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Archive for the ‘hot dogs’ Category

Happy Dog, Cleveland

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 24, 2018

If you read my various posts in the CLEGourmand category you know I am a BIG fan of Cleveland. The people and the neighborhoods have an unquantifiable character that Columbus does not have. A part of it is pride, a big part is loyalty (supporting the Browns, Indians and Cavs is often very hard) and other elements that would best be labeled je ne sais quoi.

What led me to Happy Dog was a text from a native Clevelander. To say the text was provocative and inflammatory would be an understatement. The texter is a lifelong friend of the Grumpy Old Man (a “victim” of some Gourmand southern Ohio adventures) and in spite of being a corporate man has some very left leaning tendencies. He too has experienced a three lunch afternoon with me in Athens and knows my unwavering devotion for O’Betty’s Hot Dogs. In spite that (and in spite of him being at least a lukewarm fan of O’Betty’s) Mr. Suit stated (profanity, swagger and other off-color commentary edited to protect the innocent) Happy Dog is better than O’Betty’s.

Clearly these were fighting words so I requested photographic documentation and asked for less graphic commentary. I also did a lot of Googling and researched this so-called better than O’Betty’s Hot Doggery. Online, Happy Dog looked to have some merit although this assertion of “better than O’Betty’s” was clearly the rantings of a mad man but I placed a visit high on my to do list for my next Cleveland trip. Eventually, I made my way to the hallowed doors of Happy Dog.

I immediately took a shine to the place. The location I visited is in the Gordon Square neighborhood, which has a fair number of hot spots (like Brewnuts) but is still rough enough around the edges to have some character and a sense of communal community. The outside is nondescript other than covered bike parking and a sign that could easily be mistaken for a dive bar or dog groomers. The inside had an old, multi-generational, pleasantly battered feel so familiar to many of my favorite Cleveland haunts. I scooted CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin into a booth so we could begin the critical and crucial work of determining our order.

The Happy Dog menu is both extensive and simple. Step One: choose a base of hot dog (100% beef or vegan), burger, tots or fries. Step Two: review a list of fifty plus toppings, dips and etc. to add to your hot dog or whatnot. These include but are not limited to items such as Japanese Yum Yum sauce, top-secret Fry sauce, bourbon pork and beans, pimento mac & cheese, vegetarian lentil chili, Fruit Loops and so on. You then take an order sheet and check off what you want added to each item you care to dine on. The depth and variety of toppings was impressive but I do have one criticism. As a graduate of Hot Dog University and a visitor of the Mustard Museum, I am concerned that only three mustards are listed on the menu. Cleveland alone to home to two hot dog worthy mustards – Bertman’s Ballpark and Stadium Mustard and I could see neither on the menu. Less than ten offerings of mustard goes against the underlying philosophy of Happy Dog. This could be rectified with the placement of a variety of mustards in a communal area.

An eclectic order of hot dogs, fries and tots were ordered and found their way to our table.
The CMH Family found all to be satisfactory. My wife, who holds high standards for many things and who maintains a very high tolerance for my advocacy for food adventures in establishments and neighborhoods she finds to be both suspect and questionable approved of Happy Dog. She is on the record as stating, with equivocation, their fries are the best she has ever had. Both she and I concurred that the fries were better than O’Betty’s. We liked the diversity and quality of the toppings. I thought the vegan hot dog / sausage I had (I ordered a regular hot dog too…..duh) was the best vegan / vegetarian fake encased meat product I have ever consumed. (I tried a lot – especially during a two year period when I was a five day per week vegetarian). I would have liked the buns to have been steamed or lightly toasted (as is the O’Betty’s way). I am still of the opinion that O’Betty’s executes a slightly better total hot dog but Happy Dog is a strong number two for best in the state. Also, it is not fair to compare the two especially since Happy Dog has at least seven times the square footage as O’Betty’s and my Athens hangout has more experience in the hot dog trade. So while Mr. Suit was wrong, he was right is determining that Happy Dog is a most superior spot for hot dogs and much more (live music, cocktails, deep beer list and while most items are locally sourced, because they want the best, they vegan dogs comes from Seattle). We all win when we go to Happy Dog or O’Betty’s. And we all lose when we put ketchup on a hot dog.

I visited Happy Dog on Detroit Ave. in Gordon Square.

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Posted in CLEGourmand, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Carl’s Townhouse – Chillicothe

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 24, 2016

Carls

My previous Chillicothe visits included: seeing Tecumseh! the outdoor drama, writing about a restaurant for Ohio Magazine in 1998, visiting two donut spots and picking up the vanity at Lowe’s (the only one in inventory for the whole state). Back when I was a government drone my job often took me to the Chillicothe Veterans Administration Hospital (which has roots going back to World War I) but duty to fix problems and ethical responsibility did not allow me to take side trips to explore the area. I never really explored the city or the downtown. Considering Chillicothe was once a state capital and it is fun to say and more importantly considering all of the other places in the state I have explored on a whim, Chillicothe was overdue for an extended trip.

I’m not sure of the exact series of searches that popped Carl’s onto my laptop screen but it was probably related to doing a search related to Family Donut Shoppe. I’m glad I did pay attention to Carl’s and felt the pull to make this my reason to head south. I enjoyed driving the streets of downtown Chillicothe looking at many 1880’s era buildings and small local shops while searching for Carl’s.

I scouted out Carl’s on various review sites and found almost universal love for the place and in particular their burgers. I lured along one of my research assistants, the grumpy old man, with promises of a trip to Family Donut Shoppe afterwards as well as a recon trip to McArthur Ohio. Within moments of arrival to Carl’s the grumpy old man was also pleased. Carl’s is the kind of diner that every community needs. A simple place with straightforward food where regulars come to catch up with each other as well as the events of the day. More diners could help Make America great again.

Having a research assistant allowed me to do extensive food research. I’ll start with the hamburgers. The trademark menu item here are slider style hamburgers. The burgers were much bigger and thicker than a White Castle slider. Students of hamburger history (such as myself) would recognize this as the typical burger of the 1940’s – 1960’s. Neither too big nor too small with a lumpy instead of perfectly formed patty and when paired with fries, a very satisfying meal. The burgers are great and I highly suggest them. I ordered the double cheeseburger basket (two double cheeseburgers and fries).

Double cheeseburger basket

As a student of hot dog history as well as a staunch hot dog advocate, I ordered a chili dog to boot. I was pleased with the presentation here. The bun was lightly grilled, the hot dog was split in the middle to aid grilling as well as chili retention. The chili was definitely homemade with a distinct flavor to it. Overall it was better than average.

chili dog

The grumpy old man ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich. I was happy to see this on the menu. Many years ago I did extensive research on regional sandwiches around the USA for a book project. I spent a week traveling around the Midwest trying out the best pork tenderloin sandwiches in Iowa, Indiana and Illinois which is the heartland of this regional delicacy. I found this version true to style. It was properly breaded and sufficiently – as is the tradition – much bigger than the bun it was served on. More points for Carl’s.

tenderloin sandwich

My favorite item of the lot was also my biggest surprise. I saw apple strudel written on the specials board and ordered that out of curiosity. It turned out to be Apple Strudel Pie! Even the grumpy old man, with his girl-like appetite, found room to take a bite and found it pleasing to the palate as well.

apple strudel pie

One of the things that makes Carl’s a destination is the character of the place which comes from a long history in the community. When I work with clients, I often share with them how important sharing the history of a business is to customer loyalty. Carl’s does a great job in this category by sharing their history on the menu. As a local landmark, this is important, so I photographed that history to share with you below.

part 1

part 2

To wrap it all up. Carl’s is an iconic diner that dishes out breakfast, lunch, dinner and an extensive list of daily specials at affordable prices. If you find yourself in Chillicothe, this is well worth a visit. If you have a few extra minutes walk across the street to the antique shop and see if this trinket is still around. Even though it was $375 I was very tempted to take it home with me. If you are not familiar with the gentleman below, it is J. Wellington Wimpy. A personal hero of mine with an even greater affinity for hamburgers, he is best known for his insightful philosophy, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” If you fetch Wimpy for me today, I’ll gladly pay you back with a burger on Tuesday.

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Carl's Town House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Diners, hamburgers, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Cream & Sugar: A Sweet Surprise

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 13, 2016

Cream & Sugar

Having found myself on the Westside after being stiffed by some “mericans” I took solace in taking the slow way home via Sullivant Ave. Many people in this city have never traveled the full length of this west side byway. It seems like every block tells a story: Westgate, immigrant communities, working class folk and a few down on their luck. There are also more than a handful of taco trucks (including the best in the city – Los Guachos), independent hot dog and pizza shops and at least a couple soft serve ice cream spots. For some, a trip down this road is eye-opening, showing them a Columbus and an America they did not think exists. We certainly do not see much in the media about this strip of the city. I have spent a lot of time in the area and I have a respect for it that goes beyond a meal I had noticed it a few times doing taco truck runs over the last year but never had the time or the appetite needed to do a good research run. I’m glad I dropped in. I might have a pretty big crush on Cream & Sugar.

The first good sign happened as I pulled into the parking lot – I spied a police cruiser. I asked two of Columbus’ Finest what was good and they both said – Coney Dog!! In the voice of George Bailey I said HOT DOG! I’m always looking for a good hot dog spot so thinking I was just going to get some soft serve, I was happy to have a bonus. Walking up to the order window, I quickly found myself overwhelmed with choices. Let’s start with food. They do indeed have coney dogs, served with sauce make by local hot dog singer Phillips Coney Island. I tried one and would have a hard time telling this from the original in a blind tasting. Score one for Cream & Sugar. Roots Poultry in Fremont Ohio is well-known in that part of the state for their shredded chicken which is featured in sandwich form here. I tried one of these as well and also found it to be simple but good sandwich. A bun and finely shredded chicken, that was it and that was all they needed. Score two for Cream & Sugar. Other food items not tried but I found intriguing included a BBQ Pork sandwich, homemade cole slaw and a wide variety of Ballreich’s chips (also from Northwest Ohio).

Moving to the other side of the menu, they offered much more than soft serve dairy product including: giant Freezies Popsicles, sundaes, multiple type of cones, Stauf’s Coffee, and additional options I could not count on two hands. I opted for a simple kid’s size vanilla and chocolate twist cone. I may be a bit of an ice cream snob, but I always get excited about a good twist cone (the best in the state is at Dairy Depot in Delaware). I was pleased as I could be with this simple dairy treat. Also of note, Cream & Sugar is a site for Suspended Coffees where guest have an option to pay it forward by buying a pre paid coffee (or other food) for someone who has need for it. That is a nice offering for a small -> small business.

Cream & Sugar
2185 Sullivant Ave
West Side
Facebook

Cream & Sugar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in hot dogs, ice cream, kid friendly dining, sandwiches | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

A Tale of Two Coney Island Joints in Mansfield (and a dialogue about Small Town Ohio)

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 20, 2015

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I was in Mansfield for business visiting Phoenix Brewing Company. I visited a brewery for work. Yes, that is pretty cool. I had only passed through Mansfield very briefly before. My inner nature is to explore any new place so I blocked out a little time to drive around downtown and get a feel for the place. About one minute into the journey I spied a sign for Famous Coney Island. Regular readers know that by the Code of Gourmand, I was obligated to stop – hungry or not. I did. I walked in 6 minutes before closing time (7 pm) to look around. The waitress (that would be the proper term here) asked me if I wanted to order. I said that I didn’t want to be a pain, so I would just look around. She said “sweety, go ahead and order it’s not problem at all.” There are not many places that would gladly welcome a customer that close to closing time. I also found out that the sign outside is somewhat new, the original sign was inside over the counter (from 1936) when coneys were 5 cents each (that is part of the reason they took the sign down).

Of course I ordered a coney. The coney dog is an institution in many towns, especially smaller towns and I always visit one when I can. There is culture to a Coney Island joint, the same as a diner. There are stools at a counter and a few booths. A simple menu and the banter of regulars served with the insights of the folks behind the counter that have been gained from decades slinging hot dogs or one liners at the same place. You can’t find that at many dining establishments. And those few places are disappearing every day.

The other thing I did was survey the menu for “the thing“. Just about every diner or Coney Island has an off beat dish that is unique to the place or a carry over from another time. A signature or iconic item that sets this place apart from any other place like it (and often there are a lot of place like it). Here the thing was pea salad. There was no description of what it was but I knew I was going to get it and probably enjoy it. The base of the salad was ice berg lettuce with a mayo based dressing, peas, shredded carrots, cheese, shredded cabbage and bacon bits. It tasted a bit like a seven layer salad. It was simple and it hit the spot. A comfort food classic.

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The place itself could have come from a Norman Rockwell painting. There was a small ice cream stall at the end. The walls were decorated with year books from the local high school, photographs from the old days, a soap box derby car, and the like. It was a decent meal. A respectable coney (no Oh Betty’s but what is) and a great pea salad. There are all types of culinary tourism. This type is where the food, while good, is secondary to the stories and the traditions. That is OK.

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I got back in my car, drove by a bakery that looked interesting, a place called the Squirrel Den (that sells candy and cards), an old school newspaper stand and a pizza place (Two Cousins) that claims to be the best in the world. All were closed. I would have liked to drop in to each. It took a minute to drive by those spots and that is when I saw something else on the other end of the square – Coney Island Inn. And oddly (it was after 7 pm) it was still open – until 8 pm, which in this case made it the Late Night Slice of Mansfield. I decided I needed another coney so I would know which was best.

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Coney Island Inn is a bit bigger, a lot less brighter and it has an in house Ohio Lottery sales counter. I grabbed a stool to survey the extensive menu – which may very well include every comfort food classic of the Midwest but I knew that I would only be having coney. I have standards, this was my second meal in 20 minutes. The dilemma I encountered was that they offer a regular coney and a King Coney (and foot long versions of each). It turns out the King Coney was a bigger, all beef hot dog and the coney was smaller and not all beef. I had to order both which I did with slaw and coney sauce. Then I asked the waitress if there was anything else I had to get and she suggested the rice pudding (with or without raisins and with or without whipped cream). The coneys were good (not Oh Betty’s good) and I would say better than what I had at Famous Coney Island (and less expensive). The rice pudding on the other hand was exceptional. I had good conversation with the other staff and the one other customer in the place (she sized me up pretty quick – “you’re not from around here are you, or you would know what to order”).

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I was glad I took a detour, I usually am.

So now for a short dialogue about small town Ohio. The impromptu adventure I had is something many people would avoid. Others would just write off these places or the places I could not get into as not worth their time because they figure the food is not up to their standard or because it is middle west bland. Sometimes the food might not be worth it, but again, each place has “the thing” and all have a good story or two that will connect you with the place. Both Coney Islands I visited have long histories in Mansfield and longer traditions.

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Actually Mansfield is not technically small town Ohio, but the town square sure feels like it so I’ll just use that as an excuse for my commentary.

Posted in Food For Thought, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

An Obit. for O’Betty’s on Union

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 3, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First before you panic or you worry that I have panicked or become distraught, let me assure you that the original O’Betty’s is still open. I found out about the demise of the “other” O’Betty’s from John, a former manager that I worked with when I was behind the counter.

I mourn the passing with a tinge of regret. During the dog days of August of 2011, O’Betty’s owner Bob Satmary and I were almost partners in opening a second location at a different site in Athens. That did not work out (actually a lot of things did not work out so well for me in August of 2011) but I was happy to see the second location open on a different spot and to see what O’Betty’s could do with a little more space for customers and a lot more room in the kitchen. In the end the place was moderately successful but not really worth the extra work it entailed according to Bob. The other, other Betty’s (the CMH Gourmand version) fell into the file of my many “What if’s” for 2011.

On the bright side he may have more free time now for another hot dog related project (perhaps with a new investor) and the 10th anniversary of the original O’Betty’s is this summer.

I guess another good / bad thing about the closing of O’Betty’s on Union is that I never got around to writing about it. I had attended the grand opening in January of 2012 as a VIP guest and had a great time that evening. I was also introduced to my Doppelganger (by report I have several) at the VIP party. This guy was described to me as the Athens version of me but with his passions directed towards music – instead food. When we met, for a brief moment we were concerned that combined our powers might either destroy or better the world. Fortunately, the world did not explode.

For the historical archives, I have included some photos below of the place you missed eating at. Do keep the original O’Betty’s on your Ohio eating bucket list, it is the best Hot Doggery this side of the Mississippi. I will miss the second O’Betty’s because on my tours of Athens the route was typically: O’Betty’s, Casa Nueva, O’Betty’s on Union, Jackie O’s, one other place at random and them coin flip of O’Betty’s Uptown or Downtown. On three occasions I was in a party which made three combined visits to both locations for a total of three to five hot dogs.

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This is the Doppelganger. For the safety of the world, we could not allow our photos to be taken together or allow ourselves to be in the same GPS coordinates more than a few minutes.

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The larger space allowed Bob and Company to do more things with the decor, maintaining the Burlesque theme of course.

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More space meant a larger menu selection as well and a Sunday Brunch (during a brief collaboration with Jana’s)

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obb 9-2 sat sun

last

Posted in Athens, CLOSED, hot dogs | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Behind the Counter: Slinging Hot Dogs at O’Betty’s

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 13, 2011

My first job was at Knight’s Ice Cream in Clintonville. I started as a sophomore in high school and left the summer of my senior year. I made $2.85 per hour to begin, my top salary was $3.50. It took a long time to save for a car. The job taught me a lot. A lifelong love of ice cream began. I discovered I liked food…well I obsessively loved it, actually. I observed that a cup filled with ice and pop dumped in a trash is not cool. Since that discovery I never dump anything with liquid in a trash can because I know what it is like to clean up the mess. I found I was not good with down time on the job and would seek out something to do. I never lost the restlessness – but I am trying really hard now. In the winter when it was slow and I was working by myself, I started to experiment with everything we had in the shop – ice cream combinations, Sprite and sherbet shakes, chocolate covered anything, intriguing sandwich combinations and etc. I still engage in some reckless culinary experiments.

The job laid a foundation. I found I was a shy kid that enjoyed interacting with people and getting to know their preferences to make sure they got what they needed. One lady came in every Thursday for a scoop of coffee ice cream. I gave her one on the house after a year of repetition, she was shocked as if she had never been treated before, maybe she had not. Another customer came in every Saturday at 4:45 pm or even closer to the 5 pm switchover. He ordered five milkshakes of various types. It was always busy when he ambled in. The multi-shake request messed up the flow of our shift change. It briefly ticked me off. I discovered he was giving the shakes to his buddies at my favorite hobby shop. I then saw his act as generosity and that changed my mind and my attitude. The work I have enjoyed the most has included a lot of social interaction with new people, an opportunity to be creative in some way and autonomy. I miss that. I need that. The work I enjoyed did not feel like work….I know that is a rare thing for most people. I enjoy finding and making a connection to an idea or a person or at least giving the world something useful or entertaining.

I had micro-bursts of food service over the years. I volunteered for several food events: wine bartender at ComFest for years, my hot dog festivals and chili parties were famous in their day, washing plates at countless events, my Pizza Grand Prix series. Last summer I grilled 100 hot dogs for the masses at the Goodale Park Music Series. I enjoyed educating people about hot dog history and styles as they waited for their order to grill up. I have written about food since 1999 but only from the diners side. I felt an urge to get on the “right” side of the counter.

I’ve been a fan of O’Betty’s in Athens for years and a fan of hot dogs even longer. I came to know owner Bob Satmary over many hot dogs and chats about the Athens food scene. I think O’Betty’s is the best hot dog shop in the state…maybe the Midwest. I needed to balance out my perspective by getting behind the counter again. I asked Bob if I could work pro-bono to get my serving legs back. He said sure, come on down.

I arrived on a Saturday morning at 11:00 am, ready to work. I donned an apron then got the lay of the land behind the counter. The space in the place is small with no room to nudge past each other – single file from the grill to the cash register. My orientation covered how to make the best fries in the Ohio, the secret to serving a tofu dog that is worth eating and with a bit of trial and error how to create the various O’Betty’s hot dog varieties as well as how to redo a few mistakes I made along the way. Bob was a patient and effective teacher.

It was a slow Saturday but we had a few rushes to test the skills I have learned. It was clear I still had a lot to learn but Bob and his number one, soon to tour Europe Rockstar, employee John jumped in when needed and reminded me of the band of brothers teamwork that comes in a restaurant when things get tight. At the end I finally figured out the cuneiform style code O’Betty’s uses on order tickets. I was getting the swing of things and feeling confident “back in the saddle.”

During a couple slow periods I had a chance to speak with a few of the customers. Two guys on scooters from Ann Arbor were traveling around Ohio following places they found on Roadfood. I wrote two of them – O’Betty’s and Starliner Diner. I gave them a list of six places in Columbus for dinner. Another gentleman from Manhattan, currently working in Marietta, sang praises of the Athens and Columbus food scenes. I agreed and gave him a lot more food for thought and consumption in the capital city. I also made him a “Dixie” to go which he felt passed muster. O’Betty’s customers are almost all regulars and become part of the family in a short period of time. Photos of the favorite “family members” can be found on the wall opposite the register.

I did some cleaning and some prep. More hot dogs were grilled and buns steamed. I made one for myself and enjoyed the end result very much. I was told I did pretty well for the first day and had a job if I needed one! Knowledge confirmed: Hot dogs are best held in a hot water bath before grilling, fries are best soaked, blanched, then fried, customer service is the key to any business, when you connect with the customer everything else falls into place. My payment was a cookie and an afternoon of learning about hot dogs as well as rediscovering a lost part of myself. Writing is best and easiest when writing of a subject you love. It is another thing, but good to write about something you do or have done (unless it is something soul sucking). I was back behind the counter. I may be back at O’Betty’s for a shift or two this fall (but not Halloween – sorry Bob). I may be at another restaurant or bakery near you doing the same thing, providing the perspective from the other side.

O’Betty’s Red Hot! Dogs and Sausages
15 West State Street
Athens
740.589.6111

Knight’s Ice Cream
Clintonville – Gone
(torn down in the 1990’s, the site is now a vet’s office)

Posted in Behind the Counter, hot dogs | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

The Wienermobile Cometh: Why Liz Lessner is the Queen of Hot Dogs

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 27, 2011

OK. Let’s start with a crowd pleaser. Free hot dogs! One thousand FREE all beef, no preservative hot dogs. In honor of their 75th Birthday Oscar Meyer is bringing their new Wienermobile to town and local hot dog darling Liz Lessner of Dirty Franks fame is going to dress up the dogs with toppings a la Dirty Franks (this means new twists on old favorites and probably some hot sauces).

Where is this magical event happening?

Sensenbrenner Park
High Steet and Nationwide Blvd.
11:30am-1:30pm
Wednesday June 1st

I wish I was an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile rider but I can’t come out to play on Wednesday – hopefully 999 of you can go in my place. Have fun and don’t rub in the fun with your comments.

More inside scoop – here.

Posted in hot dogs | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Hot Dog University: Serving Up The American Dream

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 24, 2011

In the heart of hot dog country, to be specific, at USDA site #0001, The Vienna Beef Factory, Chicago Illinois, Mark Reitman is teaching the art of the cart. After living a life on the bun he decided to teach the art and science of owning and operating a hot dog cart to a growing number of people looking to cook up their own business. Mark is a PH.D, (Professor of Hot Dogs) at Hot Dog University.

Hot Dog U is serving the American Dream in a two day class on all things hot dog. This is definitely a course where you do not mind spending time after class. Mark has been preparing for his professorship all of his life. He grew up in the hot dog culture of Chicago’s west side. His first hot dog was on Maxwell Street (the Mecca of Chicago Hot Dogs) at the age of five. In the 1950’s he worked soda fountain of his dad’s drug store. In high school he flipped burgers and mixed malts at a local landmark known as Henry’s Drive-In. During college, he worked the best job of his career as commissary manager for largest all-girl dormitory at school. He then worked as a teacher and school counselor while working side jobs as a salesman and pinch hitter for various food businesses owned by family and friends.

After decades of sales, schmoozing and deal making he could not convince his wife to open a hot dog stand with him so he asked if they could settle for a cart. In 2003, The Grateful Dog cart began serving to the public and Mark found that he had hit the mark for an independent business. People sought him out for tips and trade secrets for the art of the cart so he opened Hot Dog University in 2006. He started taking students to the Vienna Beef Plant to see and understand how hot dogs are made. As a result many of graduates began ordering and selling Vienna Beef hot dogs, which caught the attention of the company. In 2009, the Vienna Beef asked Mark to become part of the family and move the headquarters of Hot Dog U from Milwaukee to Chicago. Since it’s founding 500 plus students have graduated from Mark’s program. In 2010, 138 students passed through the hallowed halls of hot doggery at Vienna Beef. This year, added classes are continuing to fill up with people in search of the Amercian Dream.

In April, I was one of those students. I met Mark in 2008 when I was touring Vienna Beef as part of the Dirty Frank’s Chicago Hot Dog research project.

Since then, I have developed an in depth knowledge of Columbus Street food in the form of Taco Trucks and Mobile Vendors.

I am a believer in street food and mobile vending. It is a sign of the times. While we might not be able to afford a steak nowadays we always seem to find time and money for a tubesteak. That is reality that inspires people to follow their dreams of being their own boss in the form of a hot dog cart. As our society and economy come full circle to the eras that celebrated the hot dog, the depression sandwich, (as the hot dog was known in the 1930’s) is seeing a resurgence. The hot dog, economical eating and a budget friendly start up business go hand in hand during our own hard times.

The seven other students in my class came from around the country: New Mexico, South Carolina, Michigan and two sides of Chicago. We also had one student “stuck in Effingham” for most of the first day fighting snow and train delays. Everyone had a different story for enrolling in class. Every reason was a reflection of our new world – people need or want to take a risk to make a new life but something with limited risk and a proven track record is more appealing, especially for the culinary impaired. Mark made sure to cater the class to the needs and experience level of his students including his first ever mobile food truck vendor (as Mark and I agreed…the times they are a changing and the bigger the wheels the more hot dogs you can sell).

Mark started with a frank discussion on running a small business. Any good businessperson needs to know their product. We donned our lab coats and hairnets for our first field trip. Since the pedigree of hot dogs has been poked fun at since their inception, we took a three-hour tour of the Vienna Beef plant to understand what makes an encased meat a hot dog. Mark became the Willy Wonka of Wieners during our magical meatery tour. We started with freshly butchered cuts of meat being cut by hand and followed those cuts of beef as they were sliced, diced, grinded, grinded again, encases, cooked, smoked and packaged. We never had to ask, “Where’s the Beef?” Throughout the tour were instructed on hot dog science and terminology: skinless vs. natural casing, 9:1, 8:1, 6:1, 5:1 and 4:1 hot dogs (graduates know what that means), what makes a hot dog snap, the difference between lamb/sheep linings and hog linings (parts are not just parts they have a purpose) and more. Mark led us to the test lab to try out a wide variety of hot dogs made at the plant and cooked different ways. We then watched the packaging process and visited the specialty departments before heading to the cafeteria for lunch… hot dogs of course. To say we were fully immersed in our first half day of class would be an understatement.

Vienna Beef is an amazing wonderland of meat. Not all hot dogs are created equal (or even made with the same stuff). It is hard not to respect the commitment and adherence to tradition this family operated company maintains for their product. Vienna Beef hot dogs cost more but there is good sense for paying the extra cents. You do get what you pay for in the world of hot dogs. In addition to a variety hot dogs and sausages; the plant also produces 100 soups and six types of chili for retail and commercial businesses.

We headed back to the classroom for a whirlwind of information on choosing and outfitting a cart, permits, food safety, the proper temperature for (re) cooking a hot dog, finding a base station, pricing, marketing and more. My notebook, course manual and brain were as stuffed as a Polish sausage with information as I headed out of the class at the end of the first day.

On day two, we met at Restaurant Depot to walk through the store using the seasoned eye of a street-smart street meat vendor. Mark instructed us on what to buy, what equipment to use and purchase, how to look at hot dog packaging labels to determine a plethora of information about the quality of the hot dog and a countless list of do and don’t for operating a cart. For example, tongs do matter. Get two sets and make sure they are springless. Don’t trust me on this, take it from Mark, he can give you ten reasons why. Don’t put the cart before the course if you can help it because knowing what is needed and how to equip a cart is going to save a new owner time and money and countless mistakes. Mark advises students not to buy a cart until after they take the class and time and time again, the sage wisdom of this was proven in our discussions. I walked out of Restaurant Depot armed with knowledge everything I would need to buy on day one of hot dog slinging, how much my equipment would cost and what to do with it…..or at least what not to do.

The next part of class was the final exam: cooking hot dogs. We set up a cart in the Vienna Beef parking lot then had Mark run us through everything from start to finish. We steamed buns, grilled and simmered hot dogs and sausages, checked our water temperature and learned the art of selecting the right music for peddle our wares.

We headed back to class after lunch for more advanced hot dog studies. Mark is a brainstormer and barnstormer when in comes to cart marketing. He explains how to use the five senses to sniff out business for your hot dogs. Hot dogs elicit an emotional response, to the right side of our brains. The smell of a hot dog and the primary colors with it (red and yellow) take us back to childhood (and if that grew up in Chicago takes you back to the neighborhood you grew up in). Owning your own business strikes an emotional cord too. Other practical tips are covered as well such as stocking the right beverages. The type of soda selected is a demographic and geographic choice – you need to know your customer or you could be stuck with a cooler full of Grape Crush at a field hockey game. What is the most important factor in a successful hot dog cart (other than the personality and dog tired resolution of the hot dog vendor)? Location, Location, Location. The class covers location with a couple genius ideas I never thought of in two years of chasing street vendors in Columbus.

During our classes, the top dogs of Vienna Beef visited us. The Chicago Mob left town but not the sense of kinship that comes from doing business in the Windy City. In the most sincere and heartfelt tones we were told that Vienna Beef supported any business that sells their products and the examples given were not a haed sell. There is a true sense of family and everyone seems focused on wanting everyone new businessperson in this class to make their dream a reality.

So was the class worth it. For me, absolutely (it was free). However, I was there as both a writer and a potential mobile operator. I would pay the full price for the class just for what comes after your graduate: people who can answer any question about the business you have and are committed to helping you get the resources you need to solve any problems you might encounter along the way. My notebook was full of things to save money, as well as minutes, weeks and months of missteps and wrong turns by getting first hand advice from someone that was successful in the business.

As a parting gift, I am going to give one of Marks tips away (not a product endorsement). Ice Mountain plastic bottles are better because the labels are less likely to peel off in the icy water of a cooler. For my friends at Vienna Beef, Mark and the city of Chicago I should also state for the record….. never put ketchup on a hot dog. Thank you Hot Dog U for a useful education.

Say Hi to Hot Dog U on Facebook


There are a few places they sling a Chicago dog in Columbus.

Dirty Franks
248 South 4th Street
Downtown

Loops Good Food
Upper Arlington
1629 Northwest Blvd

Wholly Joes

Posted in culinary knowledge, hot dogs, Road Trip | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Cooks Corner: The Cronut Dog

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 5, 2011

The Ohio Donut Trail has not been without trials and travails. Mostly, it has involved insane levels of donut consumption and a few double dog dares. During the first donut tasting party someone started a conversation that turned into a culinary quest for me. It goes like this.

A cronut is a glazed croissant from Auddinos. It is absolutely fabulous. It serves as the base of the Cronut dog. So, step one. Go to Auddinos and purchase cronuts.

The vision for the cronut dog was a hot dog served in a cronut with bacon and spicy maple mustard. This is how everything went down. I purchased double smoked bacon at Bluescreek Farm Meats at the North Market. I picked up two hot dogs from them as well. Their bacon is fantabulous! My house smelled like it for four days. I did not have any Twixlen Brand Spicy Maple Mustard so I concocted my own on the spot. I have 10-12 mustards in my refrigerator at any time so this was not so hard. To make this an all Ohio mustard I took two parts Bertman’s Ball Park Mustard, one part Stadium Mustard and Ohio Maple syrup (to taste) then mixed them together until I found the flavor profile I thought would work.

I cooked two long strips of bacon, leaving the bacon pliable enough to wrap around the hot dogs. I then boiled and grilled the hot dogs (this is the proper hot dog cooking technique observed in my household). I did not have a good way to steam the cronut (a hot dog bun should be steamed) because I would lose the sugary glaze in the process so I just cheated and nuked the suckers.

I put all of this together and …BEHOLD! The First Cronut Dog.

I was wary but it was good enough to eat. I ate the whole thing. Nothing bad happened. Really.

This is what I hope to do differently on the next trial. I will use Five Star Hot Dogs (from Cleveland) or Nathan’s Hot Dogs because I think their casing and spicing will work better with the spicy maple mustard. I will also deeply split the cronut then lightly grill / sear the inside, leaving the glazed outside intact but a bit gooey. I will then cut the finished product into bite sized pieces and tooth pick them together to serve as appetizers.

Lesson: don’t double dog dare me, I will so do it!

Posted in donuts, hot dogs | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Two Hour ATL Gourmand: The Varsity Dine and Dash

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 5, 2010


I was in Honduras for 96 hours. There will be no TGU Gourmand stories. What went down there will only be in my memoirs as a very long chapter with many Tarantino style plots lines and twists. On my way home Saturday, I found myself at the Atlanta airport with two hours and five minutes to kill.

On my top ten list of 10,000 restaurants I have not yet eaten at but must before I die is a place called the Varsity in downtown Atlanta. The Varsity opened in 1928. It is the world’s largest drive in. The restaurant goes through two miles of hot dogs, 2,500 pounds of potatoes, 5000 fried pies, 300 gallons of chili per day and is the largest single site consumer of Coca-Cola anywhere. The building sits on two acres with room for 600 cars outside. This hit my radar about ten years ago when I saw it in the Rick Sebak documentary A Hot Dog Show. I wanted a chili dog and longed to hear: “What’ll ya have….What’ll ya have” the continuous chorus coming from folks at the counter.

Google maps said I could get there in about 30 minutes using the Marta (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Tranist Authority) train and it would be a three minute walk from the station to the front door of the Varisty. I did some quick calculating. If I could get through customs by 6:50 pm this was a definite possibility. With no luggage and a flight of only 30 people I made it through the queues with a few minutes to spare. In the course of eight minutes I traveled from Terminal E to the main terminal, bought a Marta card, double checked my mission plan and found myself on the train platform. I missed my first train by 30 seconds. I recalculated my timetable and bail-out points. If I could get to The Varsity by 7:45 pm, I would still be able to pull this off. Game on!

So why not a cab you ask? I only had twenty seven dollars to my name and in theory with traffic Marta is much faster than cab or car. I popped on the train, checked the map and determined I was ten stations away from hot dog heaven. I spied a (lucky?) penny on the floor, picked it up and at that very second the train came to a sudden halt. The homeless folk who know the train looked a bit uncomfortable at this situation. So did the Marta conductor that came running through the cars. The other downside – if the train is not at a station – you can’t open the door. I was not going anywhere until this train was. I checked the clock it was 7:26 pm, my time cushion was deflating. The employee ran through the car a few more times saying nothing. At this point, I was thinking that it would suck to miss my flight. The train did finally restart with no explanation. At the next station I looked out the windows to see thousand of people trying the swarm onto the train. The Auburn vs. South Carolina game had just ended and drunken fans were fleeing the scene of the crime. It takes a long time to squeeze hundreds of college football enthusiasts onto cars that are meant to hold fifty. I checked the clock, 7:43 pm, four more stations to go.

I made it to the North Station at 7:51 pm. I ran to the Varisty dodging drunken football fan drivers and slid up to the counter to hear those magic words….”What’ll ya have”? My reply (after a decade of preparing for this moment): Two chili dogs, a small fry and a coke. The meal was so absolutely perfect. The fries were among the best I have had. The hots dogs were tasty. The chili sauce was exceptional. This was everything I wanted and more importantly it worked. I inhaled my hot dogs while walking around soaking in the atmosphere of The Varsity. I had about one minute to look at the downtown skyline then ran back to the station and hopped on the next train to the airport.

Heading back to the airport, once again at Five Points station, thousands of football nuts swarmed onto the train. I enjoyed the banter going back and forth between the winning and losing fans. There is a certain charm only a drunken southerner can pull off when trash talking someone so that an insult sounds like the sweetest bit of flattery one has ever heard. I do declare.

I made it back to the airport with fifteen minutes to spare. Would I do this scramble again? Absolutely. I was able to get a quick taste of a city I have never visited and checked off Georgia as a state I have officially visited (only seven left). The Varsity was worth the effort as well as worth the risk and associated slightly elevated stress levels.

I did have a several things going for me. Saturday nights are light travel periods – I was able to breeze through security and customs incredibly fast. I was able to OJ through the airport when I needed since I had no luggage. The Varsity is normally packed but since hordes of fans were still escaping the football game I was able to go straight to the counter. Everything worked out (any other day of the week or year, this could have been a big fail) and in the process I got my groove back via a little culinary adventure travel.

The Varsity
61 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted in hot dogs, Road Trip | Tagged: | 3 Comments »