Topped with toppings at Zombie Dogz

Photo: Sink your fangs into Victim 13

By Paula Johnson

My first job ever at age 15 was working the counter at a luncheonette in Pittsburgh called Wiener World. I didn’t even like hot dogs when I started there, but came to be crazy for them in short order. I discovered I liked ‘em with everything—the hot dog with its pop when you bite into it was the perfect platform for the vinegary bite of the sauerkraut, tangy chili, sweet onion chunks, pickles, relish, and lots of mustard and ketchup. All that together is a hot mess, but it doesn’t begin to rival the topping combinations found at Zombie Dogz on Brown Street near the UD campus. Zombie Dogz marries two things I love, the aforementioned hot dog, and a love of the horror genre, amusingly expressed in artwork and photos decorating the dining space (and bathrooms), and by the cheeky and clever hot dog names found on their menu. PIP (Palate In Progress) and I did our best zombie walk to Zombie Dogz to see what awaited us…

Deadly Duo 

How did hot dogs and horror come to co-mingle? Zombie Dogz started as a food truck before opening as a brick and mortar location. Co-owners Dave and Lee VanArtsdalen have an affinity for horror and monster culture. She is a special effects makeup artist and a professional mixologist, and he is a former Porsche Technician. Together the duo came up with the restaurant’s concept and its mission: to offer a convenient and economical alternative to everyday fast food chains while focusing on a high standard of food quality and freshness, with good efficient service. And they did a pretty good job of it, PIP and I both agreed as we sank our teeth into several dogs and a messy order of tots.

Zombie dogs doesn’t allow tipping, we discovered as we placed our order after reading (and chuckling over) the menu. Instead, a monthly charity is featured which customers can contribute to. (That night it was Ellie’s Rainy Day Fund which helps sick pets get veterinary care.) It was hard to choose from the number of unusual topping combinations offered. I was tempted to order just by of the names of certain dogs, like Juan of the Dead and The Germinator. PIP and I settled on four full size dogs (all a very affordable $6.00), but a Slider Flight is offered with three small versions of any of the featured dogs plus a side. Though tempting, our appetites were full sized. 

Top Your Tots

We also noted the sides offered, Tater Tots, Dr. Pepper Baked Beans, and White Truffle Mac n Cheese. Tots were a must, of course, but then things got a whole lot better when I was asked if I wanted to top them. Top my tots? Of course I do! Tots can be topped with any of the featured dog toppings, and I went with the Walking Dead version, with house-made sausage gravy topped with a fried egg, bacon, and drizzled with maple syrup. Why isn’t this a breakfast item everywhere? I skipped the beans, and the mac, which I would be getting as a topping on one of my hot dogs. I will grouse about the mac and cheese now, which is white truffle flavored. Truffle flavoring tastes artificially musty and processed, and it’s a trend I am hoping will die out—and not be resurrected despite this particular restaurant’s theme. Bring back plain mac! 

Now what about those dogs? We picked The Golden Dog (roasted corn and jalapeno salsa, shredded white and purple cabbage, topped with cumin-lime sour cream, avocado puree, and bacon,) The Victim 13 (sauerkraut, chili, white truffle mac’n’cheese topped with diced dill pickles, red onions, and drizzled with yellow mustard,) Smells Like Zombie Spirit (shredded Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and drizzled with 1000 Island Dressing or Brown mustard,) and The Capone (a dill pickle spear, sport peppers, sweet relish, diced red onion, Roma tomato slices, drizzled in yellow mustard, and dusted with celery salt.) The Capone is close to a classic Chicago style dog minus the colored relish and a poppy seed bun. They were all really good, with noticeably fresh and high quality toppings. I particularly favored the Golden Dog with its crispy cabbage and roasted corn, and the Smells Like Zombie Spirit. 

I Double Dog Dare You

I talked with my friend Dr. Anna, who visited Zombie Dogz the day after I did, about her reaction. She’s Korean, and had high praise for the daily special dog topped with bulgogi, pronouncing it a good effort. Like me, she noted the freshness of ingredients, and appreciated the effort to locally source ingredients and prepare them in-house. We both noticed the care and commitment the counter staff had for customer service, and we both came to a similar conclusion: while understanding that the large bun is necessary to play host to the copious toppings, there just seemed to be too much bun. And we both arrived at the same solution: double the dog. Indeed for my money, a larger hot dog, or two of the ones used, would be a better ratio of hot dog to the amount of bread and what’s piled on it.

In any case, Zombie Dogz does a wonderful job, and I look forward to returning to try the dogs I didn’t on my first visit. With Halloween coming, I will be adding in monster flicks to my movie repertoire, and what better place to dine before settling in for a night of the living dead?

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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