Dog Fight

As everyone gets all worked up over the Vancouver Olympics and one food writer after another weighs in on Vancouver restaurants and street food, I just want to represent for my hometown's best street food: the veggie dogs of Toronto. Growing up in Toronto, you get used to seeing a cart on every corner grilling hot dogs, sausages and veggie dogs. A rack of condiments (olives, sauerkraut, bacon bits, banana peppers, corn relish) rings the cart like a hula skirt and they'll grill you a hot dog, toast your bun and slap it down in front of you for a toonie (that's a two dollar coin, Americans).

I was so taken with Toronto hot dog carts that at one point I thought about opening one in NYC, serving veggie dogs and veggie burgers on the street near NYU. It didn't take me long to realize that this was totally and completely insane. But it always bothers me that veggie burgers and veggie dogs are no fun at all in New York City. They're trashy snack food, probably the bottom of the barrel in terms of real cooking and the butt of too many jokes to count, but why can't they be better? I don't order veggie burgers anymore because normally they're mushy pucks. And veggie dogs are usually fried until they're hard and crusty, turning hot pink as their preservatives surge to the surface and form an unpleasant chemical crust. Not so Toronto veggie dogs that are crunchy on the outside but juicy inside, grilled just enough to acquire some char but not enough to turn tough. And, even better, you can slather their remarkably hearty buns with tons of condiments because, let's be honest, hot dogs are little more than a delivery device for condiments.

Condiment torpedo: banana peppers, corn relish, jalapenos.

Serious Eats has a post about Toronto street dogs, and while I'm always happy to see them writing about Toronto, I take issue with a few of their assertions. First off, I don't think the veggie dogs are only good because they're cooked on the same grill as the meat dogs. Juices cook off these open grills pretty fast, and there's no realistic way the minor amount of meat drippings that may stick momentarily to the grill bars adds much flavor to the veggie dogs. The reason they taste so good is because they grill these dogs rather than fry them and because they use Yves veggie dogs which are generally considered the best ones out there. Also, hot dogs are always better when eaten on the street. It's just a scientific fact.

This is merely 1/2 of one cart's condiment selection!

The other thing I take issue with is their assertion that no carts serve cheese or mayo because of city regulations regarding health and safety. Toronto street food regs are a mess, and it's true you'll never see cheese on these carts, but I have never seen a cart without mayo. Ever. Maybe once on a snow-covered day, but that was it. You can even see a squeeze bottle of mayo sitting on the top of the counter in the photo above.

The only thing better than mayo: vegenaise.

Too few people know about Toronto's magical hot dog cart scene. And while I love New York, I'd rather die than eat a hot dog off one of the carts here. But in Toronto it's the way to prove that you really live there - almost like a citizenship test. And it's a testament to the crunchy, casual, laid back spirit of Canadian inclusiveness that veggie dogs have always been there, too. (Also exciting: poutine place in Toronto that's serving veggie poutine!)

(Buy your own hot dog cart at Carts of Canada!)

(Read an interview with some cart owners)