First Bite: Rockstar Dogs

Michael Nagrant / 03.14.08

Rockstar Dogs, which finally opened this afternoon after a license delay, is the culinary version of a vodka ad or maybe more appropriately the Hard Rock Cafe. A lot of money got spent trying to inject personality in to what is otherwise a mediocre overpriced commodity.

First off, there’s the stripper pole. As the second pole on the block (the other at nearby Five Star bar and Grill), Chicago Avenue suddenly has almost as many stripper poles as the Admiral theatre. It was funny the first time, but the ubiquity of stripper poles is making them the caprese salad or foam of 2008.

Then there’s ketchup and mustard painted walls plastered with an assortment of 8 x 10 glossies of goths and rockers in various states of debauched repose. My favorite might be of Iggy Pop rocking a Bull’s jersey just above the cash register. There are also a couple of guitars, and a centerpiece mural of a teensy weensy yellow bikini clad tattoo style poster girl.

The sex-laden asides don’t stop there. The menu features a Tommy Lee dog, aka the foot long, and a “Sting”, aka the tantric tofu dog. Once you place your order, Rockstar hooks you up with a guitar pic or a temporary tattoo.

I think this is kind of weak. I’d like to see a real tattoo artist handing out free tattoos to the drunken masses I expect will hit this part of Chicago Avenue after a night of throwing down Jaeger bombs. That would be total rock and roll. Here’s your Zeppelin dog…umm, can you sign this waiver?

The dogs are Vienna, the buns are Rosen’s, and the relish is standard issue alien green. For $6-8, you get a dog, fries, and a drink. There’s no a la carte option , except in the extra onion rings or Merkt’s slathered cheese fries and tots department. The Merkt’s comes off a bit chunky and grainy, and I would have preferred some fake smooth Velveeta nacho style goop in this case. The fries themselves are relatively thick cut, somewhere between a ¼” and ½”, with a heavy dose of seasoning salt. No skin on though and relatively uniform and forgettable.

They stuff the basic fries with a dog into a white cardboard box along with your drink. Wait more than 30 seconds and the steam from the dog and the fries starts heating your drink and sogging up the bun. Unlike the old McDLT, the cold does not stay cold for long.

I appreciate the grill char on the dog, but the dog was more wrinkled than a geriatric shar-pei, suggesting it had been sitting in a hot box or somewhere for a while before I got to it, same with the soggy grilled jalapenos on our “Los Lobos” dog which came wrapped in relatively smoke-free bacon. Tomato slices sported a perfect out-of -season second rate watermelon flesh hue.

At these prices and with the kitsch and “gourmet” takes on dogs including grilled jalapenos, bacon, etc, it’s impossible not to compare Rockstar to Hot Doug’s. If you get a super gourmet dog at Hot Doug’s, you’re out of the running price wise, but if you compare the basic salad dog between the places, at Doug’s you get a super fresh charred fat Vienna, slathered in the usual suspects (not to mention great caramelized onions), some of the best skin on fries in town and a drink for $4.50, a full $1.50 cheaper than the same combo at Rockstar. Not to mention you’ll get a steady dose of good music including Neko Case and the Buzzcocks while you’re chowing down.

I’m not saying this out of some foodist fan boy lust or blind nostalgia for Doug either. I went to Doug’s two days before so that I’d have an objective look at both dogs side by side. There’s just no comparison.

On the other hand, Doug’s closes at 4 p.m., and on weekends, Rockstar is open ‘til four a.m. The easy and funny line to write here, is that you should go to bed hungry and make you’re way to Hot Doug’s when you wake up with a hangover, but, the dogs at Rockstar aren’t terrible, and when you’re soused, they’re probably really damn good. Of course, if you make the trip boozed-up, both you and your wallet will be hammered at the end of the night.

Rockstar dogs is located at 801 N. Ashland