Vegan hot dogs are nothing new in Maine Leave a comment


Famous for its animal-based hot dog (over)eating contest, the Nathan’s Famous stand in Coney Island, Brooklyn isn’t a natural fit for vegans. But for the first time ever, the hot dog stand is selling vegan hot dogs this summer, as are the 12 other Nathan’s locations in and around New York City.

While veggie dogs may not be as common as veggie burgers, they are becoming easier to find across the country. That’s nothing new for Mainers, though, where vegans have been able to find veggie dogs for years. At least three Maine eateries have offered veggie dogs for a decade or more, and more and more spots are adding plant-based hot dogs to their menus.

The AJ Dogs food cart on Main Street in Freeport first sold veggie hot dogs in 2005, according to Jennifer Yilmaz who owns the business with her husband, Jay Yilmaz. Initially the cart offered a veggie burger but soon replaced it with a veggie dog, Yilmaz said.

“I wanted a few healthy options, and (the veggie dogs) became very popular,” said Yilmaz, who is a long-time vegetarian. “Veggie dogs seem to get more and more popular each year.”

AJ Dogs serves the Morningstar Farms veggie dog, which is vegetarian but not vegan — it contains cow’s milk and eggs. Not for long, though. Morningstar has already veganized its vegetarian corn dogs, and the brand (owned by the Kellogg Company which was founded by 19th century vegetarians) announced in 2019 that it would transition all its vegetarian meats to become vegan by 2021.

In Camden, the Harbor Dogs stand has been a town institution for 60 years. When Allison and Jesse McWilliams purchased the business in 2011, veggie dogs were already on the menu.

“We usually buy Tofu Pups brand or Smart Dogs, whichever, is available, they are both vegan,” said Allison McWilliams. “We also carry a vegan sausage which is delicious when it is available, but it is sometimes sold out at the local grocery.”

Another spot that’s offered a veggie dog for a long time is The Thirsty Pig in Portland’s Old Port. Manager Evan Roscia said the craft beer and sausage restaurant has offered a veggie dog since opening day in 2011. Though its veggie dog is not vegan, the pub also sells a vegan sausage, which is made in-house.

The Chicago Dog, served with raw onions, dill pickles, sport peppers, tomatoes, sweet relish, yellow mustard and celery salt, is the most popular topping choice for the veggie dog, Roscia said.

In 2014, when Raymelle Moody launched The Moody Dog food cart and food truck in Belfast, she wanted to offer an allergen-friendly, meat-free hot dog to appeal to more customers. The locally available brands contained either wheat or soy, both common allergens, “so making them myself was the only option for me,” Moody said.

Moody continues to make the vegan hot dogs from scratch, steaming and pureeing vegetables, then mixing them with bean flour, “a proprietary spice blend” and “a vegan secret ingredient or two.” The mixture is shaped into hot dogs and then steamed. On the food truck, the veggie dogs are grilled, while on the food cart they are steamed. Both are served in buns with toppings such as onions, sauerkraut, ketchup, mustard and relish.

The Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck always sells one veggie dog, usually the Korean Street Dawg, which is topped with barbecue baked beans, Asian slaw, scallions and sriracha. Photo courtesy of the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck

Tony DiPhillipo wanted a veggie dog to be a core part of the menu when he launched the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck in 2018, and it remains so.

“I thought it would fit the concept, and I thought that if we used creative toppings we could make it really appealing,” DiPhillipo said.

Most often the daily veggie dog at Totally Awesome is the Korean Street Dawg, which comes nestled in a hot dog bun with barbecue baked beans, Asian slaw, scallions and sriracha. When the truck parks in front of Tony’s Donuts on Sundays for its signature 420 Brunch, the menu features the 420 Dawg, topped with mac and cheese, crumbled tater tots and sriracha.

A seasonal favorite come fall is the Rad Dawg, served on a grilled pretzel bun with sauerkraut and Bavarian mustard. DiPillipo said for this year’s chilly, wet 4th of July, he brought out another cool weather favorite: the Chili Cheese Dawg, topped with chili, melted cheese and pickled jalapeños.

Field Roast veggie dogs are DiPhillipo’s favorite and that’s what the truck grills and then smothers in toppings. When it comes to veggie dog sales, they’re not the top sellers, according to DiPillipo, but there’s a steady demand.

“Burgers sell the most and that’s pretty closely followed by Reubens,” DiPhillipo said of the sales trends on his truck. “Dawgs come in third. It’s pretty close. The ratio would be maybe 10:9:8. Pretty consistent.”

He said many first-time customers who aren’t vegetarians opt for the veggie dog, and “they’re always really surprised by how much they like it.”

Nationally, one of the largest restaurant chains selling veggie dogs is Swedish home furnishings retailer IKEA, which began serving vegan hot dogs at its in-store cafes in 2018. Many major league baseball stadiums have also added veggie dogs in recent years, including the stadiums where the New York Yankees and the San Francisco Giants play.

It’s gratifying to see this progress, yet I remember way back in the 1980s that I and other Mainers roasted our first veggie dogs over a campfire. This was after Massachusetts-based LightLife introduced its Tofu Pups to retailers in 1985, and even small town grocery stores, such as the Shop’n Save in Gardiner where my family shopped, starting stocking them. My non-vegetarian mother saw Tofu Pups as a step up from meat-based hot dogs and added them to our cookout menus. I’ve never eaten a meat-based hot dog since.

So while vegan hot dogs may be the new thing in New York City this summer, here in Maine we’ve long been ahead of the veggie dog curve.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
Twitter: @AveryYaleKamila


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