« Return to Alinea | Main | Xoco »

August 25, 2010

Maui Dog

Spam Slider Dominic Armato

UPDATE : Maui Dog has closed

I was born and raised in Chicago.

I know, this comes up a lot, and I don't mean to flog it, but trust me... it's quite relevant. Chicago is, of course, the home of the venerable institution that is the Chicago-style hot dog. Chicago is also home to a disproportionate number of hot dog hardliners, from those who eschew any tubular meat composed of anything other than beef, to those who passionately debate the "dragged through the garden" standard versus the "minimal" standard, to those who will throw you out of their stand if you ask for ketchup without also ordering fries. Thing is, Chicagoans have strong opinions about hot dogs. Just as, say, Baltimoreans have strong opinions about crabcakes, or investment bankers have strong opinions about the capital gains tax, or LeBron James has strong opinions about LeBron James. The Chicago-style hot dog, to the denizens of Chicago, is culinary history, civic pride and generations of tradition all rolled into one. Other hot dog styles have been, empirically speaking, proven wrong.

Island DogDominic Armato

Now, as somebody who endeavors to appreciate all manner of foodstuffs for the unique delights they bring to the table, I try my hardest to overcome these types of culinary biases. And I like to think I've met with some success. But this is hard, hard work for somebody so displaced from a beloved hometown with such iconic signature foods. The part of my brain still struggling to come to grips with the fact that I don't live there anymore possesses a powerful instinct to immediately reject any hot dog that doesn't conform to one of the standards I grew up with. If you put a hot dog on a bun, dress it and set it in front of a sheet of yellow construction paper and it doesn't resemble Vienna signage, my reptilian brain might just as easily identify it as a turkey sandwich or a parking meter. Stepping outside of that insular little cognitive box is like sensitivity training for food nerds. Hey, we're all a little prejudiced, but we strive to be aware of those prejudices and move past them. Places like Maui Dog, however, make this a very, very difficult task.

Lava DogDominic Armato

Maui Dog inhabits the space formerly occupied by the dearly departed Ricky's Big Philly, a cheesesteak, burger and dog joint that prepared the usual greasy fare with above average care. Since housing Ricky's, the place has received a bit of a facelift. It's still a little divey, but it's a comfortable and brightly painted dive with kitschy island memorabilia and piped-in ukelele tunes. Since the building didn't come with waves, they had to paint them along the exterior wall. Still, though the breeze is more arid than salty and Indian School Road is no lapping shoreline, it could be said to have a certain Cheeseburger in Paradise kind of charm (and please shoot me if I ever reference Jimmy Buffett again). The thing here, unsurprisingly, is hot dogs and sausages, and that's almost the entire menu right there. There are a couple different types of sliders, tater tots and fries, a cup of chili and Hawaiian ice for dessert, and that's it. The main event is a mix and match system, where you choose your meat (hot dog, brat, polish, etc.), choose a condiment (chipotle garlic mayo, passion fruit mustard, et. al.) and choose some toppings (coconut, pineapple, mango, banana, yadda, yadda) to build your dog of choice. And if you're paralyzed by the options, whether by indecision brought on by the range of toppings or a stroke brought on by the idea of putting mango on a hot dog, there are six pre-designed options to choose from.

Sweet and Spicy DogDominic Armato

I tasted four of them, spanning a few visits, omitting the Hana Dog because it's vaguely reminiscent of a Sonoran dog and I didn't see any sense in trying another stand's specialty, and the Tiki Dog -- a turkey dog -- because... well... I just can't. Immediately evident is that whether Maui Dog is your thing or not, there's a lot of care going into what they're doing. Sausages, even if they aren't the highest-end product, are still quite good and come beautifully charred and blistered at the ends. The buns are a custom recipe, prepared by a local bakery, and they have enough body to stand up to a mountain of toppings without getting in the way. Fries and tots are unremarkable frozen fare and the pineapple was obviously removed from the package and drained, but the sauces are mostly if not all house blends. It's a $4 hot dog stand, not a midrange restaurant. The freshly prepared to pulled out of the package ratio is unusually high, and to be commended, I think.

Sunset DogDominic Armato

The Island Dog is by far my favorite of those I've tried, and the one most likely to make me a devotee of the style. It's a brat, actually, with chipotle garlic mayo, passionfruit mustard, a creamy coconut relish, pineapple and meaty chunks of diced bacon. Just typing that list gives me the jibblies, but it's sweet, salty, sweet, smoky, fatty and sweet... unabashedly all of the things that we look for in guilty pleasures. I could get into this. And feel appropriatley guilty about it. The big flop of the bunch was the Lava Dog, an all-beef dog with chili, Monterey Jack cheese and cole slaw, which was tripped up by some truly terrible chili. Two other solid entries that I enjoyed but wouldn't rush back for were the Sweet and Spicy Dog and the Sunset Dog. The former is ordinarily a bratwurst, but due to some early supply problems they weren't available and I substituted an all-beef dog. It has the same mayo/mustard base of most of the specialty dogs, but is topped with pineapple, diced fresh onion and slivers of pickled bell peppers. It's not that spicy. I think it might be improved if it were more so. But the vinegary peppers are a nice addition to the sweet and creamy milieu of much of the menu. The Sunset Dog, a polish, follows a similar trajectory, substituting pureed mango for its sweet and peperoncini for its spicy. Another one I'd hit for a change of pace.

Tater TotsDominic Armato

Though I didn't try the teriyaki slider (yes, the burgers are sweet, too), the gem of the menu was actually the spam slider, a griddled little slice of spam topped with the aforementioned house mayo, spicy mustard, pineapple and coconut relish. If you're going to go the route of the guilty pleasure, putting sweet, creamy and salty on a processed tube steak, why not take it all the way and put those same toppings on one of the most processed meats known to man? Of course, when one person loves canned meat, it's a guilty pleasure, but when an entire island state loves canned meat, it's culture. So tell yourself it's a cultural experience and have one, because they're pretty darn good. Dessert is Hawaiian ice, (loudly) shaved on the spot and saturated with your choice of thirty-some flavored syrups, so you can get one more sweet fix before walking out the door (judging from the menu, being a diabetic Hawaiian is a brutal existence).

In case it wasn't already evident, I'm still trying to shake my preconceptions, here. I look at these photos and shudder. But I also have to admit that I enjoyed a couple of them quite a bit. And when you're talking burgers and dogs, so many places phone it in that I really do appreciate one that's trying to do it right. Corners are cut here and there, but again, they're $4 hot dogs. For the most part, they're made with great care. Whether or not you'll enjoy them, I think, comes down to whether the concept in general works for you. If you believe that a truly transcendent hot dog experience is characterized by the subtle, garlicky tang and snap of a truly high-quality natural casing hot dog, unsullied by something sweet like ketchup, you're going to have to go through some mental contortions to come to terms with this. But if you like being able to choose from 17 different kinds of sweet, and often choose to eat many of them at the same time, you're going to be very, very happy. Either way, Maui Dog is already filling their niche with aplomb.

Maui Dog
3538 E. Indian School Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Mon - Sat11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
Sun11:00 AM - 5:00 PM


Okay, So I am reacting to this awesome post with my own attempt to not be undone by my hometown biases. After living in Honolulu, Hawaii for 18 years and loving every second of it, I have moved away and miss it a lot. There are hotdog traditions in Hawaii too, and the weird thing for me, is that my greatest association with Hawaii hotdogs is Hank's Haute Dogs -- which specializes in Chicago dogs. Have you ever heard of that place? I really wonder what you would think of it. The proprietor's name is Hank Adinaya. He ran the Chicago restaurant, Trio, for a long time and maybe a couple of others. He was born and raised in Honolulu by parents who ran a small hotdog stand. He lived his adult life in Chicago doing fine dining, then moved back to Honolulu with his grown son to open Hank's Haute Dogs. I don't know Chicago, but their Chicago dogs are great in my uncultured opinion. Yeah, so I just would love it if you would go to Hawaii some time and eat for two weeks and make Hank's one of your stops. This is a long, perhaps boring comment, but you got me thinking about Hawaii and hotdogs, two of my favorite things. A couple of other little notes, fyi: 1) Diabetes is a huge problem in Hawaii and there are actually several good restaurants that cater to diabetic diners. 2) A purist in Hawaii would never use the term "Hawaiian ice." It would be shave ice. And never "shaved ice." 3) Spam is indeed part of the culture. It's actually an amazing part of food anthropology. Back before it was easy to ship fresh meat to the island, canned meat was ubiquitous. Spam got integrated into the culture. It's in fried rice, served with breakfast eggs, and, most tasty in my opinion is the spam musabi, kind of a spam sushi thing. There are also Vienna sausage musubi. Yeah, it's all kinda gross, but it's all kinda good to. So, I guess my point is, Maui Dog in Phoenix sounds as suspicious to me as Cajun dining in Honolulu or Philly Cheesesteak in Orlando, but hey, I'm open minded. Thanks for making me happily homesick for Hawaii, and check out Hank's if you ever get a chance.

There are very few food related things that I don't have a open mind to... but these hot dogs look vile! As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that should go on hot dogs is a smidge of mustard (fancified mustard is fine), and perhaps a dollop of ketchup. If you insist on some onions, that's fine. But anything else? An abomination! I absolutely cannot imagine any kind of fruit puree on a hot dog!

I love Spam!

I love Spam!
Posted by: 1000yregg

Yes, but it must be prepared correctly.
1. Heat pan with veg oil over med-low flame.
2. Add thinly-sliced Spam to pan and cover with spatter screen
3. Only when stove exhaust fan is overwhelmed and home fire alarm is on brink of sounding off do you remove spatter screen and flip the slice of Spam. Open windows.
4. At first sign of smoke from side 2, remove and serve.

May be treated as sausage patty as with scrambled eggs, but is most aptly eaten by the slice impaled on a fork. The weirdness of Spam's "spicing" and additives dictates Nibbling.

As for eating Spam rare as a slider per Maui Dog Slider? Needs lettuce to off-set, maybe. I would also transfer it to that excellent-looking Sunset Dog roll cut in half.
Or cut the Spam slice in squares and pair with a tater tot(pictured) on a tooth pick!!!

The key to enjoying Spam is to not think of it as a replacement for ham - it is its own unique product and has a flavor profile independent of other things it might resemble. If you're constantly thinking of ham or sausage, you will be inevitably disappointed; but if you respect it as its own unique style of salted cured meat, then you'd be surprised at how much you can do with it.

BryanD has it exactly right - to be enjoyed properly, Spam must be seared until crisp on the outside. The crisp outside not only adds a bit of texture, but the slight bitterness to the char cuts nicely against the saltiness of the processed meat product.

Spam fried rice was a staple in my house when I was growing up - it works beautifully in that setting. Again, it's the textural contrast with the rice, vegetables, & egg. It balances out quite nicely.

Spam fried rice is one of my favorites. My mother used to cook some when we were kids. Adding some carrots and eggs would definitely make it taste good.

I love this article.

I understand you are from Chicago....but the buns are made from Portugese Sweet Bread...the toppings are amazing ..the owner is a surfer who was inspired by the hot dogs from Maui that are encased in sweet bread and the fruit toppings are poured in...one of my favorite places

The comments to this entry are closed.