By By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Think of the iconic foods we shovel down at baseball games — hot dogs and burgers, followed later perhaps by an Italian sausage to soak up those spendy beers we consumed by the sixth inning.
In terms of quality, Dog Haus Biergarten knocks them out of the ballpark. And with gentler hits to the wallet.
The Pasadena-based chain sizzled into San Diego about three years ago, coincidentally a stone’s throw from Petco Park. With about 35 locations across the country, including one in Vista, the East Village outpost is the largest in the collection.
Run by franchisee Henry Lee, who previously worked as a medical doctor, it spans 5,000 square feet and greets with a familiar industrial design that offers indoor/outdoor seating. The patio and lower-tier dining area inside are both dog-friendly.
The bill of fare titillates with a colorful variety of high-quality dogs and sausages made with “all natural” hormone-free meats. There’s also grass-fed burgers, plus commendable “haus” chili, a chicken sandwich, loaded fries, milkshakes, and craft beer occupying 30 taps.
Dog Haus quickly brought out the reckless eater in me when visiting with a friend for lunch. We started with a couple of mini corn dogs flaunting a sinful spin. They’re made onsite with root beer batter, which changes the course of sweetness from that stark, classic corn flavor to something faintly resembling molasses, hence the sarsaparilla derivative in the root beer. Add a few daubs of spicy mustard, and you’ve arrived to corn dog heaven.
Also, the hot dogs used across the menu sport impressive girth and juiciness, just as we found in the busy “cowboy” version, which came swathed in bacon. It was topped with cheddar queso, crispy onions and barbecue sauce, and yet still, the fine flavor of the dog beamed through.
There are eight signature hot dogs in total. They incorporate a range of zany garnishments that include pineapple, ginger glaze, arugula, and chipotle aioli. Traditionalists, however, can build their own from a list of other toppings and condiments. Those same options apply to sausages and burgers.
We got our taste of the company’s chili via an order of “love boat” french fries. It was a trifecta of excellent components; the fries were thin, clean and crisp; the chili was dense from small kidney beans and finely ground beef; and the “haus” coleslaw also on top was desirably crunchy.
The roughage from the slaw, whether on the fries or as a side order, is the closest thing you’ll get to a salad here, considering there aren’t any. But who craves big bowls of vegetal matter in places where meats and condiments get tucked into puffy buns — in this case form-fitting King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls? Certainly not me on days when “cholesterol” and “carbohydrates” are foreign words.
We also shared a “das brat” and a cheeseburger. Like everything else on our table, they got washed down with a “Brooklyn Brooklyn” lager for me and a glass of Ace Pineapple Cider for my friend.
The bratwurst was fabulous, an exceptionally mouthwatering link tucked into a bun and topped simply with caramelized onions, fluffy sauerkraut, and brown mustard. This is exactly how every brat in the world should be served, with nothing more and nothing less on it.
Our burger was served within four conjoined Hawaiian rolls, which prompted us to turn it into a quartet of sliders for easy handling. It was the least gussied-up burger on the menu, featuring a sizable griddled beef patty camouflaged by white American cheese, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and onions. The surprise twist was secret sauce hiding an excellent, spicy bang.
The menu accommodates vegans with Impossible Meat burgers and Beyond Meat sausages. There’s also the “bad mutha clucka” chicken sandwich for non-red-meat eaters. It’s accented with miso ranch and available grilled or fried in beer batter.
In addition, Dog Haus features an off-menu item authored by a celebrity chef once a month. Through every purchase, $1 is donated to the company’s national charity partner, No Kid Hungry. For August the dish is Korean chicken wings with honey glaze and Sriracha mayo, a creation by Las Vegas chef and TV personality Chris Oh.
With nothing priced over $9, and given the wholesome quality of the meats, the establishment (albeit a chain) is a tasty standout on the East Village dining scene. And in all respects, it is dog-loving.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.