Hot Dog of the Week: The Original Hot Dog Shop, aka 'Dirty O' in Pittsburgh
There's a handful of hot dog places around the country where you know as soon as you walk in the door that it's the real deal. Some sort of eccentric Coney Island atmosphere meets dive bar. The place is packed to the gills with a weird mix of businessmen, drunk college kids, hipsters and construction workers all chowing down on dogs that you couldn't replicate anywhere else in the world.
Call it hot dog magic. Papaya King, Lafayette Coney Island, Rutt's Hut, Charlie's Pool Room, Ben's Chili Bowl, Gene & Jude's all have it. And most definitely the "Dirty O."
I've been hearing about this legendary hot dog joint, opened by Sid Simon in 1960, for years. But for some reason it was never too high on my list. One glance at the incredible hand-lettered signs, coolers stocked with 40s of malt liquor, and a mountain of extra long dogs lined up on the grill, and I had a feeling this place would blow my mind.
The Dirty O's dogs are available in a semi-confusing variety. There's the "Original" (pictured above) which is a pork and beef natural casing dog. Or you can order an all-beef "Super Deluxe Kosher Style." They're both made by nearby Silver Star Meats, supposedly with a "secret recipe." Then there's the "Superdog" (either dog topped with cheese and bacon) and the "Hot Dog Parmesan" with red sauce and provolone. Standard toppings, applied behind the counter—chili, cheese sauce, relish, mustard, onions, pickles, ketchup—are also available.
One thing that sets the "O" apart is they really cook the dogs right, grilled well on a flat top to a nice wrinkled crust. Not burnt or dried out (though I'm pretty sure you can ask for one well-done if that's your thing). Too many places that serve flat-grilled dogs barely seem to get any color on the damn things, they might as well just boil them. The O achieves that perfect level of crust that really makes a natural casing dog sing.
And then there's the fries. Do not miss the fries. Twice-fried in peanut oil, hand-cut, craggy and crisp. Probably the best I've had this year. These are the fries that every restaurant and pub wants to do but can't seem to get right. The reason is the O's dedicated fry station, a long line of fryers and mountains of golden par-cooked potatoes just waiting to be fried to order and piled onto a parchment lined cafeteria tray.
The "medium" is enough to feed about seven people. Available with sides of "warm beef gravy" or cheese. Get both. There's all sorts of crazy stuff on the menu—pizza, chicken tenders—but stick to the dogs. They're really up there with some of the best.
Artwork for sale! If you're interested in purchasing a print of the above artwork, I've got them available in my online store. Just one of 10 new designs (mostly artwork from this Hot Dog Of The Week series) added for the holiday season!
Original Hot Dog Shop
3901 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (map); 412-621-7388
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.