Here are some hot takes on hot dogs, many of which you will likely disagree with:
- They are generally, but not always, superior to hamburgers.
- Ones that include pork are better than the all-beef variety, even though the latter is thought of as the gold standard.
- I wish I could find a decent vegetarian one. I’ve tried many over the years, and although I’m usually quite happy with a veggie burger, I have yet to find a veggie dog that seems worth eating.
- Ketchup is for children.
- Boiled can be just as good as grilled.
- Buns should be toasted.
- Toppings are a good addendum, but should rarely be the whole point. Bon Appetit recommends a combination of mayo, corn relish, raw tomatillos and Taijin that is damn delicious. (JB is still the king in this arena, and his regular presence downtown with his Polish sausage cart is something I will miss forever.)
In honor of Flagpole’s now-annual hot dog legs cover, I set out to eat hot dogs at a whole bunch of different places in Athens, which may have contributed to dehydration on my part, but was otherwise not a hardship.
If you’re not willing to make the drive out to Billy Meadow’s Station, in Colbert, the closest you can get otherwise is ADD Drug (1695 S. Lumpkin St., next to Earth Fare, 706-548-2239), the old-timey soda fountain that’s been open in Five Points since 1961. Better known for its milkshakes and fries made to order, the counter also offers three kinds of hot dogs: plain, cheese and slaw. Most places of the type also have chili dogs, but ADD doesn’t need more than three. The cheese dog—just a slice of cheese melted on a hot dog—is good, but the slaw dog is better, almost the equal of the one at Billy Meadow’s in its straightforwardness. The bun is lightly toasted, warm on the outside, and the slaw—finely chopped cabbage, salt, mayo, no sugar, not even carrots—balances it with cool creaminess in just the right proportions. It should be noted that you can get two hot dogs and a drink for far less than $10, which is quite a deal for Five Points.
The appeal of The Varsity (1000 W. Broad St., 706-548-6325) is more rooted in nostalgia, especially if you ignore its history in the civil rights movement in Athens, as an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article last year did. For a lot of people, its slaw dogs and chili dogs are the gold standard. If you didn’t grow up going there, they don’t have the same appeal—partially because the buns aren’t generally toasted—although the onion rings certainly do. The best hot dog it offers is one that isn’t even listed on the menu, topped with pimento cheese. To melt the cheese a bit, the whole dog is briefly toasted on the griddle, adding just a little bit of crisp to the exterior, and the cheese itself—available as a topping on pretty much anything else—is good, not sugary.
Hi-Lo Lounge (1354 Prince Ave., 706-850-8561) is a little harder to get to than usual lately, what with construction blocking a good part of its sidewalk, but it’s one of the first places people mention when you tell them that you’re looking for a place to eat hot dogs, because it has seven different options. The buns are a tiny bit too dry, and the slaw dog doesn’t work at all—the cabbage is sliced too thick, and there’s not enough mayo—but some options are right on. The best thing it offers in this category is the corn dog, which doesn’t even need mustard, it’s so well executed, with a nice, thick batter that’s savory rather than sweet. Second best is the kraut dog, topped with hot sauerkraut and brown mustard, and the 1908 dog—Chicago style, with mild hot peppers, celery salt, pickle, tomato, onions and yellow mustard—is a close second. The house-made chow chow was unavailable when I went, but I’d bet on that one being good, too.
Walk down the sidewalk, whenever it’s open again, to Half-Shepherd Market and Cheese Shop if you want to try making your own hot dogs with the ones made by Pigman Goods, out of Atlanta, available in all-beef—long and skinny, with a good snap—and cheddarwurst. Pulaski Heights BBQ offers the beef ones with a variety of toppings from time to time, but you have to get lucky, and they sell out fast.
If you would like to push your capacity, Catch 22 Gastropub (1021 Parkway Blvd., 706-549-6333) offers something called the Homewrecker that involves a foot-long hot dog nestled in a series of still-connected Hawaiian rolls with a slit in them—it’s too big to fit in a standard bun—and topped with pimento cheese, candied jalapeños and barbecue sauce. It is, like many other things on the menu, pretty extra but surprisingly successful. It comes with a side, served on a board, and there’s a good shot it could feed two people for lunch. You may regret trying to eat the whole thing.
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