Eating Out: Move over, burgers – sausages are the stars at HappyDOG
11 Stranmillis Road
028 9009 8999
AMID the inexorable rise of facial hair and fancy gin and fancier tonic, and pubs where you can get a haircut (don’t touch the beard!) and choose from a thousand beers cooked up in a thousand places by a thousand hirsute geezers, something was needed to line the stomach.
To an extent, that something was barbecue. Not our notion of a barbecue – burgers and sausages (though more of that very soon) and dodgy weather – but rather the American barbecue.
Huge sections of pig or cow smoked until collapse. Pulled pork, brisket, burnt ends, ribs, more pulled pork.
While the pork has worked its way into ubiquity over the past decade or so – nothing says mainstream like a sandwich filling in a £3 supermarket meal deal – actual barbecue restaurants haven’t taken hold here the way you think they might have.
It’s probably because they’re a brute of a business proposition. The type of smokers you need to churn out that volume of meat are beasts themselves, and you’d want to be doing exceptionally well to be doing even just well enough.
So, burgers stepped into the breach. If anywhere has taken on the mantle of the restaurant of this decade it's one that specialises in burgers. (Call them burger joints if you must, just don’t expect me to approve).
From higher end versions of fast food – Five Guys and the like – to home grown ‘gourmet’ places like Pablo’s in Belfast and Dublin transplants Tribal and Bunsen, that have also opened in the city this year, a more serious type of burger is everywhere.
And that’s great. It’s hard to beat a tasty burger. But what’s happened to the good old hot dog in all this?
You may see the odd one on a menu surrounded by its flat, beefy cousins, but the care and attention being given to burgers to elevate them beyond our old barbecue fodder seems to have passed hot dogs by.
So much so that HappyDOG, opposite the Ulster Museum in Belfast, can claim on its Twitter page to be “the first gourmet hotdog house this side of the Atlantic”.
I’m sceptical – actually, I very much doubt it – and although a quick Google would almost certainly clear it up, I don’t want to. I don’t care. This stuff is so bloody good I don’t want to hold anything against them.
If you want a table, there’s just the one – with two chairs at it looking out on to Stranmillis Road. It’s a takeaway place, and the reason it’s so bloody good is that they know what they should be concentrating on: the sausages.
There’s pork, both spicy and not, beef and chicken. They make them themselves and they make them very well.
The flagship ‘HappyDOG’ – if you don’t like gratuitous capital letters, close your eyes when you order – is “pulled pork inspired” (of course it is) and is a superb example of the sausage-maker’s art.
A good snap to the skin reveals sweet pork with some bite to it and a mildly smoky note.
The chicken version is fantastically juicy – never a given with a chicken sausage – while the vegan option is really a tube of falafel, flecked with long grain rice. It’s excellent – with the rice adding interest both in terms of taste and texture. It’s lightly spiced and you imagine it would stand up very well to the fierier condiments available.
That’s where HappyDOG will test your judgment. There are so many combinations of toppings and sauces that even these super bangers could be ruined by injudicious additions.
After deciding which bread – the white, granary and brioche all had plenty to recommend them – there’s salad options if you’re that way inclined, and condiments from the usual ketchup/mustard/BBQ to piccalilli and sriracha.
Beyond that, there’s three types of onions, bacon, hummus, sauerkraut, all sorts.
If you want it all you can have it all but I’m a less is more sort (kind of), so the chicken hot dog came with garlic mayonnaise, bacon bits and jalapeno relish. Everything was excellent, especially the relish, which added a little dig.
Trying to remain classic-ish, the pork HappyDOG had sweet braised onions, American mustard, sauerkraut, and brilliantly zippy, blush pink picked onions.
The crispy onions on the vegan dog were on-point as well, along with everything else, including the bacon and cheese slathered fries.
But the stars are the sausages – whatever a burger may have to say about it.
Messy Fries £3.45
Regular Fries £1.50