The Wurst Festival Ever happened on July 21, and attending felt like a masochistic act.
That clearly wasn’t the intention of the event’s hosts, Short Leash Hot Dogs. High temperatures made the third annual event a you-are-what-you-eat experience, as our skin popped and sizzled like the hot dogs crackling on the heat-emanating grills. Food festivals in Phoenix summers are tricky things.
The sausage party marked the restaurant’s last day on Roosevelt Row before settling into new digs on Seventh Avenue in the Melrose District. It served as proof that these folks know how to throw a solid festival, minus a couple of drawbacks.
Yep, the heat toasted our bread in more ways than one.
It’s hard to condemn anyone for trying to keep the blistering summer alive with good shit to do, like this shindig, a festival of beef and promise. However, there’s something about looking at creamy toppings and sweat-soaked bandannas beneath oppressive rays that can switch the stomach's calm setting to a strange churn.
The lack of vegetarian/vegan options also was a bummer.
Usually, Short Leash thinks beyond beef and pork when it comes to hot dogs and sausages. Its menu offers a veggie dog option for all their signature creations, along with even deeper choices of meat-free items.
With a vegetarian in tow, one who paid the $10 entry fee, it was easier to make peace with the heat than the disappointment in having nothing to sample.
Aside from those points of contention, it was a lively throwdown. There was stand-up gold provided by comedian Anwar Newton, the Suns Up Puns Up contest where folks could get witty, and there were weiners.
Black Top Grill, a Tucson food truck, even rolled into Phoenix on Saturday to take part in the festival.
It rolled out with top-dog status.
Black Top's El Elotero was the winning pup – an all-beef dog lounged on a strip of crispy bacon and bathed in crunchy roasted corn in lime sauce. On top was a layer of Parmesan and cotija. This winning creation will be featured on Short Leash’s menu for a month.
Lance Smith of Grilled Addiction was excited to defend his 2017 victory, flashing his award and chatting up diners. This year, he had a chicken hot dog that was top-heavy with mango mustard, apple jalapeno relish, and mint aioli.
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Taking part in the Wurst Festival was a no-brainer for Jeff Schoening of Brat Haus. “We make sausages for a living, of course we’d be here," he said. The Scottsdale biergarten brought an elevated option – a duck and sun-dried tomato sausage with hollandaise sauce, shredded lettuce, and crispy bacon. Heady and rich.
Our personal fave was mobile food unit New Flame Café’s Southwest Jumping Bacon Jam Dog. An all-beef hot dog was joined by just the right amounts of an addictive bacon jam, jalapeno avocado salsa, brown mustard, and pico de gallo. Where some other dogs got smothered beneath their toppers, in this one the flavor of the grilled meat was prevalent in every bite.
We might be grumbly weenies about the weather, but we're happy to attend Phoenix food festivals, even in the stifling summer. It's all about attitude. Sure it's hot as hell, but if the dogs are good and you have the right crew, that doesn't matter so much. If Short Leash keeps this tradition rolling, we’ll be back to grab more buns.
Short Leash Hot Dogs 2502 East Camelback Road; 602-954-4712.
Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday noon to 6 p.m.
*New location at 4221 North Seventh Avenue opens July 28.