Micah Camden and Katie Poppe are great at finding hot food trends, simplifying, and capitalizing—in that order. Their opus, Little Big Burger, was sold for $6.1 million in July 2015. Blue Star Donuts expanded to Los Angeles this month, and internationally to Tokyo, Japan, where lines span several city blocks. But Camden and Poppe are only human, and not every Portland trend has the legs to take off. That’s the case with Hop Dog, their two month-old, downtown hot dog joint, where serious R&D is needed.
Hop Dog’s premise is simple: four dogs, simmered in beer. What could go wrong? For starters, they use ol’ faithful Sabrett for their standard dogs, reserving Olympia Provision’s foot-long, artisan wieners for the rotating special. Unless you splurge on the big dog ($7-9), you’re essentially eating a glorified ballpark frank (in stark contrast to the complex, fanciful creations from hot dog pop up, Stray Dogs). If you go the Sabrett route, you might as well throw up an umbrella and use a soft, chewy bun. Instead, Hop Dog sources sweet, crunchy pretzel-brioche buns from nearby bakery Nuvrei. There’s nothing wrong with bucking tradition, but the combination feels incongruous.
Critically, the Sabrett weiner can’t stand up to the boiled-in-beer premise. The result, as with the standard “Harvey” ($4.75 with sauerkraut, onions, relish, mustard), is a bland, mealy dog, lacking snap. Even the Cincinnati-inspired “Maybelle,” dowsed in a rich, deeply spiced chili, can’t cover the offending wiener. Specials, like the “Frankie,” are a welcome respite, with an audibly snappy, garlicky OP dog, sweet baked beans, and crunchy, creamy slaw that finally does the Nuvrei bun justice. For the price, you’d be better off going to Olympia Provision’s own endlessly rotating “Frankfurter Fridays” (enchilada dog, anyone?)
Hop Dog comes at a time when the hot dog, as an artisan trend, is waning in Portland. Camden and Poppe seem to have bet on a concept without investing the time or talent in a product strong enough to outlive the fad. Ultimately, they’ll have to decide whether they want to serve haute dogs or dirty water franks, and if their beer-boiled gimmick is worth the mess.
1122 SW Stark St
Open everyday, 11 am-9 pm