Thursday, November 17, 2016

Danish Dogs (Great Northern Food Hall)

Forgive me, Dear Readers, as it's been nearly a month since my last posting.  The previous 4 weeks have been tumultuous ones, starting with the ups and downs and ups of my beloved Cubs making an extended playoff run all the way to a dramatic World Series title, followed by the unexpected crash of emotions in the wake of the presidential election.  So after a month's worth of stressful immersion in pretty much nothing but baseball/politics, I'm finally ready to return to mundane musings about sandwiches and Thai food (as trivial as that now seems, I desperately need the diversion at this moment).

On what seems like a long-ago Friday (it's only been 2 weeks), I decided to hop the train down to Grand Central Station for a few hours.  Before June of this year, I'd never visited this magnificent edifice, and I can say that I find it as awe-inspiring as I always imagined, especially the vaulted ceiling of the main concourse (one puny picture doesn't do it justice).

What's really interesting now about GCT is that it's become a destination unto itself, with enough markets and restaurants inside so that one never needs to actually venture out on the busy streets of Manhattan.  Wandering the many halls and alcoves, I managed to limit myself to a growler of great local beer and some French cheese (a goat Chevre), resisting the urge to max out my credit cards on upscale grub.

The real reason for my trip was to check out the new Great Northern Food Hall, a collection of Nordic-themed food stands and a (now Michelin-starred) sit-down restaurant conceived by Danish entrepreneur Claus Meyer, who is half of the team (along with Rene Redzepi) that founded the world-renowned Noma in Copenhagen and is credited (or, at least, self-credited) with starting the "New Nordic Cuisine" movement.  Mrs. Hackknife (who passes through GCT almost daily) has brought home on more than one occasion wonderful smorrebrod from the Hall, the beloved open-faced sandwiches that are indigenous to Denmark.  When we traveled to Copenhagen in 2008, we discovered that Danes are also big into hot dogs (they call them polse, or polser), further evidenced by the inclusion of a gourmet hot dog stand in the Great Northern Hall called Danish Dogs.  The hot dog creations served by Mr. Meyer's culinary team have received mixed reviews in the press thus far, but I wanted to try them out on my own to see if they're worth the $17 round-trip train ticket from the Chuck Wagon.

The Danish Dog counter is a little hard to find, located along what's called the terminal shuttle passage that runs along Vanderbilt Avenue - this is separated from most of the Great Northern Food stands, which are a short distance away in Vanderbilt Hall.

For $6, diners can order a basic hot dog (the "Hound Dog") with a few standard toppings or spend a little extra for the stand's signature creations (some critics have complained about the prices, but I suspect these people never ate at the late Hot Doug's in Chicago before, where such elaborate combinations of sausage and fixings are easily worth the cost).  After much deliberation, I went with the "Hen Hound" and the "Great Dane", both of which include a sausage supplied by a sustainable butcher in Brooklyn using New York/New Jersey pasture-raised meat and potato buns made in house by the Great Northern Hall bakery next door.

The Hen Hound has gotten a bad rap thus far, but I found it to be quite good, a great pairing of chicken sausage with a slew of crunchy white cabbage, a little watercress, tarragon mayo, green tomato relish, and a punchy apple-horseradish ketchup that I wish they'd bottle.  All of the pieces worked together to make a sum clearly greater than its parts - I'll bet Doug Sohn would have been proud to serve this at Hot Doug's.

The "Great Dane" (which is allegedly the dog most like what you'd find in Denmark, although I don't recall seeing anything quite like this) definitely passed the look test, but came up a little short in my book.  I felt like the beef-pork hot dog was a little overwhelmed by the ample number of toppings (white onion, crispy shallots, pickled cucumbers, spiced ketchup, remoulade, and mustard), which seemed to have been unevenly distributed inside the bun (a different flavor stood out with each bite).  There was no harmony among ingredients here and the whole creation seemed a bit busy - I would have happily replaced the white onion and mustard with more crispy shallots.

Although I'm anxious to eventually try out the other two menu options (the "Gravhund" and the "Kvik"), I don't know that I'd make a special trip back to GCT just for Danish Dogs (but if I can bring home more beer/cheese, well, let's talk)....

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