Unlike in high school where the “cool” kids all wore one type of outfit, sat at one specific lunch table, and thought with one collective brain, as I grow older (and stop gazing longingly at the cool kid table), I find that “cool” actually applies to many different types of people who have many different impacts on the world. But “cool” applied to a hot dog shop? If it’s Franktuary, then absolutely.
I lunched at Franktuary the other week with excellent company, Little Friend and my former-student-now-friend Molly. It’s a lunch date that I had planned for myself, oh, six years ago when Franktuary opened its doors (called Hot Dogma at the time, for you old timer fans). I’m that much of a hot dog fiend. I go to baseball games for the exclusive purpose of feasting on ball game dogs (my apologies to the second-place delights of the seventh inning stretch, the lemonade barker, and Pittsburgh Pirates’ pierogie races). So when Franktuary comes along offering the gourmet, “cool” version of my old frank standby, that’s a meal I refuse to miss. The fact that I finally, after six years of planning, got around to actually eating at Franktuary is a crying shame. That six years of missed hot dogs from heaven.
Franktuary is a nifty little wordplay on the restaurant’s location: housed directly in the back of Trinity Cathedral, on Oliver Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh, the restaurant has no qualms about mining the religious surroundings for every pun in the book. Most notably, the catch phrase “Franks be to God.” Yet, there’s something about the atmosphere of the joint as well as the quality of the food that speaks to a more authentic, pure, and accepting place. It’s as though one of the “cool” kids pulled out a seat at that lunch table and beckoned you (yes, You!) over.
As I divided up my hot dog (one morsel for Little Friend, one bite for me), I engaged in some entertaining crowd gazing. There was a table of khaki and blue shirt clad middle-aged men (engineers, anyone?). There were the ladies directly behind me who waved every two minutes (obligingly, and I’d like to think happily) at Little Friend who spent most of the meal hanging over the booth grinning a mouthful of masticated hot dog and bun at them. There was the homeless man who shambled in for a dog with mustard and free refills of water. Each and every diverse customer was greeted at the cash register by an artsy, tattooed employee who genuinely seemed excited to see each client and worked, with the zeal of a particularly gifted matchmaker, to introduce each person to a predestined hot dog from the menu.
I was predestined for the Locavore. An artisanal (yes, I’m about to modify “hot dog” with the word artisanal, and no, I don’t see any problem with the discrepancy) hot dog made from locally-sourced, grass-fed beef, the Locavore is a health-nut/hot-dog-lover’s dream come true. The high omega-3, no-homone beef for once made me feel healthier as I consumed that juicy, succulent tube of meat. (The ball game dog’s got nothing on Franktuary’s Locavore.) Large enough to share between adult and toddler, the Locavore is nothing if not generously portioned. Other dog options include the basic (and smaller) Boar’s Head hot dog and a vegan tofu frank. The basic premise behind Franktuary’s culinary success is to take a really good hot dog and then top the *heaven* out of it.
Little Friend and I could have gone with just a basic ketchup and mayo dog (my usual preference), and the Locavore would have sung on our taste buds all the same. But instead, we opted, wisely, for the gourmet Mexico toppings: mango pineapple salsa, guacamole, and cheddar cheese. It could only have been more perfect had the cheese been hand-grated raw-milk cheddar. But that might be pushing things a bit too far. It is a hot dog, after all.
Then again, Franktuary is the type of place where you’ll see the unlikely combination of hot-dog and gourmand unite. The artsy-tatooed-hot dog-matchmaker pontificated at length on the coleslaw topping that accompanies the Pittsburgh Frank (smooshed pierogie and coleslaw). Apparently three different schools of coleslaw thought vie for predominance among the cooks at Franktuary. Hence, three different possible derivations of coleslaw. Then there’s the vegan chili. Not content to serve food that’s average, let alone sub-par, Franktuary is currently taste-testing a number of different recipes. According to the tatooed-matchmaker, the Franktuary staff is gathering like one large happy family in a test kitchen to hash out the final combination winner. So stay tuned, all you vegan chili-lovers. Franktuary will be dishing up something special sometime soon.
In addition to hot dogs (but really, why would you look further?), Franktuary’s menu includes Bratwurst, Kielbasa, Salads, and a tempting array of side dishes (pickle spears, kettle chips, pierogies, baked beans, and coleslaw). I couldn’t resist one other local menu item: Dave and Andy’s ice cream. Truth be told, I’ve already ruined Little Friend for life—someday she and her therapist will place all the blame for her sweets addiction on me. It was actually Little Friend who pointed, strained, and hooted at the ice cream counter for a dish of something carmel-y, chocolate-y, and crunchy. Dave and Andy’s, as usual, did not disappoint.
While it’s unavoidable to overlook the fact that you’re ducking into a church to stuff your face with a rather un-church-like meal (there’s the tower of Trinity Cathedral pointing a mindful finger heavenward just above you), the serving area of Franktuary feels much more akin to a college student union. Relaxed, laid-back, hip, with just a touch of intellectual verve and nostalgic decor. Free Wi-Fi is a nice welcoming touch along with the help-youself refills of fresh-brewed iced tea or the retro-flavored Boylan’s sodas. If only work didn’t interrupt the lovely lunch hour whiled away at Franktuary.
If there’s one complaint I can lodge against Franktuary, it’s that I can’t quite get enough. The hours suit downtown employees just fine, but for the rest of us, making it to church (aka Franktuary) mid-day and mid-week can be tricky. Franktuary is open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 3 pm. Playing hooky from work would be an option…a chance to hang out with “cool” kids in a “cool” place like Franktuary? Well, truancy is a mighty small price to pay for a truly great dog.