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A&W brought back a fan favourite menu item, so we checked it out

We tried the Whistle Dog so you don't have to. Unless you really, really want to. You do you.

There are fewer passions that ignite as strongly as the devotion to discontinued menu items, and it seems A&W's Whistle Dog is no exception.

The Canadian fast-food chain dropped a limited-run reissue of the cult favourite - a sort of jazzed-up hot dog - and people are definitely going wild.

Beloved for decades but discontinued in 2017, the Whistle Dog is legendary among its legions of fans, including some who have gone to all sorts of lengths to cajole the company into putting it back on the menu.

"Since its departure, Whistle Dog fans have started petitions, written songs, rallied support on the radio, and filled up A&W's comment sections on social media, all in an attempt to bring the iconic hot dog back," describes a media release about the Whistle Dog.

What is the A&W Whistle Dog?

The Whistle Dog is a hot dog that has been sliced down the middle - butterflied - before cooking. A&W serves theirs "nested in a toasted bun with relish, topped with real cheddar cheese, and bacon." 

The name likely comes from the hot dog's resemblance to a long, thin, cylindrical dog whistle, and in Canada, a "whistle dog" is largely synonymous with a butterflied hot dog topped with bacon and cheese, thanks to A&W, though other venues have had their versions on the menu (and many a nostalgic fan has made a copycat version at their family BBQ or for a cheeky at-home meal).

The Whistle Dog returns in 2022

To coincide with A&W's teaming up with the Toronto Blue Jays - aka Canada's MLB team and, by default, Vancouver's team - the fast-food company released the Whistle Dog on menus nationwide starting July 25.

The chain says the Whistle Dog's return is a limited-time special, and has a teaser about a short film (a "dog-umentary" if you will, and they do) about the menu item dropping online in August. (If this speaks to you, note you can view "Bring Back the Whistle Dog" Aug. 12 via A&W's social channels and YouTube. You do you, hot dog fan.)

Taste test: Reviewing the Whistle Dog

Personally, I had never heard of a Whistle Dog. I know, where have I been? (Short answer, outside of Canada.) 

But the V.I.A. newsroom got pretty riled up at the mere mention of the hot dog and its current return, so I had to try one for myself. Clearly, I can't get enough of hot dogs this month. 

Spurred on by shared memories of the Whistle Dog, its seemingly significant role in people's lives, and how butterflying a hot dog can lead to glorious crispy-edged results thanks to a bigger surface area, let's just say my tastebuds were primed.

Spoiler alert: This was not a dreamy encounter.

I don't think the kitchen crew at the A&W location in Vancouver I visited (and, if you follow V.I.A.'s food coverage, you'll be able to guess which one that was) feel quite the same devotion to the love and lore of the Whistle Dog as the people who cherish memories of eating it. I think they were more about filling a hot dog order as fast as they could.

Sadly, the hot dog itself, though sliced as mandated, did not have any crispy edges. In fact, and you can probably see this coming, it was overall pretty flaccid. Decent flavour, on the juicier side, no snap whatsoever. 

The bacon was passable, but the cheese was firm and not particularly melty. Cold cheese plus hot dog equals sadface. 

I reported back to my Whistle Dog enthusiast colleagues the following hot (dog) take: If the Whistle Dog is like whistling, this was like when you try to whistle but you just spit a little. (Sad trombone.) 

Now, to be fair, even a bad hot dog has its place in the food ecosystem, and this wasn't a bad hot dog. It just wasn't all it was hyped up to be. And I had probably Vancouver's toughest food critic with me as a dining companion (it's my 9-year-old son) and he gave the Whistle Dog an energetic thumbs up. Perhaps that is the target market for the next generation of Whistle Dog devotees.

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