John Can’t Stay Away from the Town Line
Study the picture below for a moment, then prepare to truthfully answer a question. You can click the photo to enlarge it and take in all the detail.
Your question (multiple choice): If you were driving along and you saw this roadside stand offering “good food” and “famous hot dogs” would you….
A) Thank the patron saint or benevolent deity of your choice that you may never be hungry enough to eat at a place like that;
B) Drive faster in case the hillbillies who live in that trailer decide to start gunnin’ fer tourists; or
C) Pull in to the parking lot (okay, the parking lot of the ice and propane place the stand shares space with), whip a ten-spot out of your wallet and dare to discover what’s in store, good or bad, secret gourmet delight or gut-wrench bout of gastric distress, because you won’t risk missing a Real Good Dog.
If you answered C, you may have what it takes to be a hot dog blogger. You also would have stumbled across Town Line Take Out and some seriously good hot doggage.
I’m going to be honest with you. Stopping here was a true test of my dedication to the craft of hot dog bloggery. While you do have to go into this believing that all dogs are created yummy, and remain yummy until proven otherwise, first impressions count. Town Line is, as I said, plopped down in the corner of the parking lot of an ice and propane place. The trailer has what realtors like to call “charm”–which is to say, it appears to have seen better days…and possibly a small twister. Hand painted signs, the occasional wacky slogan (one on the far side of the trailer says “It’s always summer here!”) and that word: famous. All of which contribute to the fact that as I went past it the first time, I chuckled a bit and just kept going.
By the time I got to where I was going, though, I realized I couldn’t shake the little trailer from my head. I texted Milkbone: Shaky looking hot dog cart on 123. Do I stop? His reply–which was, as always, sage advice–came as a single word.
I had no cash on me. And it was clear this rig wasn’t exactly riding the high-tech tip. To get to an ATM, I had to drive past it again. I saw people in the parking lot–and they were still on their feet. A good sign! I got my money and came back around. More people! I was bolstered to action. Plus, I was hungry.
Let me cut to the chase, because I’ve wasted a lot of words here on the build-up. There are not a lot of ready-made choices at Town Line. Chili dog, cheese dog, loaded dog, sauerkraut dog, basically. But a paper-plate sign taped to the window welcomes suggestions, “the crazier the better.” For my first trip, however, I decided to stick to the menu. I ordered up a chili dog and a loaded dog (chili, cheese, bacon and onions).
Oh, mercy. This place is literally two miles from my house. I am in so much trouble.
Look at that chili. It’s downright velvety. I had to ask the owner, Steve–do you make this yourself? “Yeah,” he said. “I make it in small batches right on the grill.”
Say what? Yes, he browns the meat on the flat grill, douses it with his chili sauce and spices and lets it ride for about half an hour. Then it goes into a metal tub that rests on the grill and the stuff proceeds to just get better with time. I wouldn’t be so bold as to ask what goes into it (chili folks are notoriously protective of their recipes) but it has a flavor that’s both smoky and sweet, with a gentle kick of heat. On the griddled skinless Kayem beef dog, in the griddled bun, it was an amazing taste combo. The loaded dog had a nicely melted slab of yellow American in it (no EZ-Cheez!) and a crispy strip of bacon tucked alongside. Onions were handed over the counter in a styrofoam cup–add ’em as you like.
So there I sat in the hot Saturday sun on a weed-choked bench around the corner of the Town Line trailer in absolute hot dog rapture. I texted Milkbone: Chili sauce to DIE FOR.
While I still haven’t been able to sync up my schedule with Milkbone’s to get him here, I’ve made several stops. Town Line has definitely become my local go-to shack. On my second visit I went off the board a bit. Knowing that Steve also serves up seafood–which, it must be said, gets rave reviews on Yelp–I figured he had slaw. Would he make me a West Virginia-style dog with his sauce and slaw? Steve said that while he’d never even heard of that, he could. And did. Purists might have argued over his use of a coarser slaw than a finely chopped one, but let me tell you that the cool, chunky slaw played nicely with the sauce. I’ll have two more, please.
Speaking of which, a pair of dogs prices out to ab out five bucks. My cheap heart danced.
Steve seems to love what he’s doing–although he does lament his location a bit–and he respects the hot dog. He’s open to ideas and his product is c0nsistently good. I have gone from judgementally snickering at the little cart on the roadside to being disappointed if I drive by and it’s shuttered. Every hot dog fan wants to have that place near them. Town Line has quickly become mine.