The Wurst Showdown

I may have mentioned a time or two how much I love the gourmet hot dog and taco movement that's been popular lately. I like the idea of taking simple items and transforming them into something special and desirable. And sure, $10.00 is a little steep for a hot dog, but it's still eminently affordable and a small price to pay for a nontraditional indulgence.

Senate Hot Dog MenuTo me, there are two top contenders offering gourmet hot dogs in Cincinnati. The first is Senate, which has been getting a ton of national attention.  From Food & Wine Magazine to Forbes and the Huffington Post, Senate has definitely made a name for itself in serving some of America's best hot dogs.  Located in downtown Cincinnati, in the trendy Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Senate is a popular place to grab some tasty grub and drinks. 

I've been to Senate once before, but it has been several months since my last visit - and not for lack of desire! We had actually recently stopped in just a couple of weeks ago, were quoted over an hour wait, and decided we were too hungry to wait it out. Senate's hours are a bit odd in that they are open 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM Tuesday - Saturday and then reopen at 4:00 PM.  They are closed Sunday and Monday. They do not take reservations, so get there early if you're going for dinner.  Last weekend is probably the first time we gave 'em a try for lunch, and they were remarkably uncrowded. There were several empty tables and no wait, so if you can get in there for lunch, go for it!

Their menu is by no means all hot dogs.  They have Lobster BLTs, Roasted Marrow Bones, Poutine - tons of stuff for carnivores! But I show up for the vegetarian sausage. :) Now it's not actually listed on their restaurant menu, but they can substitute a vegetarian sausage for either the Chicago or the Una Noche Con Nick Lachey.  Both times I've been here I've gone for the Nick Lachey since it seems a little more unique.
Senate Una Noche Con Nick Lachey
The sausage itself is a bit spicy. It's served in a soft bun that seems to perfectly contour to the sausage. The fresh and flavorful toppings are piled on top; warning: this is not for dainty eaters. :) The Truffle Fries are amazing - hot and thick with a side of tasty dipping sauce. 
Senate Truffle Fries

And to make sure we had a well-rounded meal, we also ordered a cocktail. The Kitten Fizz was tasty and well-balanced.

While offering some diverse menu options, there are a number of cons that consistently frustrate me when I dine at Senate. 

    Senate Kitten Fizz
  • Inconvenient hours (closed 2 days of the week and closed between 2:00 and 4:00)
  • Long waits around dinner can be expected
  • Vegetarian sausage is not listed on the menu (prompting momentary panics that they no longer offer it)
  • Limited customization options. It is apparently strictly enforced that the vegetarian sausage can only be substituted for either the Chicago or the Una Noche Con Nick Lachey. My husband asked if he could have the Lindsey Lohan with a vegetarian sausage (omitting the bacon), and he was offered no good explanation by our server as to why we couldn't do this.  Disappointing since it sounds really tasty.
The next day, we decided that we should give The Wurst Bar in the Square another try for comparison.  We had first visited Wurst about half a year ago and have since gone back a few times, even introducing my brother to it on one of his recent visits. This restaurant is located in Mount Lookout, one of the Eastern neighborhoods of Cincinnati. Mount Lookout Square features a number of restaurants, bars, and other small businesses. It is a fairly trendy area, but not to the extent of OTR.  I've never experienced a wait when visiting the restaurant, but I think I've always gone around lunch time.

The Wurst Bar in the Square MenuThey have a variety of hot dog choices on their menu along with other unique options. The best part (to me!) is they offer two different vegetarian hot dogs! I like them both and so does Francisco, so we generally trade off on who orders which one. This time around, I got the Yukon Cornelius, and he got the Tofu Youface.
The Wurst Bar in the Square MenuAll options are fairly customizable, so I added Cheddar Cheese to mine and Francisco added Boursin cheese.  The Klaussen's Choice allows you to pick your own roll, sausage, and toppings - or you can just go with a pre-selected combo. The hot dogs also come with your choice of fries - Sea Salt, Spicy, Garlic, or Cracked Pepper.  Francisco got the Sea Salt, and I upgraded to the Asiago Truffle Fries. Tasty fries but not quite as hot and fresh as Senate's. Presentation was a little lacking as well.
The Wurst Bar in the Square Yukon Cornelius & Tofu Youface
Left: Yukon Cornelius; Right: Tofu Youface
Again, to keep comparisons fair, we ordered a house cocktail. This time we tried the Bermuda Rum Swizzle. Very cute presentation with a decent kick to it. 
The Wurst Bar in the Square Bermuda Rum Swizzle
There are some definite pros to The Wurst Bar in the Square. While still in a hip area, it's not in the hustle and bustle of downtown. 

Here's a breakdown of the cost of like items on the menu. Wurst came in a little cheaper, but it stands to note that once you start adding additional toppings, your cost can go up.  

Senate The Wurst Bar in the Square
Sausage (Veg.)$11$8
Truffle Fries$5$4
Cost before Tax & Tip$25$20
For me, Wurst comes out the winner. No subtle vegetarian discrimination and much more opportunity for personalizing your meal. (Plus, TWO vegetarian sausages! :D) Senate definitely seems to offer more gourmet options, but sadly, that's where vegetarians miss out. The size of each restaurant is about the same, seating maybe 50 patrons. They really both have a similar feel. The decor is casual and modern, and the space is a little tight, but they both offer amazing food. And now I am really craving another gourmet hot dog!!


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