HD1 Offers Up Hot Dogs and “70s-Style” Fare Courtesy of Richard Blais and Executive Chef Jared Lee Pyles

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Richard Blais – Top Chef alumni, winner of Top Chef All-Stars and the brains behind Atlanta’s & Birmingham’s FLIP Burger restaurants – has, at long last, thrown his culinary weight behind a new restaurant concept in Atlanta, HD1. The main idea of the restaurant is, indeed (as has been widely rumored around the city for months), hot dogs…but it’s also a lot more than that.

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"That is the concept of this restaurant, that car pulling up while you're all sitting here. We didn't plan it this way, but we should have." --Richard Blais

My initial doubts about my possible experience (I’m more of a burger girl than a hot dog girl) were quickly erased when I saw the menu. Relieved that there are more than just dogs up for grabs and seeing lots of appealing choices, I settled in for lunch. So if you’ve been thinking that  HD1 is not up your alley because you’re not a big fan of hot dogs, you may want to think again!

Listening to Richard Blais explain the thinking behind HD1 (at a media lunch hosted by Blais, his Executive Chef Jared Lee Pyles, and his business partners Barry Mills and Ron Stewart), I and others at the event got a first-hand look at both the food and beverage of HD1, as well as an icon of what the restaurant represents. As Blais was explaining the fare – “what people in the 70s thought food should be” – a green Volkswagon bus pulled up in the parking lot, complete with curtains in the windows. Blais’s eyes lit up as he pointed to the VW bus: “That is the concept of this restaurant, that car pulling up [while you're all sitting here]. We didn’t plan it this way, but we should have.” His ideal, he said, would be Ashton Kutcher and the cast of That 70s Show walking in, sitting down, and chowing down.

If you’re thinking that HD1 is just the hot dog equivalent to FLIP Burger, think again. Blais wants to be very clear that it’s not just the burger concept, revisited. “The true intent of HD1 is to try to be different than FLIP. If FLIP is the 80s, this is the 70s. If FLIP is bright, this is dark. If FLIP is a new version of a burger restaurant, this is the ‘nose and tail’ version of a hot dog joint.” He also pointed out that at FLIP, the nitrogen (milkshakes, etc.) overshadows the idea of the ingredients; at HD1 the focus is back on the food itself: the local farmers, the in-house meat grinding, the ingredients.

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Richard Blais (right) and Executive Chef Jared Lee Pyles talking hot dogs and 70-style food at HD1.

The menu is cheeky, literally: playful treatments of  70s style food is the name of the game. The categories are a play on words, hot dog-style: “Bits”, “Pieces”, and “Stuff” are a nod to what hot dogs really are: bits and pieces stuffed into casing. Under “Bits,” I particularly enjoyed the Popped Sorghum, Housemade Half-Sour Pickles, North African Spiced Boiled Peanuts (a must-try!), and Deviled Ham in Eggs (whimsically served up on a bed of crushed barbecue potato chips). The “Pieces” delivered up Prawn dogs (shrimp fried in grits and served on a stick), Brisket Chili with cool ranch oyster crackers, and Waffled Fries with maple-oy.

The hot dogs are the “Stuff” – and some yummy stuff they are. There’s the Classic hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard for you purists (myself included). For the foodies among you, there’s a chicken-apple sausage with herbed creme fraiche, walnuts and sour grape relish and a merquez dog with red currants, minted cucumber relish and Labne yogurt; for meat-lovers, they’re serving up a kenturkey dog with bacon, mornay, and a tomato pimento marmalade; and for the truly adventurous, there’s the beef pastrami dog with ox tongue and tripe hash and rusky dressing…to name a couple of options. There’s even a vegetarian option: sous vide carrot can be substituted for any dog on the menu. The “Plates” section of the menu is, as Blais described it, “simply prepared, good food without buns” – like bangers & mash and fried chicken livers (yum!) – and will change daily, with 3 to 5 offerings a night. The choices will be limited for awhile, to give the kitchen an opportunity to control the quality and to really deliver; the menu will expand as the restaurant matures.

To wash it all down, there is a full bar, but the emphasis is really on “vintage sodas and good beers”. I was pleased with the beer selection, getting the opportunity to try a few that were new to me. Not being a huge soda drinker, I was still impressed by the array of choices of Nehi sodas, a treat for soda lovers with good taste.

While Blais insists there’s no plan currently in the works for an HD2, HD3, or HD4, it seems like the concept is one that could indeed catch on and necessitate expansion, if FLIP Burger’s success is any indication. However, if they stay true to Blais’s word and stick with just the HD1, it’s sure to become a neighborhood favorite in no time at all.

HD1 is open for lunch and dinner; current hours of operation are 11:30 AM until midnight, seven days a week. Look for the rooftop to open in “Spring-ish 2012.”

WHERE: HD1664 N. Highland Avenue NE, Atlanta, GA 30306

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Popped sorghum, housemade half-sour pickles and North African spiced boiled peanuts

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Pigs in the sheets

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Which came first? The chicken wings or the deviled ham in eggs. As starters go, get them together and enjoy them both!

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Why are we here? For the hot dogs, of course! A selection of doggone goodness at HD1.

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Easily one of my favorite menu offerings: the fried chicken livers over mustard greens with hot sauce.

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Irish bangers and mash with onion gravy.

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A selection from HD1's beer list. Though the restaurant has a full bar, the focus is really on beer and vintage sodas.

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Belly up to the (full) bar at HD1 - an impressive selection for a humble hot dog joint.

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Warm, dark woods and colors make up the interior of HD1. Says Chef Richard Blais: "If FLIP is the 80s, HD1 is the 70s. If FLIP is bright, HD1 is dark."

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Full disclosure: HD1 graciously hosted us for this event and our bill was comped by the house. However, all opinions expressed here are my own.

Green VW bus photo credit: by tbone_sandwich on Flickr.com

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