Franktuary: a haven for hot dog lovers
Published: Thursday, September 22, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 22, 2011 00:09
Pittsburghers who embark on pilgrimages for the sacred sustenance known as gourmet hot dogs end their journeys in the basement of Downtown's Trinity Church. Franktuary, a quirky, hidden hot-dog nook has been billed a "gourmet hot-dog emporium," and boasts a menu of veggie dogs, "locavore," local, grass-fed, all beef dogs and traditional dogs, with unique topping combinations.
The Franktuary, opened in 2004, has won numerous awards for its themed and specialty hot dogs, including Pittsburgh Magazine's "Best Downtown Lunch Spot" in 2008, 2009, 2010 and an award from PETA for their vegetarian-friendly Tofu hot dogs.
At lunchtime on a Friday, the line for Franktuary spilled out the door and into the basement hall of Trinity Church. Businessmen with briefcases, Steelers jersey-clad fans, kids and adults lined up for unique place-themed dogs like the Italy, topped with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, garlic, olive oil and basil; the Buffalo, with topped with bleu cheese dressing and Frank's Buffalo Wing sauce; and the Athens, topped with feta cheese, kalamata olives and artichoke hearts.
The hot dogs fall into three categories: naked, classic and gourmet. Naked dogs are plain dogs, with a few traditional condiments and toppings available. Classic dogs include more traditional ingredients such as chili, onions, jalapenos and sauerkraut. Gourmet dogs are Franktuary's main draw, and they pull out all the stops, but they are also $3.90, $4.50 for a veggie dog or $6.30 for a locavore dog.
Finding Franktuary can be a bit of a challenge, but fit for those seeking a food adventure. It's possible to enter the basement of the Trinity Cathedral on Sixth Avenue and navigate your way through the basement to the restaurant. But the easiest way is to take Oliver Avenue, an alley behind the church, where you can see the store front and follow signs to the restaurant.
Despite more than 20 people in line in front of me, I only waited 10 minutes to order. The line gave me plenty of time to study the menu's choices, which was good, because my decision was tough: the Mexico (cheddar cheese, mango pineapple salsa, guacamole), the Pittsburgh (pierogie and cole-slaw) and the Hypocrite (a veggie dog topped with chili) all grabbed my stomach's attention.
I decided on the "Pittsburgh" dog, and my order was finished in less than five minutes. The pierogie and cole-slaw combination went surprisingly well with the hot dog, especially after I added hot sauce and mustard to the mix. The food was hot, and the ingredients were fresh, though the overloaded dog was hard to set down without the entire thing falling apart.
That same sense of controlled chaos oozes from the restaurant's atmosphere, too. Orders are shouted out from the back of the restaurant by a three person staff — two cooks and cashier — while order tickets shoot back and forth on an impromptu zipline made from a clothesline.
The interior of the restaurant is cozy, if not cramped. Bars and stools line the outer wall, while booths line another wall. Tables painted with hot-dog parodied classical art (Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam with both hands sharing a frank, the Mona Lisa holding a hot dog) are spread through the room, making use of every available square foot for seating. And the abundant seating is necessary — during my visit, every table was full, seating more than over 30 people in the small restaurant.
If hot dogs aren't your thing but you still want to experience The Franktuary, there are a few other options — salads, bratwursts and pierogies sans dog — but the bulk of the menu consists of hot dogs.
For drinks, there are smoothies and specialty birch beer sodas from Boylan's, as well as San Pellegrino lemon and apricot sparkling sodas. The Boylan's soda is 100 percent natural, and the black cherry is particularly good.
Franktuary's Downtown location is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you don't want to trek Downtown, let Franktuary come to you. The restaurant's sends out a hot dog truck to different city neighborhoods, which change on a weekly basis, but often hit the South Side, Oakland and the North Side. The Twitter account (twitter.com/Franktuary) provides updates on the truck's location. The restaurant also features free bicycle delivery, which is limited to the Downtown area.