Fast Food Redemption
Chefs are creating virtuous new kinds of hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza using artisanal methods and all-natural ingredients.
Homemade condiments are key to a truly superlative hot dog. Sue Moore of Let's Be Frank, in San Francisco, loves these puckery bread-and-butter pickles and sweet fried onions, along with a squirt of organic mustard.
When he opened Sparky's All-American Food in Brooklyn, New York, in 2002, former dot-comer Brian Benavidez wanted to focus on environmentally sound food that would be affordable to everyone. He is committed to using local ingredients, which is why his dogs are custom-made for him in the Catskills, using grass-fed, hormone-free beef. He offers all-natural toppings too, like homemade ketchup. And his business is growing with the addition of a second Sparky's in Manhattan.
Healthy Hot Dogs à la Cart
"Not everyone can afford a $50 grass-fed steak, but everyone can afford a $5 hot dog," says Sue Moore of Let's Be Frank. Let's Be Frank uses organic buns from Acme Bread and pasture-raised beef from Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, California, for the juicy, snappy, tasty hot dogs it sells from carts around the San Francisco area. Moore ("meat forager" for Berkeley's Chez Panisse) and partner Larry Bain (founder of Next Course, which aims to improve awareness of healthy foods) began selling the franks in June 2005 outside AT&T Park before baseball games. The response was so great that they now have carts outside the Crissy Field Warming Hut and at Cisco Systems. In the works: turkey dogs made from heritage breeds.
Tim Goodell, an F&W Best New Chef 2000, recently opened a burger joint, 25 Degrees, in Hollywood. He uses organic meat to make fantastic burgers like the one here, smothered in red chili, following a strict set of rules (see his tips below).
5 Tips for the Perfect Burger
1. For the most succulent burger, use a mix of 45 percent beef chuck, 45 percent beef sirloin and 10 percent pork fatback.
2. If you're grinding the beef yourself, don't trim any fat; it adds flavor and moisture. Also, keep the meat and grinding equipment chilled so the fat won't melt. The result will be a juicier burger.
3. Never mix salt into the ground beef when you're forming the patties, as this will dry out the burger. Season liberally with salt just before grilling.
4. Prior to cooking, preheat the grill on high for 15 to 20 minutes and make sure the grates are clean.
5. To avoid flame-ups and charring, never grill with high heat.
The Hot Spots
PIZZAIOLO, OAKLAND, CA Supercrisp pizzas from Chez Panisse alum Charlie Hallowell. 5008 Telegraph Ave.; 510-652-4888.
SPACCA NAPOLI, CHICAGO The city's newest Neapolitan has a wood-burning oven hand-built by Italian artisans. 1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.; 773-878-2420.
UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA, NEW YORK CITY Obsessive pie-maker Anthony Mangieri closes the place on days when the dough misbehaves. 49 E. 12th St.; 212-477-9950.
HOT DOG PLACES
LET'S BE FRANK, SAN FRANCISCO Grass-fed-beef dogs sold from carts. letsbefrankdogs.com.
SPARKY'S ALL-AMERICAN FOOD, NEW YORK CITY The franks are made by a nearby Catskills producer. 135A N. 5th St., Brooklyn; 718-302-5151. 333 Lafayette St., Manhattan; 212-334-3035.
FIELD TO FORK, SHEBOYGAN, WI The focus is on Wisconsin beef. 511 S. 8th St.; 920-694-0322.
25 DEGREES, HOLLYWOOD Haute burgers and wine. 7000 Hollywood Blvd.; 323-785-7244.
THE COUNTER, LOS ANGELES Design-your-own organic burgers. 2901 Ocean Park Blvd.; 310-399-8383.
Elements of a Perfect Pizza
salt Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana in Manhattan likes Sicilian sea salt because "it's pure and wonderful."
flour 00 (double zero), the most finely milled flour, creates a supercrispy, chewy crust. Some pizza places use it on its own; others blend it with coarsely milled flours.
yeast Neapolitan-style pizza is traditionally made with fresh yeast, which comes in cake form and has to be refrigerated, but there's no consensus on whether fresh or dry ultimately results in a better pie. Pala in New York City uses the Red Star brand, a dry yeast.
tomatoes The universal choice is San Marzano (named after the region in Italy where they're grown). "They stay wet when they're baked but aren't too pulpy or mealy like California tomatoes," says Mangieri.
cheese Serious pizza chefs use slightly tangy, ultracreamy buffalo mozzarella from Italy. It keeps well and stays moist, white and luscious while baking because of its high fat content.
oil Pizza artists favor a delicate Umbrian or Sicilian olive oil because it has enough flavor to hold up during baking but won't overwhelm the other ingredients. And it won't make the pizza greasy.
oven A wood-burning brick oven that gets as hot as 1200 degrees can bake a pizza in 60 seconds, creating the crispiest crust while retaining the fresh flavors of the toppings.
CHRIS BIANCO is the granddaddy of America's artisanal pizza movement. Since 1994, the Bronx-born Bianco has been devoted to the humble pie at his Phoenix restaurant, Pizzeria Bianco, where he says the agenda is "understanding the role of everyone in the final product—farmer, miller, server, pizzamaker. We don't slide pizza under your door in a white box." Bianco uses organic flour, house-made sausage and mozzarella and outstanding fresh produce from growers he knows personally. His pizza is so good it has devotees all over the country, including chefs like Alice Waters and Daniel Boulud; chef Suzanne Goin even got married at Pizzeria Bianco. Since 2003, an offshoot called Pane Bianco has brought the same high artisanal standards to the world of sandwiches, offering four simple ones made daily from exquisite ingredients, like Black Mesa Ranch goat cheese sandwiches with oven-roasted tomatoes and locally grown arugula. DETAILS Pizzeria Bianco, 623 E. Adams St., Phoenix; 602-258-8300. Pane Bianco, 4404 N. Central Ave., Phoenix; 602-234-2100.