A little while back, I went through a bit of crisis of opinion in regard to writing about hot dogs. I decided that I would give up valuable space and words only to talking about Really Good Dogs, rather than bothering to tell people where the sub-par doggage was lurking like a troll beneath a bridge. Who am I to belittle someone else’s well-intentioned efforts to make a little dough off our love of the encased meats? In fact, Boy and I recently had an extremely disappointing run-in at a cart where the dogs were so lackluster, when we drove by a few weeks later and saw that the cart was gone, we admittedly cheered.
Yeah, I raised him right.
He asked me if I would write about it. No, I said. Why even bother?
So my intention is to just write about Really Good Dogs. Except this once. Because, you see, this one is so left-field, so what-was-I-thinking and what-were-they-thinking that my bloggerly instincts insist that I tell you about it. I will not, however, tell you where.
Let’s just say I was in a densely tourist-populated part of Massachusetts on a beautiful June day around noon, and yes, I was sort of hoping to run into some funky cart or joint or what-have-you. A couple of random turns later, there was a sign: Hot Dogs. Home made chili. I banged a U-turn and headed up to the window. And there I saw that they have a specialty which you, as an astute reader, have already gleaned from the headline. Two Pearl dogs in—and here is where my error of judgment began—”a waffle shell.”
Back up the hot dog truck here a sec. “Waffle shell.” Yes, I was at what is mostly an ice cream place. Maybe I should have figured it would be a waffle cone. But it said shell. I figured maybe they had figured out how to do something funky with dough and a waffle press. Or maybe it was made of one huge waffle fry! How amazing would that be? A hot dog in a huge waffle fry. I should patent that shit. So, with visions of things not a waffle cone dancing in my head, I ordered one with onion and spicy mustard. Although I had been lured in by the mention of chili, I wanted to be able to focus on this shell.
It arrived, after almost 10 minutes and an apology for the delay later, looking innocuously like this.
At this stage of the game it looked promising. Then I took a bite. Mind you, I am okay with the whole “sweet and savory” combo. Something here just didn’t work. I had good, slightly spicy Pearl dogs, the tang of onion, a lovely standard-issue brown mustard—and a hit of sugar that threw the whole thing off. That, and the realization that, yes, dummy, it’s a freaking ice cream cone because you’re at a freaking ice cream stand. And then, juuust to put the finishing touch on my crime against good doggery, the crispy shell did what it probably had intended to do from the first bite. Effing explode.
This is why we don’t easy crispy tacos, people. The whole thing came apart in one loud crack, and made me quite glad I hadn’t opted for the chili.
I’ll say this much for this place: the dogs themselves were good. Onions fresh, dogs nicely griddled. But, man… I am now two for two on the season for un-great dogs.
I promise that in my next write up, whenever that is, I will present a Really Good Dog.
I recently booked a hotel through one of those sites that won’t tell you which skeevy dive you’ve ended up in until after you’ve said yes because you were too cheap to pay full price for a hotel. Turns out I ended up in Cherry Hill, NJ. So, naturally the next thing I do is to Google “hot dogs” and “Cherry Hill.” Imagine my joy when the first place listed in the search just happened to have the same street name as my hotel.
Cool Dog Cafe is tucked into a strip mall on Marlton Pike in Cherry Hill. In here they’re serving up seriously delicious dogs with a lot of toppings, from your standards to some inventive combos. Plus, they hold contests to let customers come up with their own delectable dogs. (More on that later.)
Inside, it’s quaint and clean, with good music and a couple of TVs tuned to whatever game is on. Behind the counter, they’re throwing together tasty Sabrett dogs, deep fried and served with a little sheen of oil still on them. Some browning marks on my dogs suggest that they hit the griddle either before or after getting fried. These are long dogs, stretching well past the borders of the bun, so much so that my first couple of bites were just taking the ends off the dogs so I could get a good chomp of dog + topping.
And, oh, those toppings. This was not an easy decision, my friends. Lots of ways to go. But I decided on three: the Texas Ranger, the Coney Island, and–please forgive me–the Anthony Weiner weiner. Up front, I’ll tell you that these were some of the best hot dogs I’ve had in a while.
First of all, the deep-frying, apparently very much a Jersey thing, gives a great snap to the casing. Unlike other places I’ve been that do this, there was no “old oil” flavor to it. The Texas Ranger came with one lanky strip of bacon half-tucked into the side. It was just a bit on the chewy side, which to me means it was cooked perfectly. The cheese was nice and melty, and the barbecue sauce was smoky and a little sweet. This was the most straightforward of my dogs. It went down first, fast and fine.
The sauce on the Coney Island dog surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t have, since the menu lists it as “chili,” but whereas I was expecting a semi-dry Coney-style sauce, this was more like a Texas chili, with a strong tomato base. Either way, it’s an excellent meat sauce and it played nicely with the straight-up yellow mustard and fresh onions. Sloppy goodness. Speaking of which…
The Anthony Weiner will fight you every step of the way. The jalapenos on top will jump ship every chance they get. The moist and delicious slaw will erupt over the top of the bun with every bite. Only the pulled pork and barbecue sauce seem content to stay where they are. And this is excellent pulled pork, tender and richly sauced. When you can manage to get a taste of everything in one bite, it’s very much worth the battle. The mix of flavors going on here is intense. I’m so glad I saved it for last.
There’s a lot to love at Cool Dog, and a lot to go back for. A Filipino dog with sticky rice, mango and sweet chili sauce. A vegetarian (I know, I know) Thai satay dog with peanut sauce and chow mein noodles. A Fritter Smash dog with crushed jalapeno corn fritters and sweet chili sauce. Not to mention the customer contests. Winners on my visit were a New England dog with fried clam strips and tartar sauce (no, thank you) and a Tater Tot dog. And perhaps if I had been feeling more up to it, there are the Homewreckers: half-pound Angus beef dogs with a slurry of toppings. The USA has peppers, onions, mustard, ketchup, jalapenos, chili, shredded cheddar, cole slaw and tomatoes. The Blazing Homewrecker, which quite honestly has my name written all over it, is a monstrosity that’s sure to destroy your home plumbing after you’ve ingested it. It’s topped with baked beans, Kaboom sauce (whatever that may be), red pepper relish, spicy mustard, jalapenos, sport peppers, onions and fried egg. (Please remove all pets and loved ones from your home before eating this. Oh, and file an environmental impact form.) By the by, choke down a pair of these killers and a small order of fries in 20 minutes and it’s on the house. Plus, you get a shirt. Your stomach may never forgive you, but…free shirt.
Ready to head to Cherry Hill yet? Well, let’s talk fries. Seriously some of the best, fresh hand-cut fries I’ve had. Nothing fancy here, just thick, perfectly fried taters with a little shot of salt. Take a look at that picture. That’s everything you need to know. Reach in, grab a handful, try not to disturb the people next to you by making orgasmic yummy sounds.
Wow, am I glad I found this place and wow, am I sad it’s not 250 miles closer to me. They’re pleasant, they bring the dogs out to you, the dogs are fan-freaking-tastic, and I really do love the way they involve their customers. This place is what being a dog blogger is all about. This is where they know how to elevate the dog. I need to find a reason to shoot back down to Cherry Hill and get more goodness from Cool Dog Cafe.
Cool Dog Cafe
2091 Marlton Pike E. (Route 70 E.)
Cherry Hill, NJ
Perhaps it is because I am gentleman of a certain slightly advanced age, and maybe a bit set in my ways, but I have a distinct soft spot for places that have been doing the same thing the same way for a very long time. The kind of place where business is just fine the way it is, thanks, and they don’t need to change anything or pretty themselves up for the likes of you. George’s Coney Island in downtown Worcester, MA is exactly that place. From the impossible-to-ignore humongous art-deco neon sign that, I am told, drips animated mustard at night to the old wooden booths with the names of pretty much everyone in the world carved into them to the absolutely classic Coneys they serve, George’s is dedicatedly old-school. A coworker years ago who grew up nearby told me about it, but I never get out to Worcester. Well, a recent college tour with Boy put me right there, and when I go anywhere new and expect to be there around lunch, the first thing I do is to Google the town name and “hot dogs.” Up came George’s Coney Island and ping went the implanted memory and so we made the stop. I’m mighty glad we did.
According to the joint’s web site, the building dates back to 1918; the booths and big, gorgeous sign, 1938 and ’40. And folks, that’s pretty much the way it’s stayed. The moment you walk in the door, making sure you’ve gone into the lunch counter side and not the bar side, you are wrapped in dark wood and simplicity. Nothing fancy here. A menu of sorts is scrawled illegibly in chalk behind the counter but all you need to know, buster, is how to say “up.” As in “three up,” meaning you want three dogs with yellow mustard, Coney sauce and onions. Yes, you can get relish or ketchup or cheese, Mr. Fancy Boy, but come on–you’re at George’s Coney Island so get on board. The place is quiet and, it has to be said, just a little dingy. But, again, that’s part of the charm. No BS here, no need to be anything but this, a lunch joint for the average joe, a joint so good it’s been slingin’ the dogs for almost a century.
The dogs themselves are Kayems, sent to the flat-top to roll around a while. They’re the thin style traditionally associated with the Coney and its nearby cousin, the Rhode Island hot weiner. Into a rounded Arnold roll they go. Yellow mustard, a blanket of rich and truly traditional Coney sauce with as a nice touch of tang to it, and an ample supply of chopped onion on top. Done. Again, this is a no-frills, order-up, down-a-bunch, be-on-your-way dog. This was Boy’s (aka Jack–after all, he’s 16) first encounter with both the Coney sauce and mustard. He deemed them “excellent.” I would have to agree but my mistake on this outing was stopping at three. A six-pack at least of these delicious beauts would have been a better idea, and I’m certainly hitting that number when I stop by here again soon. I’m going to make an excuse to come to Worcester. After all, I need to be here at night to watch the mustard drip, right?
George’s Coney Island
158 Southbridge St
First off, I really should not be allowed to watch shows like Man V. Food because whenever I see a Really Good Dog on TV, I immediately start working out the logistics of getting there–wherever “there” may be. Seriously, if some program showed me what was clearly the universe’s greatest hot dog and it was only being served inside an active volcano in the South Pacific that you had to parachute into, I’d be booking a flight and signing up for skydiving lessons. Call me impressionable. So when I saw the Deputy Dog at Woody’s in Hartford, CT on MVF, and knowing that me and my son’s annual pinball and hot dog trip was coming up, I made sure this spot was on our agenda. Because, friends, we are talking about a foot-long dog topped with pulled pork, cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce. Cardiologists of the world, rejoice.
As it turned out, timing-wise Woody’s was best targeted on our return trip from Asbury Park to the Boston area. Going down, it would have been breakfast. Coming back, a well-deserved road stop. Provided we could find it. It’s listed as 915 Main St in Hartford. And you can’t miss 915 Main St because they do this:
That’s right…they park a red Mini out front. But seriously. There it is, right? Yet nothing on the storefront says Woody’s. I had Boy check the GPS. I had him verify the address. I had him call. “It says no one’s there right now,” he told me, and I had that sinking feeling that Woody’s had gone the way of so many fine HDJs before it. Not the case. This venerable joint has been banging out the treats since 1977, and they’re not slowing down. Here’s your traveler’s tip–the sign is hanging on Pratt St. You can still go into 915 Main and get there, but your indicator is elsewhere.
So the dogs… Woody’s offers a bunch of topped dogs for about $5.25 under the heading “Woody’s Posse.” I had no question about which I was there for, and I was in a very rare “I just need one dog” mode–which may have been more of a financial matter, coming as it did at the end of a trip. It was tough to resist the allure of a slaw and chili dog, or the Hot Chihuahua, loaded with things designed to burn you from the inside out, or the gluttonous glee of a dog with bacon and macaroni and cheese on it. But I stuck to my guns and bellied up for the Deputy Dog while Boy surprised me by ordering a Godfather (peppers, marinara and mozzarella)
The dogs–and I neglected to ask the brand–are griddled on the flat-top. The buns go up there, too, and get a nice dose of melted butter as they toast. Both dogs were amply covered with the glory of melty cheese. I commented to Boy, mid-dog, that I would go back just to order the pulled pork. It was tender and flavorful, with a nice kick in the sauce. I kept getting big strands of it in each mouthful, so it seems they don’t skimp.
Boy was busy powering through his Italianate treat, but stopped wolfing it down long enough to tell me the marinara was “nice.” I left him to it as he had a lot of gooey mozzarella to fight.
This is a pretty decent amount of dog for five bucks, and was easily the best treat of our trip. Boy was bummed at the lack of variety at Rawley’s on the way down, and I’ve probably had my last dog at Max’s down at the shore because there’s only so much unchanged fryolator grease one man can ingest. But if we find ourselves passing through Hartford again, we’ll be stopping at Woody’s. And this time we’ll know where to look.
915 Main St although the sign is on Pratt St
Mike and I were recently talking about blogging and children. Since we both have some at this point, we have realized that there’s not much time for long-form blogging. I mean, it’s 11pm and this is the only time I have to do this? I should’ve been asleep an hour ago! So I will be trying to shorten things up with these posts!
Today I went to a local lunch spot called Subsational near my job in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. It’s an area with a variety of cultures all mashing together including Russian, Turkish, Uzbek, Tajik, Georgian, and Orthodox Jewish (I’m sure I’m forgetting some others). It’s been great getting a chance to have some awesome kabobs, Turkish kasarli pide, and Uzbek samosas during my lunch breaks. Subsational is a glatt kosher restaurant where you find a lot of young orthodox Jewish guys hanging out getting a quick bite to eat. I recently saw that they added a few styled hot dogs to the menu and figured it would be good to go there around the 4th of July. I decided to order the Chilli Dog and the Fiesta Dog.
The dogs are all-beef (Kosher, remember?), sliced down the middle and put on a flat top to grill. The people behind the counter said that they use a brand of dogs called Solomon. They said they could not use Hebrew National, which I think is because the dogs are kosher but not glatt kosher. The fiesta dog is topped with chipotle slaw, honey mustard, salsa rojo, and tortilla crunch. It had an overall tangy taste, with different world colliding between the slaw and the salsa/tortilla elements. I liked it and found that these disparate tastes worked well together.
My next dog was the Chilli Dog, which is topped with short-rib chili. I’m not usually a chili dog guy, but I decided to give it a whirl. I’m glad I did. Yes, the way it looks in the photo is kind of a mess. The bun couldn’t hold up to the weight of the chili, and I had to eat it with a fork and knife. But…that was some damn good chili! It was not a cumin-heavy chili, but was almost like a sweeter BBQ-like chili, with kidney beans, black beans, and the occasional shredded short-rib. I washed it all down with a small order of sweet-potato fries which could feed two people, and then headed back to work. I love that in a neighborhood filled with a ton of culturally diverse food, you can still find a great hot dog!
Subsational 1928 Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn NY
Firstly, let’s wish Mike a happy first Father’s Day! I don’t think dogs were a part of his day, but I think he did get around to smoking some meat. Nice one, Mike! As for me, I wasn’t planning on any dogs. My plan for my second Father’s Day involved donuts and BBQ, not necessarily at the same time. Ali started off a perfect day for me by picking up a ham egg & cheese sandwich, and my favorite lemon poppy donut from Dough. We eventually went out and walked over to Prospect Park, where a dozen food trucks were parked by the front entrance. One of them happened to be Crif Dogs. I wasn’t planning on getting a dog, but Father’s Day is a great reason to eat anything I want. And thus, I ate the Spicy Red Neck.
The Spicy Red Neck is a house dog (beef & pork, smoked & deep fried), wrapped in bacon, and topped with chili, jalapeños and cole slaw. A nice package overall: a chili tasting like brisket, hot peppers and creamy cole slaw. Disclaimer: I’m personally not a big fan of bacon-wrapped hot dogs, because I think they can overpower the taste of the dog itself. But I like this red neck and it was the perfect mid-afternoon Father’s Day snack. Thank Crif Truck! And thanks to my gals for making it a great day!
One of the things I’ve learned about having a 1 year-old is the existence of the time suck. One day you’re at a restaurant sampling different kinds of regional and international encased meats, and the next thing you know, it’s 2 or 3 months later. Just sucked right out of the hot dog bun of life. And you say to yourself “Ok, tonight’s the night when I write about this HDJ…if I don’t fall asleep at 9:00pm.” So here are some portions of my memory which are still intact. We took the little gal to the circus for the first time in New Brunswick NJ. After watching her amazed and puzzled face react to twirling hula hoops and gravity-defying acrobats, we headed with some friends over to Destination Dogs!
This is a place that opened up in the past few years and that I’ve heard about from friends, because New Brunswick is the home of my alma mater, Rutgers University. Once in a while, I have the chance to head back there and check out the town. Returning with my little lady was fun, and while I didn’t indulge in the cuisine that’s famous in New Brunswick, I was looking forward to hanging out in my old stomping grounds. It’s my understanding that Destination Dogs recently moved to its current location, a sizable space that was the former home of Doll’s Place, a long standing bar which itself moved out of its previous watering-hole space into something more current with nicer floors, large windows, and a sleek wooden bar. When you look around and check out the menu, you realize it’s a few steps above your typical hot dog joint. This is definitely on the artisanal end of the hot dog spectrum, both in ingredients and prices, ranging from $4.25-$10.50 per dog. There’s only tables and bar seating, with servers coming to your table to take your order. Don’t expect to get a dog with a strip of mustard. I’m a sucker for places like this, in a good way. These guys don’t just put on a bunch of toppings and give it a cute name (like that reference, Mike?), but also use different types of sausages and think about regional ingredients.
The main thing you notice are the use of airport codes. You realize they correspond to the different cities used as names for the dogs. Then you realize, if you’re hot dog or food nerds, that there is a concerted effort to use foods known for those particular areas: Cuban style for Miami; potatoes, onions & peppers for Newark; Chicharrones for Texas; patatas bravas for Spain! They even keep accurate names of dogs from other areas of the world, like the completo for Chile, and the Choripan from Argentina. I was drawn to two particular dogs that I’ve tried at other HDJ’s, and there’s just something about these combos that pull me in: the Vietnamese Bun Mi and the Greek Achilles Meal. If there are two sandwiches that are hard for me to pass up, it’s a banh mi and a gyro.
I’m doing a bit of a disservice to these guys and can’t really go into details on the taste, because it feels like I went there 100 years ago. But I remember really liking them, and thinking I’d like to sample more. The Bun Mi is comprised of grilled pork sausage (that well exceeded the length of the bun), shaved foie gras (maybe as a substitute for the pork pate), pickled vegetables, jalapeños, sriracha mayo (a nice twist instead of straight sriracha), and cilantro all on top of a beautifully buttered and toasted split top roll. The Achilles Meal consisted of lamb sausage, tzatziki sauce, tomato, shredded cabbage, and green onions again in a dark brown toasted split top bun. You can also check out great pics of all the encased meat selections from the menu on their website.
I’m pretty positive that Ali ordered the Kansas City Beefs (from Missouri), an all-beef dog with pulled bbq beef short ribs, cole slaw, and green onions on a split top. And my buddy John got The Hebrew Hammer, which they label as Israel but would probably more accurately be classic NY jewish deli. I picture an Israeli dog having falafel and hummus, but the Hebrew Hammer is an all-beef dog blanketed by a potato latke, spicy brown mustard and green onions.
New Brunswick is typically known for serving sandwiches containing fried everything to soak up the inebriation of a long night (my favorite contained a cheesesteak, gyro, french fries and hot sauce all in one). I can’t eat those anymore since I’m at an age where you have to start caring about what you eat. But for those of you who are interested in going a few notches up with casual food, this is the place to check out. And bring the kids!
Destination Dogs 101 Paterson Street, New Brunswick NJ