Top(ped) Dog: The Dogfather’s Patrick Curel on why his hot dog restaurant is flipping burgers

click to enlarge NINA RANGEL
Nina Rangel
When the humble hot dog wiener first made its voyage from Frankfurt, Germany to America in the 1860s, it’s a safe bet no one considered topping it with roasted corn, fried jalapeños or spicy chimichurri.

But that’s exactly what goes down at San Antonio hot dog destination The Dogfather, where owners Patrick Curel and Jaime Hoppe layer on culinary innovation, one adventurous topping at a time.

When we learned the hot dog haven would be participating in this year’s San Antonio Burger Week, it was almost a no-brainer to get one of the partners on the horn to talk about what inspires the over-the-top flavor combinations the shop is known for.

Curel spoke about what goes into developing new accoutrements for dogs and burgers, thoughtful food and future charitable endeavors beyond Burger Week.

Do you have a background in foodservice? Or is the Dogfather your first foray?

My parents actually owned restaurants here in town. All of the pizza places in all of the malls were originally ours … back in the late ’80s, early ’90s, and I grew up helping with those pretty much my whole life. We owned Tito’s Pizza and Luca Pizza, which served New York-style pizzas, and I helped a lot with those businesses growing up.

Tell me about what drives the burger inspiration at a place called The Dogfather.

In the initial conception, they had burgers, but they were kind of introduced slowly. We discovered this incredible beef purveyor, 44 Farms, and threw a few burgers on the menu, just to sort of showcase that product. A few took off, and the Pop It Like It’s Hot Burger [The Dogfather’s Burger Week specialty sando] was one of those. We’ve kind of always done it, but now people have their favorite dog and their favorite burger.

So, when you’re cooking up all of these insane toppings, what excites you and your team about a new ingredient or flavor?

First, we look at what we have in stock that has what we call “star power,” and consider how those ingredients can be used in more than one way. Say we’re sitting on lots of onions, we could decide we’re going to do a fried onion burger, and then build the other flavors around that component. Or we may spot something that’s trending — like pho and ramen have been trending for a little bit — and put our spin on that. We want to provide a version of those mainstream trends to SA in a way that’s our style.

People can get lazy with their food, especially fast food. What’s fun about your concept is that it makes people think about what they’re eating. Thoughts?

I appreciate that, definitely. We put a lot of thought into the names — yes, we know not all of them are winners — and the quality of what we’re putting out there. Sometimes the burger isn’t going to be as strong as the dog, or vice versa, it just happens. But the cool thing about some of our feature burgers is that they only last a week, and we hardly ever bring them back. The Pop It Like It’s Hot was something that sold a whole bunch, so we brought it back, and now it’s a staple on our menu. People love it.

Burger Week benefits the San Antonio Food Bank. Talk about any future relationships with nonprofits that are of interest to you.

We actually took a tour [of the San Antonio Food Bank] last year and learned so much about their operation and immediately wanted to help. We did a small canned-food drive last year for Christmas … but we eventually want to build something bigger, possibly do a bigger donation bank, where people can buy a dog and give a dog. The Food Bank has so many amazing resources that give people a second chance by training them in the kitchens, and we want to see if we can work our way into more closely supporting those programs. A big part of what The Dogfather stands for is helping the community and making sure everything we do is puro San Anto: something that’s tasty, resonates with the crowd and generally reflects SA culture.

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