There was a time when if you wanted a hot dog in New Orleans, you got a link from Lucky Dogs, a Superdome dog or mass-market weenies from the grocery store. None of these dared approach anything that might even glancingly be labeled as "gourmet."
But now even the most basic foods such as hamburgers and hot dogs are getting cheflike treatment. Enter Dreamy Weenies, a French Quarter purveyor of encased meats that opened last year on North Rampart Street, across from the entrance to Armstrong Park.
What separates Dreamy Weenies from the competition — most notably the growing Dat Dog weiner empire and smaller shops such as Diva Dog — is a dedication to serving kosher, halal and vegan versions of what it calls the "New Orleans-style hot dog," loaded with topping combinations incorporating local and global flavors.
Housed in a cozy, vividly painted room (the counter sports a jaunty mustard-yellow hue), Dreamy Weenies seems like a neat and comfortable place to get a hot dog, french fries and a cold drink after a few hours wandering the Quarter. The staff's disposition certainly matches the sunny decor.
But Dreamy Weenies provides a few head- scratching notes along with its dogs and sides. First, the kitchen isn't certified halal or kosher, but the restaurant promises "not to mix pots," which may not satisfy some diners following dietary restrictions. Other patrons are free to choose sacrilegious wiener and topping combinations, such as adding cheese and barbecue shrimp sauce to an otherwise kosher beef frank. Were there any pork on the menu, I probably would have piled that on as well, if only to create the ultimate treyf dog to make my rabbi's head spin.
Despite some concept confusion, Dreamy Weenies offers a number of items worth diners' time. Signature dogs include the Toulouse, Arabi and the Genchili. Patrons can choose one of the house sausages and toppings to go with it, which run an additional $.55 or $.99 apiece outside of the basic condiments. Peckish patrons will appreciate that the dogs are 7-inch, quarter-pound sausages on grilled thick specialty rolls suited to sate all but a Kobayashi-sized hunger.
The most notable dog was the Arabi, a "beef kebab" frank topped with a fragrant curry sauce, to which I added cool lebna, a Middle Eastern sauce made with strained yogurt. It packed an exotic punch, and I'll be back to revisit it. The "zesty beef" also had a great kick, especially when topped with sauerkraut and the restaurant's "beef bacon," a concept that is puzzling albeit delicious. The knackwurst was similarly satisfying, as was, most surprisingly, vegan andouille, which offered familiar Cajun flavors despite being fashioned from soy. Dreamy Weenies' version of the corn dog features a choice of sausage hand-dipped to order. This is a brilliant and unique concept, and it pays off well.
Not every dog has its day at Dreamy Weenies. The kosher Polish sausage didn't taste very Polish, lacking signature fatty, garlicky notes. And aside from perfectly executed waffle fries, the sides aren't much to write home about. The red beans are respectable, but the chili, grits and potato salad are unremarkable. Avoid the musty barbecue succotash. Also, there's no beer to go with the hot dogs, but it's a superior alternative to sausage carts on the corner and, with killer waffle fries, Dreamy Weenies satisfies a hot dog craving.