by Hugh Fisher
When it comes to unique and tasty food, Brian Benatovich knows his stuff.
The Buffalo, N.Y., native came to North Carolina, like thousands of others, to make a new start.
And Benatovich’s new start comes as a restaurant, Brian’s Dog House Grill, at 9931 Rose Commons Drive in Huntersville, and builds on decades of tradition.
“People from back home want this food, and no one’s done it,” Benatovich said.
But they’re already flocking in, he said.
The grill’s inaugural event was a Dec. 11 charity fundraiser for the Calico’s Haven therapeutic equestrian center at Huntersville’s Christmas celebration.
Benatovich fired up the grill, said, and figured he’d give the staff a demonstration of how to cook hot dogs, “Buffalo style.”
“We sold out,” Benatovich said. “840 hot dogs, and we had an hour left.”
The taste of Buffalo is more than just spicy chicken wings, Benatovich said, although he does those, too.
The menu also features steak and chicken sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads and homemade milkshakes.
And most everything, he said, is made in-house, from blue cheese dressing to the batter for the onion rings.
“You can get it all here,” employee Nicole Wintersmith said. “You can taste the care that a restaurant puts into its food.”
Benatovich said he learned the art of Buffalo’s brand of cooking from a master.
Back home in Buffalo, he said, Benatovich went to work for Angelo Turco at Louie’s Original Footlong Hot Dogs, which has been family-owned since 1951.
There, Benatovich said, he learned the basics of dog preparation that he’s brought to his Dog House Grill.
• Cook the hot dogs over hickory wood charcoal.
• Use only the best meat – in this case, Sahlen’s hot dogs.
“If you tell someone that a restaurant is serving Buffalo-style hot dogs, they’re going to ask you if they’re serving Sahlen’s or Nathan’s,” Benatovich said.
His large and juicy, natural-casing hot dogs have been made the same way since 1869.
“That casing is the snap you get when you taste one,” he said.
The fries are freshly cut, Benatovich said – crisp on the outside, soft in the center.
“It’s a surprise to some customers,” he said.
“It’s not the fast-food, frozen, preserved crap that people are used to,” Benatovich said.
And there are other Buffalo touches, such as loganberry, a fruit drink that’s beloved by Buffalonians. Brian’s Dog House Grill serves it fresh from the fountain or in cans to take home.
And Texas sauce, which is different from what most North Carolinians think of as chili. It’s not tomato-based, but rather is a spicy meat sauce with a slow burn.
Benatovich’s kitchen serves it on the “Texas Hot” hot dogs and can put it on burgers and chili fries as well.
The goal is to give natives a taste of home, and introduce a new taste to residents.
His ads proclaim, “The taste of Buffalo without going through 48 inches of snow.”
After just three weeks in business, Benatovich said that business has started to pick up.
“We opened at a little difficult time,” he said – not just from the economy, but because a lot of people tend to think of hot dogs as a summertime food.
But he hopes that word of mouth and a little nostalgic desire on the part of some New York transplants will soon have a lot of people “in the dog house.”