“Normal” hot dogs are available on street corners all over Berlin and Vienna, but most of them are barely edible: limp, lukewarm logs of meat in soggy steamed buns with ketchup and mustard. Plain, easy to make, uncreative, unimpressive. Björn Swanson wasn’t impressed with them, either. The Berlin native isn’t a big fan of conventional ideas in general, in fact—he enjoys turning the tried-and-true on its head. It’s worked for him before: Golvet, the restaurant he opened in 2017, maintains a fun and relaxed atmosphere that’s rare among Michelin-starred locales. So why go from that to serving hot dogs? “I wanted to create a restaurant that I would enjoy eating at,” he says, “because I would just sick of the whole fancy-schmancy haute cuisine thing.”
He didn’t stop there, of course—a rolling stone gathers no moss, as they say. He needed a new concept, ideally something that would really stand out, that nobody else was doing. Well, why not gourmet hot dogs, then? Traditional sausage was a 19th-century German export to the United States, but the “hot dog” as we know it today is pure Americana. Hot dogs developed in popularity as a quick lunch option for working-class people, and street vendors were soon a common sight throughout the country. Nowadays, it’s just as much a part of the American culinary pantheon as burgers. In the US, both are prepared in a wide variety of styles and flavor combinations, but in the German-speaking world, hot dogs tend to lack finesse. Swanson found it completely unacceptable that the most iconic hot dogs in Germany were the ones sold at Ikea for one euro. “My American roots were part of the reason I went with hot dogs, of course,” notes the chef (whose mother is German and father is from the United States). The burger hype is starting to fade in Germany, so Swanson decided it was time for a new alternative, and thus The Dawg was born in the Bikini Berlin shopping center on Budapester Straße, directly beside the Berlin Zoo. The center’s food market, Kantini, opened at the beginning of this year, and features 13 street-food stands and mini-restaurants with international specialties ranging from Mexican burritos to Hawaiian poke bowls and Spanish-Indian tapas. “The location was really appealing with this project,” Swanson says of the Berlin shopping mall. “And so was the potential to network and help position my own brand.” According to its website, The Dawg is where fast food meets Michelin-starred cuisine. Its design scheme is all dark, cool tones with an industrial aesthetic: bare concrete walls, lots of metal. The terrace overlooking the Berlin Zoo is right next door.
From North Korea to Bavaria
The menu features six different hot dogs that are worlds away from their pale, tasteless street-corner counterparts in terms of both individual ingredients and overall quality. They also have an international flair. The Kim Jong Dawg, for example, draws inspiration from the Far East: a duck hot dog served on wheat bread with kim chi, cilantro, soy mayo, and wasabi nuts. Those who prefer the more familiar will enjoy the Bavarian Dawg, a Bavarian veal sausage with cheese, sauerkraut, and sweet mustard on a hard roll. And more adventurous diners might want to try the Octopussy Dawg: octopus, chipotle mayonnaise, fennel salad, and cilantro in a sesame-seed bun. Swanson and his crew develop ideas for new creations as a group, right there in the kitchen. The Dawg places special importance on freshness— the crew bakes five different varieties of bread and buns for their hot dogs every day. One “Dawg” costs between five and ten euros; vegetarian options are available as well. They recommend pairing the hot dogs with one of their international craft beers, but those definitely don’t come cheap. Fortunately, the rest of the bar is well-stocked with everything from spritzers to cocktails to soft drinks.
Even so, Swanson is still focusing most of his energy on Golvet, while head chef Raed handles The Dawg’s day-to-day business.