire to incorporate international flavors into the Destination Dogs menu.
“Every culture has their version of a sausage,” Cronk said. “We’re really getting inspiration from another place. A place we’ve been to. A place we can taste.”
It’s evident that Cronk’s heart is in his food. His words reflect his deep, personal connection to each and every menu item.
“It’s more than love that goes into food,” Cronk said. “It’s passion. It’s conviction. It’s anger. It’s sweat.”
Cronk had to think long and hard before deciding upon his favorite sausage.
“They’re all my babies,” Cronk said. “It’s like picking your favorite child. But if I had to pick a favorite child? The Oscar.”
The Oscar consists of chicken sausage topped with avocado, cabbage, tomato, chipotle mayonnaise and scallions. It’s one of the most popular dogs on the menu, along with The Conquistadog, spicy chorizo sausage with patatas bravas and scallions.
Cronk and his partners have big plans for Destination Dogs in their new location. At the moment, they hope to arrange a dining room on the upper level and set up arcade machines in a side room near the bar. They dream of establishing a beer garden behind the restaurant.
Cronk is also determined to see the return of “Duck Fat Fry-Days,” a weekly offering of French fries cooked in duck fat that they featured prior to their move to Paterson Street.
In the future, they plan on using their now vacant Spring Street location to open a restaurant specializing in New Jersey-themed cheesesteaks.
Thus, my meaty experience came to a close. After tasting just two of the sausages on the Destination Dogs menu, I’ve become hooked.
It is my belief that Destination Dogs is one of the most promising up-and-coming restaurants in the New Brunswick area. The sausages are truly mind-blowing, and there’s a hot dog for everyone on the menu.
I find myself eager to experience more and more, and I will undoubtedly be returning in the future. I look forward to witnessing Destination Dogs’ evolution into one of New Brunswick’s hottest spots.