If the word vegan precedes a dish, chances are it tastes like cardboard. Generally sporting an sickly pink color and a crumbly texture, vegan meat alternatives often have more of a place in a biohazard waste bin than on a plate. There is a rare exception to this: Doggy Dogg’s vegan dog. The vegan dog’s hearty, chewy texture and curiously savory taste, combined with Doggy Dogg’s plethora of diverse toppings showcases the best possibilities of a vegan alternative.
When I found out that Doggy Dogg would host a Holi celebration and debut a new Indian-inspired vegan dogg at their restaurant, a little shack called The Dogg Haus, I cleared my schedule. I — an Indian — was about to celebrate the Hindu festival of color for the first time in my life, and it was going to be in a hot dog shop. Find your beach, I guess.
More than anything, I had enjoyed Doggy Dogg’s new Indian-influenced kimchi at the Emory Farmers Market in the weeks preceding the event, and I wanted to see how the eatery would merge the odd, spongy texture of a hot dog with the punchy zest of the Indian palate.
I ventured with three equally curious and ravenous friends to the downtown Decatur establishment. We all ordered the Holi special dog — the “Pushkar Pupp,” named after an Indian temple town in Rajasthan, a state known for its vegetarian fare. The “Pupp” came with either vegan or pork sausage. One of my friends opted for the pork, which he said was more filling than the vegan dog. In celebration of Holi, the eatery provided traditional colored powders, which we used to cover our hands and faces for the the next half hour. But the powders were just barely as colorful as the hot dogs themselves, which came bathed in a misty green cilantro “veganaise” — a take on vegan mayonnaise — and a shower of yellow plantain chips, lathered with relish.
I tilted my head sideways and took a messy bite of the bulging hot dog. The intensely savory vegan sausage snapped open and absorbed the rich cilantro “veganaise” and the sweet and spicy peach habanero sauce. To keep the bold flavors in check, Doggy Dogg added a garnish of raw onions, the Indian topping du jour, for an added sharpness that served as a bitter yang to the dog’s culinary yin.
The well-toasted, slightly sweet bun was the standout item. The bun functioned similarly to the buns in Indian street fare mainstay Pav Bhaji, offsetting the dog’s peppy spice with its starchy sweetness. They differed from the buns served at the Emory Farmers Market, which have a less toasty, more pillowy texture and have less of a sweetness to them.
I was amazed. Though the hot dog is seen as a staple of American street food, I could see Doggy Dogg’s “Pushkar Pupp” fitting like a glove on a street cart in Mumbai or New Delhi, its punchy flavors and portability reminiscent of Indian chaat, or snack food.
The atmosphere, too, was reminiscent of India. Like the multiethnic city of Bangalore, Doggy Dogg’s patrons had different backgrounds, united by their love of food — customers conversed around a roaring bonfire in the cool evening breeze. Living in a large, urban city like Atlanta can alienate people from one another, but at Doggy Dogg, I felt a sense of community that has been absent since I came to this city.
At $10, my order — the “Pushkar Pupp,” a Red Hare sparkling grapefruit soda and a bag of Zapp’s Voodoo New Orleans kettle chips — was a bit expensive given that the portion sizes were relatively small. That said, I had also paid for the experience of the Holi festival, and the evening was more akin to a bonfire or barbecue than a typical meal out. The communal spirit accompanied by the creative food is why I am proud to say I celebrated my first Holi at Doggy Dogg.