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Columbia Spectator Staff

By Ben Austin
Spectator Staff Writer

Students with enough seniority to remember it still mourn the loss of Mike's Papaya, where D'AG Fresh now stands. For little more than the price of a subway token, one could order the "Recession Special," consisting of two hot dogs and a tropical fruit drink touted with dubious claims of age-reversing potency. Although sidewalk hot dog vendors still exist around campus, few students seem to take advantage of them. The tradition of tube steak seems to have left the neighborhood with Mike's.

Still, it is possible to look at the restaurant's absence not as a loss, but rather as an opportunity. A new wave of hot dog vendors has hit the city, elevating this American classic to new gourmet echelons once thought unattainable.

The first place one should visit is Crif Dogs on the Lower East Side. This little joint has the atmosphere of a 1980's rec room, but don't be deceived by the Mrs. PacMan Machine in the corner--the culinary fearlessness of this establishment is anything but retro. There are over twenty different toppings available for ingestion (and indigestion). Feeling macho? You can try one of their signature concoctions. I tried the "Chihuahua," which consists of a hot dog wrapped in bacon and covered with avocado and sour cream. I'm sure after a heavy night of drinking, this monstrosity would perfectly soak up the excess alcohol in my stomach, but at four in the afternoon, it put a serious damper on my energy level. The dogs themselves have a nice snap to their casings, but could be a little more substantial in size. Crif Dogs is open until 4 AM on the weekends, and like any painfully self-conscious Lower East Side restaurant, they serve Pabst Blue Ribbon. They also have old-fashioned egg creams and root beer floats, which is a nice touch. For the cornucopia of toppings alone, Crif Dogs is worth a visit.

On the other side of town, F&B looks like the swankiest fast food place in the city. Dim lighting and big blue ovals line the narrow Chelsea eatery. They specialize in the street food of Europe, but hot dogs are clearly their raison d'être. Toppings are not chosen á la carte. Rather, one must put a little more trust in the chef, as each hot dog has its own specially catered ingredients. Besides your standard pork or all-beef hot dog, they also offer pork and veal sausage, a salmon hot dog, chicken sausage, bratwurst, and a wide variety of vegetarian tofu dogs. Toppings include combinations like roasted pepper salad and feta cheese, or remoulade, roast onions and pickled cucumber. The dogs themselves are bigger than those at Crif, but also slightly more expensive ($3.50). Their side dishes include unusual options like haricots frites, cheese beignets and Danish rice pudding.

New York is famous for taking populist objects enjoyed by all and up-marketing them for the hipster cognoscenti. You think Belgian Fries cost $7 in Belgium? Do you think Australian sheepherders pay $199 for Ugg Boots? Do West Virginians pay $50 for a trucker hat? Thank you New York, for distorting my sense of value. It is for this reason that I have no problem paying $3.50 for a delicious hot dog. Rest in Peace Mike's Papaya.