Cafe Reviews

Maui Dog's Irresistible Island Flair

John Stamatakis took cooking classes at ASU for one reason. To meet girls.

"I learned how to fix cars, too," the owner of Maui Dog says. "I figured if I knew how to do both, I could fix their cars and then cook dinner for them afterwards."

Color this Fry Girl smitten. Stamatakis claims there's nothin' like his hotdogs on the U.S. mainland. Don't know about that, but it doesn't matter — we're lucky to have them in Phoenix. Fresh, colorful toppings and a unique combination of spicy and sweet means Maui Dogs look pretty and deliver big flavors.

First, there are Stamatakis' homemade sauces, like chipotle and garlic mayo, passion fruit mustard, and coconut relish. Then, there are the dogs — beef brats, all-beef hot dogs, turkey dogs, and polish sausage — and the bread. Slightly sweet and fluffy, it's a crazy-good concoction Stamatakis dreamed up with a local baker. And the finale: toppings such as cilantro, avocado, bacon, cheese, signature pico de gallo, and vegetarian chili (so good you could eat it by the bowlful).

Stamatakis' idea for Maui Dog, his first restaurant, came from a show he saw on The Travel Channel about Hawaiian hot dogs, which he'd eaten on his surfing vacations to the islands. Stamatakis, a former stockbroker and concrete contractor who'd been kicked out of his actress-wife's home in L.A., got cooking. A tasting party dazzled his friends, one of whom plunked down 25 g's and said, "Let's go into business together." Where better than in his Phoenix hometown? He's been working ever since to transform an old cheesesteak joint on Indian School Road into a bright island oasis.

With the spot open less than a month, Stamatakis wants to make his bold flavors even bolder. He's working on a "volcanic" sauce made with habaneros, plans on adding Hawaiian spices to the fries, and is experimenting with crack seed, an island snack that's a variety of dehydrated and preserved fruits.

Maui Dog musts include the spicy, cilantro-topped Hana Dog, the fresh and fruity Island Dog, the don't-knock-it-'til-you-try-it Spam slider with pineapple relish, and off-the-menu "lava tots," tater tots covered in chili. Maui Dog also boasts 36 flavors of Hawaiian shaved ice. Fry Girl's favorite? Tiger's Blood.

So how did learning culinary skills at ASU work out for hooking up?

Stamatakis smiles and says, "Let's just say I did a lot of cooking."