A look at ten of the most interesting hot dogs in America—and one in Denmark!
The biggest lesson? A hot dog is so much more than something you grab at 7-Eleven at 3 a.m. (not that there's anything wrong with that). They are as full of deep tradition, nuance, and potential as any other food.
In 2010, I'm hoping to hit the road and seek out some of my hot dog holy grails, including the famous Newark Italian hot dog and "Michigans" from Newburgh, New York, among others. Believe it or not, there's a few hot dog styles here in Philadelphia I haven't written about yet, not to mention new variations being concocted in high-end kitchens and roadside stands daily. In the meantime, enjoy this look back at my ten favorite hot dogs from 2009.
The Philly Combo: For the launch of the HDotW series, I went with a forgotten classic from my hometown of Philadelphia. This bizarre combination of hot dog with potato fish cakes started 100 years ago at the (now defunct) Levis Hot Dogs near South Street, and the search to rediscover it is how my obsession with the frankfurter began. You can still grab a Philly Combo at several locations here including Moe's Hot Dog House, and Gus's Cart on 5th and South, a few hundred feet from the former location of Levis.
Texas Weiners: My search for the above-mentioned Combo led me to two Philly Texas Weiner restaurants serving split and grilled hot dogs "Greek sauce." Turns out the Texas Weiner phenomenon started in Jersey with Greek entrepreneurs playing off of the Nathan's business model but adding their own twist—a secret recipe Greek bolognese sauce tweaked for use as an American hot dog topping. Texas Weiner restaurants and the similar Texas Lunch and "Texas Hot" vendors took off in the early 1900s in Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even New York state, likely responsible for the popularization of the very non-Mexican dish we know as "chili" here on the East Coast.
Flo's Hot Dogs: Flo's is a shack on the side of Route 1 in Maine that's been cranking out hot dogs since 1959. Look for the long line stretching out along the highway. I waited two hours for a couple of natural casing dogs, steamed and dressed with mayonnaise, celery salt and Flo's Secret sauce. Definitely worth it. The experience and the chutney-esque sauce are completely unique.
Tijuana Dog: The Tijuana Dog, aka Danger Dog, is probably the fastest growing hot dog variation in America. Possibly as early as the 1960s, Mexican street vendors were wrapping hot dogs in bacon and serving them with a variety of condiments. Recently the trend exploded in Los Angeles and in Tucson where they are known as Sonorans and served on soft, steamed bolillo rolls.
West Virginia Slaw Dog: Hidden on a half-abandoned side street of Keyser, West Virginia, is Martie's Hot Dogs, a crazy place full of old signs, $2 Bud bottles, a smoke-filled Video Poker lounge in the back—and incredible hot dogs. Mounds of delicious chili and creamy slaw. This is how they do it all across West Virginia. Delicious.
Chicago's Depression Dog: King T of the blog Chibbqking tipped me off to Chicago's lesser-known minimalist hot dog. Served at institutions such as Gene & Jude's, the Depression Dog uses a slimmer dog than the standard jumbo Vienna, with a light dressing of mustard, relish, onions, and sport peppers. Hand-cut fries are always wrapped up with the dog so that everything steams together (and maybe a few of the fries end up on the actual dog). No lettuce, no giant tomato and cucumber slices, and definitely no ketchup.
Seattle Cream Cheese Dog: Possibly my most controversial piece yet. Purists scoffed at the blasphemous addition of cream cheese and esoteric toppings while Seattle foodies took offense to their city being featured for something other than organic vegan macrobiotic molecular gastronomy, some even questioning the existence of the Seattle cream cheese hot dog. But according to a plethora of sources, Seattle residents have been enjoying cream-cheese-slathered hot dogs with grilled onions outside of sporting events and after the bars close since at least 1999, even spreading the technique to Denver and Portland.
Charlie's Pool Room: This is the most amazing place I've ever eaten a hot dog. Folk art meets hot dogs served in a pool hall on a hidden street along the Jersey-Pennsylvania border. The Fencz brother are great, friendly hosts, and the made-to-order dogs are assembled in the Easton area's "Mop Dog" style with the addition of Grandma Fencz's amazing secret onion sauce. Great place, great dogs—this should be a historical landmark.
Denmark Hotdog Polser: First excursion outside of the United States for the column! Some friends came back from Denmark with stories and photos of what they said was "the best hot dog in the world." Ultra-long dogs with mountains of pickles, crispy fried onions, and remoulade. Sounds good to me. They also have dogs baked into buns or "deconstructed" with weiner, roll, pickles, ketchup, mustard all separate on a plate, which is how Europeans originally ate franks in the first place.
Cincinnati Cheese Coney: In Cincinnati's chili parlors you can order a Coney, a slight variation of Detroit's normally cheeseless Coney, hidden under a mountain of Cincinnati Chili and a massive crown of finely shredded cheese. I've become slightly obsessed with Cincinnati Chili, and after making it at home a few times, I think it's pretty right-on. And no, the secret ingredient is not cinnamon.
It's been great getting such a good response from these posts! Thanks for reading and sending in so many fantastic suggestions and nuggets of hot dog history. Keep the recommendations coming.