Sunday, December 2, 2012

Afternoon with a Haute Dog Artist

Hawk Krall has arranged a hot dog experiment. He’s put water on the stove and Russian dogs out to thaw on the counter. There’s a pink Molochnie Frank, an orange Vienna Sausage, and a rust-colored Parowki Cieleco-Wieprzowe.

Krall is a graphic artist and a recovering chef. He’s all looseness and liberation: a surfer personality who looks like a young Santa. The stove and counter in question are inside of his row house on Rosewood Street, eighteen blocks east of the Schuykill River.

He takes a step back from the franks, stretches his arms wide, and adjusts his spectacles. These Russians could possibly be the well-made, time-honored, natural casing dogs he’s been looking for.

Krall is the hot dog guy at Serious Eats, a food blog with one hundred contributors nationwide. Every week, he finds a new wiener to celebrate through writing and illustration. His cartoons have been featured locally – at Pizza Brain, the nation’s first pizza museum and tube steak haven Hot Diggity – as well as nationally – in Every Day with Rachael Ray. Last August, he hosted a hot dog demonstration at Audrey Claire’s Cook. Label-shedding aside (he’s quick to say the real hot dog authority is living incognito in Jersey) Hawk is a true frankfurter connoisseur.
In Memphis, he found a split dog cooking in one hundred year old grease. In Portland, he found a quarter pound frank being stuffed on site. And in the summer of 2010, Krall drove across South Carolina in pursuit of the best southern dog, only to stumble upon it at a strip mall.

Of course, the hot dog man can’t afford to hit every stand in the nation. But he’s got informants in meaty places who are excited to tell him about their finds. They alert him to rare breeds, like dogs sold in baseball stadiums. A few years ago, Krall heard about a stadium frank slathered in peanut butter and sprinkled with chocolate chips. He couldn’t get close enough to taste it, but his review of it blew up online. “It’s all like gross food, yeah!” he says. “Those are the ones people go crazy about. The editors are like, ‘Do another one of those.’”

The fridge beside the cold dogs is bursting. There are three kinds of pickles, a slew of slaw, a multitude of mayonnaise bottles, and mustards to make your mouth water.

Krall drops the franks in now boiling water. As they cook, he shows off his studio, a happy, cluttered exhibition of his own work and the work of people he admires. His desk is stacked high with Serious Eats wiener cartoons, which he sells on his website as prints and t-shirts.

Krall selects a Coney Island dog illustration and points to a spot where the ink line runs too thick. “I would fix that now,” Krall grins. “I wouldn’t just leave it there.”

While Krall likes food, he loves illustrating. A Jenkintown native and the son of an art director and freelance painter, Krall always knew he was going to be an artist. His mother brought her nine-year-old to Penn’s Landing and Reading Terminal Market to draw. “My mother,” Krall says, “Taught me how to draw from life.” The process taught Hawk everything he knows, but it wasn’t all fun and games. “It was serious,” he says. “It wasn’t like ‘Oh good job, Hawkey, you drew something.’ It was like, ‘You need to fix that perspective.’”

Krall’s adolescence and twenties were Anthony Bourdain meets Robert Crumb. He worked at restaurants – Pizza Hut in Jenkintown at sixteen, Tillie’s in Brooklyn during college, North Star in Philly after graduation, Brasserie Perrier for five years after that – as he refined his illustrating technique - reading the great underground comic artists of the sixties, studying illustration at the Pratt Institute, freelancing whenever possible and coming into his own anarchist, satirical sensibility.

That was back when he had a mohawk. Now, Krall puts the Coney Island illustration back on his desk and jumps down the stairs, two at a time, to his experiment. The Russians are ready, and it’s time to taste them, both plain and with toppings. Turns out they’re delicious, by far tastier than your average super market find. So in a week Krall will post another feature article on Serious Eats, this one endorsing Net Cost, the Eastern European store in northeast Philadelphia where he found these natural casing dogs. A Serious Eats fan will comment on the blog, thanking Hawk for the information. Maybe someone will request he make a Vienna sausage print. Regardless of what the future might hold for Krall, right now he’s chilling out, riding waves of creative inspiration.

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