The Argument for Mischa’s $29 Hot Dog Is Actually Quite Compelling

Restaurateur Alex Stupak makes a strong case for his fancy frankfurter

May 26, 2023 7:09 am
Mischa's hot dog with chili.
Mischa may have the priciest hot dog in NYC — and it may be worth it.
Evan Sung

As Memorial Day approaches and the preparation for grilling season begins in earnest, the annual debate about one of America’s most-grilled items rears its processed-meat head: Is a hot dog a sandwich?

While there certainly is no agreed-upon answer to that eternal question, this summer in New York City there’s another frankfurter-focused query that is worthy of further examination: Is a $29 hot dog worth the price?

Alex Stupak, the restaurateur behind the four Empellón restaurants dispersed around NYC, recently opened Mischa in Midtown East and put a decadent dog with a $29 price tag on the dinner menu to accompany dishes like fried chicken, lobster rolls and other American fare.

Made with dry-aged brisket in a smoked, natural hog casing from old-school NYC butcher DeBragga, Mischa’s hot dog weighs eight ounces, measures nine inches long and comes nestled in a house-made potato roll after being warmed gently in rendered beef fat and seared on a griddle. Instead of French fries or chips, the hefty hot dog is accompanied by a sidecar of dry-aged beef chili that contains guajillo and ancho chiles, smoked paprika, onions and bell peppers.

Mischa's hot dog weighs eight ounces.
Weighing in at eight ounces, Mischa’s new hot dog packs a punch.
Evan Sung

The dog is accompanied by a quintet of housemade condiments — and ketchup isn’t one of them, for multiple reasons. “Personally, I think ketchup on a hot dog is something that is more for children,” Stupak tells InsideHook. “Also, one of the jokes in this restaurant is that literally everything is house-made except for our ketchup. I’ve never had a chef-made version of ketchup that beats Heinz. We have that and would give it to someone if they wanted it.”

Instead of Heinz, Mischa’s massive meat stick and the chili arrive with pimento cheese, bacon-habanero chili crisp, cucumber relish, kimchi and mustard that’s been stained yellow using Tagetes flowers from the country of Georgia. Stupak and his team originally had 50 condiments under consideration, but whittled the number down to the final five they thought were “most essential.”

The five condiments that come with Mischa's hot dog.
Mischa’s hot dog comes with dry-aged beef chili and five condiments.
Evan Sung

“Even though there’s a disparity of flavors, you can put all five of those condiments and the chili on the hot dog and it tastes freaking awesome. They all go together no matter how you combine them,” Stupak says. “That was important to me. Not trying to sound pretentious, but if America is a melting pot, I wanted this menu to be a melting pot. America is a confluent place. If you are going to say you are an American restaurant, I think the menu should have a very broad range of cuisines.”

Developed over the course of a year, the hot dog-chili-condiment combo is 100% worthy of its price point because it is actually worth more than $30, according to Stupak. “It’s a steal at $29. It’s very easy to take the low road intellectually and balk at the price, but once I put it in front of you, you’ll immediately understand it,” he says. “When you look at everything we’ve done, why should that be less expensive than a $38 restaurant burger? It’s actually more work. It’s worth more.”

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As Stupak explains, restaurant burgers (and what customers are willing to pay for them) were at least part of the inspiration behind Mischa’s take on the hot dog. “If there’s a class of burgers done restaurant-style, what would a restaurant-style hot dog be? Contemplating that, we knew that we had something because it doesn’t exist,” he says. “On an American menu, there always seems to be ground beef and it always manifests as an eight-ounce burger. We decided a stronger idea was having the ground beef in our American restaurant manifest as a hot dog. I also liked that idea because I think hot dogs are a New York City food that is sadly going away. We’re a sushi town, we’re a pizza town and we’re a pastrami town and we’re starting to care less and less about hot dogs.”

Or, as Stupak might refer to them, sandwiches.

“A hotdog, at least ours, is definitely a sandwich,” he says. “It’s a deep question because what makes a thing a thing? Is it its form or the physical way you eat it? There are a lot of contradictions there. If it’s a main subject or character between bread, yes, it’s a sandwich. It also raises the question: is cereal soup?  You could make a case in either direction.”


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