Stars2½ out of 4
Stars: 2½ out of 4
Dogtown, 888 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista
A new pack of dogs has arrived in Isla Vista, diverse, growing in number, and occasionally covered in guacamole. Dogtown, located on the corner of Pardall and Embarcadero del Norte, marks the restaurant debut of former UCSB student Grant Robertson, an ambition he has held since his early college years following a visit to a Berkeley sausage/hot dog restaurant while traveling with the tennis team. The menu for this new establishment, which also serves alcohol, indicates that this is not just your average hot dog stand; Fennel Asiago and Mango Habanero are two chicken examples, while Bavarian Bratwurst is currently the only pork option on the menu. Robertson’s goal is to promote the traditional I.V. dining experience of selecting and customizing, with customers “throwing whatever they want,” in terms of toppings and additions, on their basic order.
Accustomed to a relatively simple combination of ketchup, sausage, butter and white bread, I approached these titles enthusiastically, and opted for a California Dreamin, a combination of the Mango Habanero hot dog, guacamole, and bacon. I was impressed with the size and texture of the “stadium roll” bap, which was large enough to accommodate its contents, yet could easily be tidily consumed. Although the sausage itself was pleasantly spicy, agreeing very well with the flavor and texture of the guacamole, I found it difficult to detect more than a hint of fruit. My fellow diners, meanwhile, opted for the Fennel Italiano, commended for its high quality and lack of fat, and the Smoked Chicken Apple, which the diner felt, again, lacked the expected fruity compliment to the savory chicken flavor. Based on these experiences, I would highly recommend putting at least one form of topping with the sausage, as the flavors may be too subtle to hold out on their own, and depending on your taste, could end up seeming bit plain.
Only in existence since October 11th, 2009, the restaurant is fast finding its feet, and has several menu additions in the pipeline, including an imminent vegetarian sausage which will be available by the time this goes to print (Robertson is open to other vegetarian options from the hot-dog loving herbivores among us). A wheat bun is also in the works, and the menu choices are expected to grow in number as the establishment develops, including the addition of a second pork variety, the British Banger.
The side order of Dogtown Fries, a combination of chili and guacamole heaped on top of very tasty cross-cut fries, provoked the most praise; it delivered an excellent blend of flavors, and proved a substantial meal in itself. Another side order consisted of a very generous portion of onion rings. Though definitely not a bar (I was surprised when I heard that alcohol was available), alcoholic drinks can be consumed in or outside the restaurant, and the kind of food offered here would provide a very good compliment to a glass of beer – they have three varieties on draft, and more bottled brands. Sitting out in the sunshine, watching the world go by made for a very laid-back dining experience, and though there were a few hiccups with menu comprehension, the service was quick and efficient. As far as I.V. pricing goes, this is probably reasonable enough, provided you make full use of the toppings available. Seven dollars should keep you going for quite a while, and I imagine the food here would be brilliant for taming a furiously growling stomach in the early hours of the morning.