Writing last week about the passing of Gus Koutroulakis, the owner of Pete's Famous Hot Dogs in Birmingham, got me thinking about Pete's longtime rival Gus's, now the lone surviving old-school Greek hot dog place in downtown Birmingham.
No hot dog joint (or hot dog personality) will ever quite match the magic that was Pete's, but for a nearly identical hot dog, Gus's is the place to be.
Greek hot dogs in Birmingham are a curious regional anomaly, especially the "special dog" which consists of a grill-charred cheap Zeigler brand pink weiner topped with seasoned ground beef, sauerkraut, a few chopped onions and "sauce" which tastes like a cross between barbecue and New York pushcart style red onion sauce.
Gus's is literally around the corner from the former location of Pete's Famous, slightly bigger and they also serve breakfast, burgers, ham sandwiches and "hot beef." Owner George Nasiakos has been at the helm since 1997; although the secret recipe for the "special sauce" goes back to Gus Alexander, who opened the stand somewhere around 1940.
The Birmingham Special Dog isn't to everybody's taste, so I was surprised how much I liked it. Gloriously messy, cheap, and delicious. The wiener itself is nothing special, griddled to a nice well-done to give it some flavor.
There's none of the "Texas" or "Coney" sauce you find at other Greek hot dog joints—the ground beef is dry and mildly seasoned with salt and pepper, more like "loose meat" than any kind of chili. Then the kraut and "sauce" bring it closer to NYC Papaya Dog-style dog than anything you'd expect in the South.
The Slaw Dog was just as good. I was expecting chili or some of the loose meat but it was just tons of super creamy Southern slaw, yellow mustard, a few onions and plenty more "special sauce," a crazy mess of spicy, sweet and tangy stuff with a well charred mild dog somewhere underneath.
So if you're in Alabama, don't miss Gus's for a taste of one of the most unique dogs in the country. And really, Gus's is just the tip of the Birmingham hot dog iceberg—the city has a great and somewhat overlooked hot dog culture that I really wish I was closer to.
Gus's Hot Dogs
1915 4th Avenue North, Birmingham, AL 35203 (map); 205-251-4540
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/.