When you order a hot dog, are you the lone-wiggle-of-mustard kind of garnisher or more of a chili-cheese-slaw-Russian-dressing sort? If you’re the latter, then prepare to have a blast exploring the menu at HD1, where the dogs come piled to nose-engulfing heights with garnishes you would never have before imagined. Red currants. Walnuts. Herbed crème fraîche. Grilled radicchio.
Who could be behind this? If you guessed Richard Blais, you win a canister of pepper jack foam, which is an airy house cheese sauce that finds its way onto something called the “Red Haute Dog.”
Located in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, across the street from Pura Vida Tapas — the place that belongs to Blais’ “Top Chef” cohort, Hector Santiago — HD1 is like Flip Burger Boutique with tube steaks instead of burgers. Blais, along with his business partner Barry Mills and executive chef Jared Lee Pyles, once again offers a world of flavors within a bun. But this time around he has smartly brought things down a notch. Lower prices as well as a lower-key performance with all the foodie shenanigans make HD1 into a comfy neighborhood joint in the way Flip never was. Some dishes seem too clever by half, but you will find plenty of good things to eat and drink here and have fun exploring the menu.
With its louvered wooden facade, HD1 looks like the coolest kid on the block, but once inside it comes off as a real joint. (The AJC’s “First Look” columnist Bob Townsend calls the design by ai3 a “postmodern beer hall.”) You line up to consider a blackboard menu, order at the counter and then sit at tables and long benches that are more communal than private. The music is loud and alternative, the yellowy lighting easy on the eyes.
Hipsters abound. On one night, there’s a guy at the bar who’s got the whole package — ironic fedora, unshaven face, scruffy blazer over a deep V-neck, and skinny black jeans that manage to hug tight while still dropping down faux-gangsta style to reveal a band of underwear. (A feat of both tailoring and buttlessness, to say the least.)
Speaking of the bar, you can avoid the line if there’s a free stool and place your order with the bartender. Sip on a New Fashion ($9), a tasty mixture of Knob Creek bourbon, blackberries, soda and bitters on ice, as you wait for your dinner. On the softer side, look for fun beers in cans (such as Dale’s Pale IPA at $4) and classic Southern soft drinks such as Sun Drop and Cheerwine (all $3).
The menu offers what we can now safely call “classic Blais” — edgy cooking ideas translated with goofy good humor to everyday American food. (He has great instincts for getting young diners on the cuisine-pop bandwagon.) His food, at its best, engages both the taste memories of the kid inside of you and the palate you are refining now.
Example: waffled fries with “maple-oy” ($3.50), which comes not from the Jewish Canadian potato repertoire but is rather a basket of Chick-fil-A style fries drizzled with a sweet, spicy sauce. This dish is supposed to bring to mind waffles and syrup, and the name puns on the Mae Ploy brand of Thai sweet chili sauce used in concert with maple syrup in the sauce. This dish is a hoot.
Shrimp and grits ($4) get a spin in the Ironic Food Transformer and come out as three tasty skewers of shrimp fried in a crunchy grits batter. Boiled peanuts ($3) tingling unexpectedly with North African spices make for a nice nibble with drinks.
Alas, the approach can backfire. Lemon pepper wings from this kitchen turn into chicken wing confit with lemon curd and Sichuan pepper ($5). Clever, but the sweet glaze on these wings tastes like molten Lemonhead candies. Try as I might, I can’t get the flavor out of my head.
But that Red Haute Dog ($6) with brisket chili, Vidalia onions and that sloshy cheese foam helps mightily. The beef-and-pork sausage from the local Spotted Trotter butcher has a good, juicy snap, and its toasted Sweet Ghana bun (like griddled brioche) from La Baguette Bakery adds another level of deliciousness to consider. The drippy fennel sausage ($6.50) plays nicely against the sweet, tart and bitter flavors of house ketchup (more like a tomato jam), fontina cheese and grilled radicchio.
Any of the dogs can be prepared with a sous-vide carrot, carved to a non-tapering tube and cooked in a water bath until it achieves a fantastic, bite-able texture. We try it with the red currants, minted cucumbers and dense yogurt that comes with the lamb merguez sausage ($7). I kind of want one without all the hoo-ha on top to get to know it better.
The flavors and ingredients do pile up quickly — too quickly for me much of the time. My friend seems to like the chicken-apple sausage with crème fraîche, walnuts and grape relish, but I find it unsettling when a half nutmeat clattered from bun to plate. It’s like Quentin Tarantino’s idea of Waldorf Salad. The oxtail and tripe hash and Russian dressing on a beef pastrami dog ($7) bring only gooey indistinctness to the proceedings. Stringy, funky-tasting pulled pork, one of several toppings on the sloppy Eastbound & Down dog ($6.50), has little in common with actual barbecue. Enough.
You ready for that bonehead food writer aphorism that you knew was coming? Simpler is better. HD1’s version of the “classic hot dog” ($4.50), with nothing but sauerkraut and a sinus-clearing house mustard, gets best of show from me. Despite all the punning shake-shop side dishes to choose from, none really beats a tasty farro salad with fennel and roasted grapes ($4) for its clean layering of flavors.
Finish with a $2 cup of one of the daily creative flavors of soft-serve ice cream (Whoppers candy, PB&J, spiced apple cider with orange caramel) and you may slide off that bar stool a happy diner. You can come to HD1, drop $10 and have a meal that seems a gourmet bargain. I do wish the restaurant gave you a few more straightforward options that would suit the laid-back neighborhood vibe of the place. A salad or some good onion rings might be welcome; maybe even a big, real bratwurst in a floury bun with nothing but a stripe of that great German mustard . I mean, sometimes a hot dog is a vehicle for all your foodie wants and desires. But sometimes a hot dog is just a hot dog.HD1 664 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta, 404-815-1127