When I wrote for “The Hot Dog I Ate” several years ago, I made mention that I wasn’t much of a hot dog man. And while I don’t consider myself an expert, my intake and appreciation has increased significantly since then. Now I make it a point to try as many hot dogs as I can within my given radius. I’ve discovered that hot dogs are a part of the classic Americana tapestry, giving areas their own flavor as well as bragging rights. It’s honestly fascinating to see the pride on some local’s face when you give them the opportunity to point out their favorite dog stand.
Instead of covering the myriad of local options available for this article, I’ve decided to throw a curve ball and tackle the corporate elephant in the room. That’s right, Burger King’s
hot dogs Grilled Dogs. Burger King is obviously putting a lot of effort into this. Honestly, I haven’t seen BK put this much into advertising since their chicken fries push. They even have Snoop Dog shilling them in a cringe-worthy training video. With the help of an encouraging text, I pushed past my fast food skepticism and ordered both the Classic Dog and Chili Cheese Dog. The whole affair was rather unceremonious.
Soon I was home and ready to consume. The first thing I noticed was how different the dogs looked when compared to how they were advertised. Of course this is nothing new in fast food advertising and there are real reasons why a burger can’t look the same as an advert, ingredient display, lighting and so forth, the difference between the television version and the IRL version was absolutely astonishing.
Looks can be deceiving, especially in the world of encased meats. The real question is, ‘How did they taste?’. Well, the Classic was definitely relish heavy, to the point where I had catch my breath after inhaling the pickled vapors. However, the actual taste wasn’t bad. The outstanding feature was the meat itself. Juicy, a good beef flavor and with a nice bite. Perhaps a bit heavy on the sodium, but surprisingly tasty sans the overpowering toppings. The Chili dog was fairly similar except than overpowering with different flavor, the cheese and chili were actually quite bland. For me, this is where bold flavor is desired.It was also in the chili dog that I discovered something strange. A long, translucent thread of sorts. At first I thought it was a grey hair, but was mildly less disgusted when I discovered it was some sort of plastic thing.
So, what is my final take away from Burger Kings Grilled Dogs? They’re not bad. And perhaps in the hands of a more skilled artisan, they may even be pretty good. But that’s not really the point of hot dogs, is it? The story of the hot dog is intertwined with the individual stories of the stands, the towns, and the customers – and that makes them more than just encased meat. Except for perhaps pizza, hot dogs have a unique place in the hearts of eaters. We brag about our hometown coneys, ready to put them up against any other. We make sure to visit that special stand when we get back to… wherever. And we remember the taste of our first baseball game dog. While Burger King’s efforts are surprisingly laudable, they’re just incapable of capturing the magic of the dog by design.
I will never be mistaken for a proper, well-bred gentleman, but when I recently encountered a chili and onion dog at Windmill in Long Branch, NJ, I had no choice but to reach for a fork and knife. There was just no other way.
Windmill is a small, locally owned chain that has been dishing up dogs and more along the shore for more than 50 years. Somehow, in the past four years that Boy and I have made our annual pinball-and-hot-dog pilgrimage to Asbury Park, we haven’t managed to hit it. Honestly, part of that is my own aversion to chain-store dogs. But during my yearly round of researching new places down there to grab a dog, I read a number of thumbs-up/many-stars reviews of Windmill. So I figured we’d try—although we almost didn’t.
I had mentioned the Windmill idea to Boy as a possibility, but on our second day, when we debated whether to even bother to leave the AP boardwalk, he said, “I’m not too interested in Windmill.” Later that afternoon, however, with our phones badly in need of charging, we decided the best idea was to hop in the car, plug in, and drive the six or seven miles up to check out Windmill. (Though I didn’t say so at the time, my mind was made up that we were going to Windmill, but I let him think he had a say…)
On the road out of Asbury, you actually run across two Windmills. One is a small, mostly takeout stand built, in the classic kitschy style of road joints, in the shape of a windmill. When we reached this one, our GPS was telling us that we had another two miles to go, but we pulled in anyway. It was just too small—we wanted to sit. Back into the car and up the road to the second one, a far less charming joint in a plaza building.
During my research, I found a video where one of the owners of Windmill talked about their selection of toppings and how, all told, there are something to the tune of 100,000 ways to get a dog. That takes their “free fixins bar” into account. You and I might just call it the standard-issue self-serve counter. Belly up there and you can load your dog with relish, mustard, onions, sauerkraut that’s simmering in a slow-cooker, and more. For the dogs themselves, you’re looking at a base of plain dog, chili dog, or chili and cheese dog. A Rueben dog was also on the menu when we stopped in. The dogs are a Sabretts beef-and-pork product, cooked on the flat-top, and I’m going to assume they were quarter-pound dogs. Whatever they were, they were impressively large. Seems like every dog we’ve gotten in Jersey is monstrous. To which I say: hooray and thank you, New Jersey.
I opted for a dog with chili and sautéed onions. Boy did the same but added cheese, then made the appropriately disappointed face when the counter man stepped aside to reveal the big metal pump-box with the prominently displayed Velveeta logo. We were both impressed by the size of the dog and the very generous dose of toppings. We skipped the fixins bar and sat down to figure out how to get at these monstrosities. I tried to get my fingers under and around the bun but the chili had already started to sog up not just the bun but the paper under it as well. Complete bun failure was imminent, and I was wearing a white tee-shirt. I asked boy to grab forks and knives.
We liked these dogs, Velveeta death wish and all. The franks are meaty and thick, with a great snap. In places, we felt the casing had taken on a little too much char from sitting on the flat-top, but that’s a personal preference. The house-made chili was a great balance of meat and sauce, though there was not much spice or heat to be found. (I like a little kick in the sauce!) The cooked onions were the perfect way to top it off, and they certainly didn’t skimp, bless ’em.
While we both enjoyed Windmill, Boy retains his loyalty to local rival Max’s. Me, I could go either way. At the very least, this quick trip put Windmill on the dog map for me as a place I definitely know I can go to get a good Shore-style dog.
Let’s get the fun, ironic part of this entry out of the way first: I discovered Moore Dogs, in Carver, MA, on my way back from a run to a health food store. Truth be told, I had already used said run as an excuse to re-visit Danish Dogs, which currently parks in front of a Home Depot conveniently located across the street from the health food store, and banged out two of their signature dogs and a Coney. I drove home via a local state park, which dumped me out onto MA Route 58 and as I wended my way along, belly already full of encased-meat goodness, what to my wondering eyes should appear but this:
To the avowed Hot Dog Hunter, the serendipitous appearance of the roadside stand is like getting a sign that the universe wants you to be happy. Or obese and unhealthy. Hey, you pick your partners and fill out your dance card. Go, life. For me, a slightly beat up—let us call it “well loved”—truck in a vacant lot on a weekend afternoon is a calling I can’t pass up. I probably broke a traffic law or two whipping into the lot.
Moore Dogs serves more than dogs. There’s a breakfast menu, burgers, fried dough pizza and other treats. I have a feeling I may sample more of their wares in future visits. First, however, there was the matter of the dogs to attend to. I hastily ordered a bacon dog and a chili dog.
So good. Moore Dogs uses a Boar’s Head beef frank popped onto the flat top. It’s got good snap, and a nice shot of peppery flavor. The bacon still glistened with a little grease from being rewarmed, and had that distinct flat-topped flavor as well. Real bacon, not irradiated to get it reheated. The chili is homemade. No beans, but bits of green pepper, which I don’t normally want in my hot dog chili. But the flavor here was so good, delivering a little heat-kick to the tongue, that I could let them get away with the peppers.
I drove away from Moore Dogs knowing I’d be back. There was more to try (I promise I’m not riffing on “Moore” puns here), and I want Boy to eventually try it as well. As luck would have it, just the other day another health food run was called for. At noon. I headed straight down Route 58.
This time out, it was a bacon and cheese dog, and something I’d seen on the menu on the last trip and wished I’d ordered—The Messy Dog.
I twitch when I see the term “cheese sauce” because I know it’s this kind of sloppy melted Velveeta death wish, but the only thing I’d say to Moore Dog on this is: ease up a little. This sauce is so dense, light falls into it. It didn’t help the bacon dog any—next time around I think that order just gets a schmear of brown mustard and maybe some onion to bring it to another level. But on the Messy Dog, a hard-to-resist combo of pulled pork and cheese goop, it worked better. Again, there should have been less goop. Let me illustrate by showing the carnage that occurred after I lifted the bacon and cheese dog from the plate.
The combined mass of goop and a generous serving of delicious pulled pork made the dog roll to the side. The goop immediately adhered the the plate and tried to become permanent. I was glad to have some of it off the dog. With less goop, the flavor of the so-tender pulled pork came through. A bit over-sauced, maybe, but nicely sweet and smoky. The dog gets a bit lost in this flavor onslaught, but it was well worth the 4 bucks and change.
I usually write up these posts after one trip to a joint, but from that first trip to Moore Dogs I knew I would hit it again. They’re using top-grade dogs, making their own chili, keeping things out of the microwave, and they’re just truly nice people to boot. My only advice: maybe say no thanks to the cheese sauce and avoid the picnic tables at the lot. The ants get very busy over there. But at least they’ve got good taste.
Local folks need to hit this joint pronto.
92 North Main St. (Route 58)
On Facebook here.
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