Many years ago, on my way to a Braves game, I stopped at a sports bar in Midtown for something to eat. The barwoman asked me what I wanted and I told her, a hot dog. She asked me what I wanted on it, and I said, mustard. She gave me a look, but didn’t say anything. When she came back with my order, I checked it out: a bun, a squiggle of mustard and, underneath, what appeared to be a weenie—just what I’d asked for. But when I took my first bite, I realized that this was no mere weenie. It was the best damn hot dog I’d ever tasted! I didn’t know what to call it—I’d been raised in the South to be ignorant of anything except “hot dog” and “weenie”, and neither of these words described what I had in my mouth.
When I got back home from the game, I praised this taste sensation to my wife, but the only way I could describe it was, “a hot dog on steroids”.
She said, “That was a bratwurst.”
I said, “Great—get me some at the store!”
She said, “There’s no way I’m getting that at the store—It’ll clog up your arteries and give you a heart attack.”
So I discovered my hot dog holy grail, and, in the same instant, learned that I was forbidden to ever eat one again. Well, there was no way that was going to happen. The next time I went to a Braves game, I stopped by the same sports bar, in search of guilty pleasure. But the place was closed, in the sense of gone and out of business. I was confounded—how could such an excellent establishment go out of business? The only thing I could figure was, they weren’t charging enough for the hot dogs.
Since then I have walked the Earth, with a jar of French’s mustard in my hand, searching for my holy grail. I’ve been in every gin joint in the country, looking for the perfect dog—big, with a lot of heft, and that unique hot dog taste, that delirious blend of animal parts, with just a hint of rat hair.
But all I saw were weenies. People told me to load them up with a lot of stuff. They said I’d like it. But I disdained their advice—I was a purist, and a purist cannot be denied the thing he holds pure: a bun, a little mustard, and the dog of my dreams. That’s all I ask for. Nothing else will do.
But I was disappointed at every turn.
My wife said, “Cheer up—without all that gunk in your arteries, you’ll live to be a hundred.”
I said, “What for?”
Then, a few weeks ago, in desperation, I lofted a hail mary for my holy grail—I posted this plea on Google+: Is there a place, within 25 miles of here, where you can get a really good hot dog? To my surprise, I got 20 comments from Google-Plusers in the Atlanta area, each recommending their favorite hot dog place in the roundabout. I decided to try them all.
I started with a couple of the sports bars that were recommended, on the presumption that a sports bar would be a good place to find a manly hot dog. Not so. What I got every time was a weenie in a bun. After checking a few more places on the list, I realized that I had not properly specified what I meant by “really good hot dog”. To my responders, a really good hot dog is one that has a lot of stuff on it. The weenie is just there to support the stuff.
I decided to be more specific. I went to the Varsity and muscled my way up to the counter. The man shouted at me, “What’ll you have?” Remembering my wife’s name for it, I shouted back, “I’ll have a naked bratwurst with mustard!” The guy didn’t miss a beat—he looked directly at the man behind me and shouted, “What’ll you have?”
Undeterred, I next tried Haute Doggery, which I don’t even know how to pronounce. It was recommended by a guy who hadn’t been there, but had heard that it was good. Before making the trip, I checked their website and found that bratwurst was on the menu. Hot dog! I thought, high-fiving myself. So I went there and ordered a bratwurst on a bun with mustard, minus the sauerkraut and whatever else they put on it. The girl who took my order was unfazed. I got a glass of Murphy’s Irish and laid back in anticipation.
Ten minutes later, the chef himself brought out my order. I checked it out. There was a bun, and in the bun there was a thing that had the shape of a huge weenie, but with a mottled brown coloring. On top of this thing, mustard had been applied in a kind of zigzag pattern. There was nothing else on the plate. Nice presentation, I thought. I said, “This is exactly what I asked for!” And the chef, taking that for a compliment, smiled broadly and whisked himself back to the kitchen.
I took another swig of Murphy’s and bit into the dog. I have to say that it was good. It was, in fact, very good. But it was not the hot dog of my dreams—it didn’t have the taste of a hot dog. My wife had been wrong. I crossed bratwurst off my list.
In despair, I almost gave up my quest. But, before calling it quits, I decided to try one more place. One of my responders had recommended Skips in Avondale Estates. It was a short trip for me, so I went over there today.
It was a small unassuming place on Avondale Road. The sign outside said, “Skips” and it had a picture of a weenie on it. When I went inside, I got a good feeling immediately. The place was packed with all different kinds of people. Behind the counter, there were four young guys, wearing knit beanies, all moving around constantly, smiling and chattering back and forth between themselves as they assembled the orders, right in front of the customers. I felt like I’d died and gone to Wrigley Field.
The menu listed several varieties of hot dog—Chicago-style, Viennese, and Polish sausage, to name a few. I didn’t know which one to order. I felt ignorant. So I sidled up to the guy at the cash register and whispered that I just wanted a really good hot dog, with nothing on it but mustard. And a chocolate shake. The guy said, “You got it!” and gave me a number. A couple of minutes later, one of the other guys called my number and handed me a plate with my order on it. It had the right look. I carried it to a table and warily took a bite. Immediately, I heard a choir singing in my head—it was perfect! The hot dog I had been searching for, lo these many years! I ate the whole thing. Slowly. Between slurps of chocolate shake.
Thanks to all my Google+ friends for their recommendations! There may be places I didn’t visit that have perfect dogs, too. I won’t deny that. But I’ve found my hot dog home—in Avondale Estates, at Skips!
Larry Blumen is an innovative author with a dryer-than-dry sense of humor. His debut book VD Man takes place in 1965, Miami, Florida, a city that has more cases of infectious syphilis than any city in America—a fact the Chamber of Commerce and the Miami Health Department conspire to cover up. Into this sticky wicket stumbles Allen Kravass, who gives up a cushy job in his father’s bank to pursue a career in syphilis eradication with the federal government. Kravass aspires to be a VD man—a sleuth for syphilis.
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