by Alice Levitt
2653 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Cabot Annex, Waterbury, 882-8016
Vermont is always just a little bit behind on national culinary trends. Hot dogs with quirky, homemade toppings is but one of them. We may not ever have a Japadog, a Crif Dog or a Hot Doug's, but Vermont is now home to the one and only Juni's Dog Haus.
The third eatery from the church group behind Juniper's Fare Café (also in Waterbury), Juni's has filled most of the tiny space that formerly belonged to Muddy Paw Coffee with a griddle and fryer.
This leaves no room for seating. Instead, there are picnic tables outside and a drive-through window for diners on the go. But the cook on duty was kind enough to carry my large order to a table across the parking lot for me.
That wasn't the only time he went above and beyond. The buns that he typically uses for sliders weren't available, so he made me sandwiches that filled up normal-sized buns for the same price.
One was stacked with smoked, pulled pork. Executive chef Martin Smith told me last month that his signature barbecue sauce is called "My Smokin’ Hot Wife." The sauce indeed has a touch of heat, but it's a balance of sweet and sour with a touch of earthy cumin that makes it so delicious on the sturdy-but-moist strands of flesh.
The red cabbage slaw on top added only crunch. A thin slick of mayonnaise wasn't enough to give the veggies any real kick.
But another slider, the RedNEK, had plenty to spare.
A juicy fried-chicken patty was topped with hot sauce and banana peppers for a pleasant spiciness that was eased by Cabot cheddar and a slick of mayo. Crisp bacon, lettuce and tomato added crunch. So did the griddled bun — fluffy on top with a welcoming crackle as I bit in.
It was the kind of sandwich that simply shouldn't work as well as it did.
So was the Teriyaki Dog. A hot dog with pineapple and teriyaki sauce — sounds kind of gross, right? Wrong. If the frank in question is a juicy Hebrew National beef dog, griddled to leathery perfection, you've already won half the battle.
But what made it even more of a triumph was the fresh pineapple. The fruit was cooked just enough to gain brown, caramelized edges but retain a satisfying gush of juice. That blended beautifully with the tangy and slightly spicy teriyaki sauce, which was far from the sticky-sweet iterations you'd get out of a bottle.
Though I was tempted to try the South by Southwest dog in all of its bacon-wrapped, barbecue-sauce-and-cheese-topped glory, it was more important for me to save room for the Banh Mi Dog.
From the description, I knew not to expect anything like the flavors on a Vietnamese sub.
Instead, the link was covered in Smith's own lacto-fermented kimchee. As much as I love the real Korean stuff, this version had its own charm. Relatively low on peppery spice, it got its flavor instead from a liberal dose of ginger. More of the heat came from a pleasantly sweet Thai chile sauce.
If that doesn't sound like a match made in heaven to you, I say don't knock it 'til you've tried it. You'll be topping your hot dogs in kimchee at home in no time. Or better yet, heading over to Juni's.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to email@example.com.