A&E


Wiener takes all

Can't beat the dogs at Palo Alto's Chez Franc

Editor's note: Chez Franc closed its doors May 9, 2015, citing financial struggles. Read more about the closure at The Peninsula Foodist.

I don't know if perennial hot dog eating champ, Joey Chestnut, has visited Chez Franc on Palo Alto's California Avenue yet, but if he has, he likely didn't scarf down 61 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes like he did when he won the 2014 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island for the eighth consecutive year. (His record is 69 dogs polished off in 2013.)

If and when Chestnut pops into Chez Franc (and he very well could -- he's a San Jose resident), he will enjoy the high-quality franks so much, he'll just want to sit and savor. That's no knock on Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, Coney Island's gift to the wiener world. Nathan's sold more than 435 million hot dogs last year through 40,000 worldwide outlets.

Chez Franc owner Jacquetta Lannan might harbor those ambitions, but for now is happy with her upscale state-of-the-frank business. Her story has been well documented: A local litigation attorney turned epicurean hot dog purveyor opens her first-ever restaurant.

"I always wanted my own restaurant," Lannan explained. "My grandparents owned a small restaurant in Nebraska when I was very young, and it's something that always stuck in my mind."

After making the decision to forgo her law career, she enrolled at the International Culinary Center in Campbell "to better understand how to run a restaurant and to network with those in the industry."

She then took an internship at Michelin-starred Village Pub in Woodside, where she met sous chef Daniel Sung, who would later become Chez Franc's chef. Sung, as fortune would have it, had a passion for charcuterie and a flair for making tube-shaped meats. A partnership was born.

It took many excruciating months to convert the former Know Knew Books space at 415 California Ave. into a restaurant. Along the way, Lannan and Sung launched a food truck and raised additional capital via a Kickstarter campaign with more than 100 contributors. The restaurant finally opened in January of this year. Now that the brick-and-mortar operation is up and running, the food truck is being retired.

Everything except the buns and San Francisco's Humphry Slocombe ice cream are made in-house. The all-beef frankfurters are made from hormone-free, vegetarian-raised Angus cattle and the finest sheep casings from Australia. Meat is ground three times for smooth texture, then mixed with a house blend of 12 spices. The buns are patterned after lobster-roll buns but are slightly larger, toasted and more brioche-like than traditional doughy hot dog buns.

The toothsome All-American frankfurter ($8) comes topped with slow-cooked short-rib chili, Tillamook cheddar and chopped scallions. The tasty Texas frankfurter ($7) is overlaid with jalapeño slaw, scallions and barbecue sauce. The delicious cassoulet ($13) frank features garlic sausage, white beans, duck confit, chunks of braised pork belly, Dijon mustard and chives: Basque country on a bun.

When purchased with any sandwich, a cone of crispy fries is $2; it's $1 extra for a side of tempting coleslaw made with cabbage, carrots, jalapeños, onions, mayonnaise and apple-cider vinegar.

Besides franks and sausages, the fried-chicken sandwich ($11) was mouthwatering, albeit difficult to eat. It was too thick to wrestle into the mouth, and it was hard to cut on the paper-lined wire basket it was served in. The satisfying sandwich featured Mary's chicken breast, honey-mustard sauce and slaw.

On the days I visited, a terrific double cheeseburger ($14) was the daily special. Pricey, but it rivaled the best burgers in the area.

There were a slew of beverages available including nearly a dozen wines by the glass and a half dozen beers. Happy hour is 4 to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, with beer and wine $1 off and a selection of "bar food" items priced at $5.

Hot dogs and sausages have seemingly been with us forever, and their popularity continues to grow. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, U.S. supermarkets sold $2.5 billion worth of hot dogs in 2014.

The origin of hot dogs and sausages is veiled in history. The "frank" comes from Frankfurt, Germany. Wiener, from the German "Wein," refers to Vienna. Both references were first recorded in the 13th century. Homer mentioned a type of blood sausage in "The Odyssey," 2,800 years ago, although he made no mention of battlefield toppings. Derived from the German sausage culture, the little sausages resembled dachshunds and were coined "hot dogs" by Americans around 1890.

I don't know if Nathan's champion Chestnut has a hunger for hot dog history, but he could add a new experience to his palatable proficiency by stopping by Chez Franc. Lannan said he is cordially invited.

Chez Franc

415 S. California Ave., Palo Alto

650-600-1337

chezfranc.com

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