Just before the evening becomes too dark to see the skyline from the roof of The Durham Hotel, our denim-aproned, Converse-wearing waitress walks the carrot dog to our table.
I spent the drive from Raleigh into downtown Durham considering the technique behind a vegetarian hotdog, so I'm now on the edge of my soft, brown leather seat: Is the carrot churned through a meat grinder? Made from bits and bobs? Is the casing shaped from carrot skins?
"This," I whisper, "is not what I expected."
My partner looks at our carrot dog, at me and again at our carrot dog: "It's exactly what I expected," he replies.
This is because it's exactly what it sounds like—a hickory-smoked carrot, stuffed in a squishy bun and topped with green tomato chow-chow (or your choice of sauerkraut, sweet onion relish, ketchup or mustard). It is firm, like a snappy-skinned sausage, and very smoky. As with any good ballpark dog, the bun is buttery, the relish bright.
Much like the broccoli dog at Amanda Cohen's Dirt Candy or the Carrots Wellington at John Fraser's Narcissa, the carrot dog looks at our meat-obsessed culture and laughs. There is an animal-made Butcher's Hot Dog, too, but this carrot is bold and independent, funny and chic, the sort of city slicker your sad, suburban, crisper-drawer vegetables want to become.
The carrot dog is also the last thing you'd expect when you hear the name Andrea Reusing—which you probably have, if you live in the Triangle and follow the area's food scene. Reusing opened her farm-focused, Asian-fusion restaurant, Lantern, in Chapel Hill in 2002. Nine years later, she earned a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southeast, and Lantern became a destination on the national map. In a profile with The Huffington Post's Makers project, she explained, "The practical translation of that is that you get to do things that you didn't get to do before."
When Reusing announced that, after more than a decade, she was taking on a second culinary venture, she couldn't stress enough that the two concepts are unrelated—American not Asian, a hotel instead of a stand-alone spot. "This will not be a Lantern in Durham," she told Eater.
Served on the roof, just after the sun slips away, the carrot dog says she wasn't kidding.