To eat a hot dog for the price tag—like reading Playboy for the articles, watching Scandal for sociopolitical commentary, or dressing up for dinner in Seattle—is to miss the point. Yet here I am, about to become the ninth person to lay down $169 (with tax, $185.06) for the foot-long bratwurst that holds an actual Guinness World Record as the most expensive hot dog. At a food truck, no less.
As long as we’re assigning superlatives to encased meats, the world’s most expensive hot dog might also be the world’s best marketing gimmick. Hordes of Fremont Sunday Market pilgrims wander up to ogle the official certificate and photo displayed at Tokyo Dog’s counter, then walk away with one of its regular $8 creations—sausages piled high with Japanese ingredients like bonito flakes, tonkatsu sauce, and furikake.
The yellow truck wrested the world record from a now-defunct hot dog stand in Sacramento after staging an event last winter with an accountant, a lawyer, and about as much paperwork as your average mortgage. A critical component of certification is proving that someone has actually shelled out cash for said hot dog—no fair theoretically charging a billion dollars. Not that you can just walk up to the truck and order one: It requires two weeks’ notice and payment up front—my first-ever sausage-based PayPal transaction.
After assembling my order, Tokyo Dog’s proprietor offers to photograph me posing with my opulent tube steak and the Guinness certificate. I think my demurral disappoints him. There’s something vaguely unseemly about being photographed brandishing a foot-long bratwurst, not to mention eating one while a bunch of strangers watch. As with most food trucks, tabletops are scarce. Which is how I end up in a patch of grass near a portable toilet, eating a hot dog that cost more than my handbag.
The hot dog itself is pretty standard, a 12-inch smoked-cheese bratwurst, ground and stuffed by Bavarian Meats. The expensive part happens on top. If someone called upon you to rattle off every luxurious food ingredient that springs to mind in under 15 seconds, you’d have the basic recipe for the unruly pile of extravagance that all but obscures the sausage: thin strips of grilled Wagyu, foie gras segments, a sputter of paddlefish caviar, black truffle shavings, and a Jackson Pollock squiggle of utilitarian Japanese mayo. Within lurks a thicket of grilled onions and chopped maitake mushrooms. If you do not like mushrooms, you would not like the accompanying aroma. The only thing missing is edible gold leaf; during the recipe development stage, the owners deemed it overkill.
The first bite is straight-up meat and bread. And it’s delightful, both bun and brat grilled to a gentle crisp. From there, however, the situation devolves into an opulent mess, toppings sliding about and bits of mushrooms and onions in constant exodus from each end of the bun. Those delicate, pricy flavors: not exactly an intuitive pairing with a beefy, brawny bratwurst. The humble mayo does more to elevate the dog than anything else. The truffle? Forget it. Completely overwhelmed. So’s the caviar. The foie adds great gaminess, but each bite provokes a continental drift of toppings, pushing the next bit of foie farther away—Sisyphean retribution for my seeking out a food for any reason other than how it tastes.
And it tastes…overpowering. I finished maybe one-third of my hot dog. This exercise in novelty, in cholesterol, in supporting a worthy cause (proceeds go to the Red Cross) was surely an adventure. But uniting all those luxurious ingredients doesn’t exactly feel…luxurious.
When I head home, the world’s most lavish hot dog reduced to $110 worth of half-eaten leftovers wrapped in foil, I hear it rattling around my car and I think maybe I should have taken that picture after all.
This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of Seattle Met magazine.