Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mr. Sol's Neighborhood

This week we paid a visit to the neighborhood where we grew up. Yes, there is a hot dog stand in Norwood. This was a fascinating journey for Robert and I on many levels. Sol's Hot Dogs on 12th Avenue North at 30th Street is just 3 blocks away from where we spent our early years. Our family moved away from Norwood in 1966 when our house was purchased to make way for I-20/59. Through the years there have been many changes in the neighborhood.

One good change was when Sol's Hot Dogs opened about 5 years after we moved away. Sol's has been there for 39 years and has a loyal following. A not-so-good change in the neighborhood is the appearance of many burglar bars on the store windows. When we drove into Norwood to visit Sol's there was a definite feeling that we had entered "the hood". We quickly learned to put those feelings aside. I would encourage the reader to try Sol's, especially if the neighborhood is one you might not get into very often.

Sol's is a good hot dog stand serving their own unique dogs. The hot dogs are served hot with generous servings of the desired toppings and/or sauce. Their special sauce is unique; it has a slightly sweet flavor somewhat like Gus's downtown but different. The chili on the chili dogs is real chili with a good flavor. All in all our lunch was very good.

When we were ordering Robert asked the guy at the cash register if he was Sol. We found out he is Sol's step-son, Johnny. After a few more questions Johnnie introduced us to his mother, Mrs. Sol (Donna Zarzur) who sat with us as we ate our lunch. We learned a great deal from her. Sol is getting up in the years and is not as active in the business as he once was; so Sol's is managed by Johnnie today. We learned that they have a key employee, Melvina, commanding the cooking area daily; she has been there for 28 years. She is a valued employee that they would never want to do without.
This is just part of the menu which includes foot-long versions of all the dogs as well as other sandwiches and a variety of specials.

Despite the uninviting burglar bars, we were told that in 39 years there has only been one robbery at Sol's. We observed a congenial mix of people dining there. Donna told us of their loyal customer base who continue to come back. This was confirmed when we met the guy at the next table. He grew up, like us, just a few blocks from Sol's and is now a CPA living in Atlanta. He took the opportunity of working in Birmingham a for few days to eat lunch at Sol's again.

How did we end up meeting other customers? We like to photograph the food before we start eating; but totally forgot when Donna sat down and joined us. We had finished but still wanted some pictures; so we asked some of the other diners if we could shoot their food. Guess you have to admit we have guts. Below we have a slaw dog, part of a hamburger and some fries that a new friend let me photograph.
One last note; they are having an anniversary celebration next week starting on Monday August 2nd. If you read this in time stop in and join the fun and special offers. They have put a lot of planning into the celebration.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Second Visit to Klingler's

Just two days ago we visited Klingler's on the Hot Dog Tour. Late that night I posted the previous entry; then last night my wife read the last few entries on the blog. Apparently when she read about our visit this past Friday she started thinking about Klingler's. So I wasn't really surprised when today after church she suggested going to lunch at Klingler's. We both enjoy eating there when we can.

They do a brisk business on Sundays due to many who like to come for their "Special Sunday Brunch". Mrs. Klingler was surprised to see us just two days after the tour visit. She greeted us warmly and thanked me for the good remarks about that visit. We also shared a laugh that I had commented about the attention we attracted.

Since I had just had the sausage platter two days ago, this time I looked to other entries on the menu. Take a look at their menus on their web site: Klingler's. There is no shortage of good choices, many of which are served with a side of their hot German potato salad, marinated slaw, or both. The sides and breads served at Klingler's are outstanding.

Now as for the Hot Dog Tour, I did observe that it's not just the guys who enjoy the sausage platters. An older gray-headed lady came in alone and sat at the table next to us. She is obviously a regular customer since she knew what she was going to order before she even looked at the menu. She immediately ordered the Bohemian Sausage Platter and seemed to really enjoy her diner.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Klingler's - "German Hot Dogs"

This week we set off with a third member for our party. Neither my brother nor I had a real strong inclination as to where we should go, so we started out with our guest, Fred, and hoped he would make the call as to where we would have lunch. He did point us in a direction but in the end I made the last minute decision to go to Klingler's in Vestavia.

Klingler's is an authentic German cafe/restaurant right here in Birmingham. OK, it's not a hot dog stand, yet they offer what I consider the ultimate gourmet hot dog. Their menu has on the "lunch" page a box labeled "Sausage Platters". This is where to go when dining at Klingler's. Prior to this visit I have ordered the Bohemian double smoked sausage platter which I recommended to my companions. My brother, Robert, took my advice and ordered this while Fred and I both ordered the "Schlact Platter" to get one each of three different sausages. After trying them all, my advice is; go with the Bohemian double smoked sausage which has a good smoked flavor and an extra crisp skin. This should be a filling meal for anyone, even with the biggest appetite; especially if one orders the platter with two sausages. Then there is always a big selection of tempting deserts avaliable at Klingler's. Actually on this visit Robert was eyeing the "turtle cheese cake" before we ate and was disappointed to be too full to have some at the end of the meal.

The sausage platter comes with German sauerkruat, potato salad and mustard. There is also a piece of German bread giving the diner the ability to make a sandwich with the sausages and have a "hot dog" if so inclined. Maybe you want a sandwich and maybe you don't, nevertheless, the sausage platters at Klingler's are definitely worth a special trip.

No question, that's a lot of meat. I was able to take a "go box" with enough for dinner. Below is the Bohemian platter that Robert ordered. This is sufficient for most normal people.

Robert was first to make a judgment on our lunch when he said; "This is really good." I must agree that the sausage platters at Klingler's are indeed good and are definitely worth a special trip.

An interesting note here; we attracted a little attention when we photographed the menu and our food. The result was that we actually had a visit to our table by Mrs Klingler who asked if we were enjoying our meal. I have been to this restaurant on numerous occasions but have never before had Mrs. Klingler stop by my table. I suppose one could use this observation at other restaurants to attract some extra attention and service. No.... I'd never do that.

Notice my preference for the "Bohemian double smoked sausage platter". Somehow this isn't an accident. Yes, I like the smoked flavor and the extra crunchy consistency this brings to the skin of the sausage, but there is another connection here. My name is Karl, spelled with a "K", and both Robert and I can claim a Bohemian heritage. All four grand parents of our mother were immigrants to the U.S. from an area previously known as Bohemia, now part of The Czech Republic. Even though we didn't live in an ethnic community we grew up with an awareness of this heritage.

One last note. Once many years ago a young German girl live with us for a while. We learned from her how to make German potato salad using her mother's recipe. That recipe was a little different from the one used by Klingler's yet very similar in many ways. I will end this posting by encouraging all of our "many" readers to try Klingler's sausage platters. You will not be disappointed!

Klingler's dining room.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Max's - An Unexpected Visit

A special welcome to Charlie S. who said he would be reading the blog.

This past week we responded to an ad that was unexpected by us. Actually neither the brother nor I received this ad-via-email, but a close friend forwarded it to me knowing of my interest in hot dogs. The ad (reproduced below) told of their participation in "National Hot Dog Month" and how they are making a special offer this month. The customer can "see double" by ordering one hot dog and getting two for the same price.
Max's Delicatessen

National Hotdog Month2010
So this week we visited Max's Delicatessen located at the Colonnade. Max's is definately not a hot dog stand but since they are embracing "National Hot Dog Month" that was enough reason to go. Also it didn't hurt that it was an easy drive from our work.

We looked at the menu and confirmed with the waitress that the hot dogs at Max's are all of the Jumbo size, so given the special offer we ordered one (with a free second included) chili cheese dog. It comes with a side of fries. We added a second order of fries and our drinks, so by the end of the meal had been well fed. Max's is an up-scale deli that presents itself as a New York style eatery, yet somehow seems more like Mountain Brook than Manhattan. There are various New York photos on the walls as well as other illusions to New York. New York is fine but I like the south and Mountain Brook, while it can be expensive, can also be comfortable. Fortunately there weren't any screaming insane Yankees, and the servers seemed to understand that they were there to serve rather than simply collect tips.

Some of the things we liked were:
* The chili cheese dog (JUMBO) was good!
* We were able to dip our fries in ketchup and steak sauce.

* The menu includes several different varieties of hot dogs that look very interesting. We are both considering a return visit during "National Hot Dog Month".

This an up-scale deli with prices based accordingly. This makes the prices a little higher than we usually see on our hot dog tour.

There was a couple, of the geezer persuasion, who were seated at the next table. The woman felt she needed to tell us we were "cowards", I assume because we didn't each order the two for one deal. This actually helped with the whole New York atmosphere. We, like cultured southerners, totally ignored the comment and enjoyed ourselves unlike New Yorkers who would probably have engaged in a verbal duel.

My advice regarding Max's; give it a try. Maybe a hot dog lover can get his fix while his companions eat their deli fare.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chris Z's

This past week we went to Chris Z's on southside. The location is on University Blvd (aka 8th Avenue South) in the Lakeview District. I seem to remember that once upon a time this was a Sneaky Pete's; but I think that was prior to Chris buying it. The first impression was the large number of trucks in the parking lot; this is a good sign. The next thing I noticed, after the last stop, was Coca-Cola and Golden Flake chips, another good sign.

We ordered and sat down to wait for our order. The walls at Chris Z's are covered completely with various pictures and posters with a large portion based on college sports. This close to the UAB campus, UAB has equal coverage with Alabama and Auburn.

When we picked up our orders we found the hot dogs and chili dogs to be good. Oddly this was the first time on the hot dog tour that my brother and I were adding salt to our hot dogs. This wasn't a big need but did enhance the flavor a little. The chili was good and did indeed taste like chili; and both dogs were served hot in a good bun. We asked Chris about the bun and were told that he steams them but is careful to not over do it thus keeping them from getting too moist. The entire experience demonstrated the attention and care of an owner who takes pride in his product.

Now the interesting part. Before leaving we stopped to talk with Chris a few minutes. When we told him we were in the process of visiting every hot dog place in Birmingham his face lit up. He said enthusiastically; "I wish I could go with you." This guy loves the food industry and especially hot dogs. We came to discover he worked for years at Sam's in Homewood before getting a place of his own. He is also the owner of Jimmy's which he bought when Jimmy Graphos retired. He told us he had started working in the food industry at age 14. He eventually worked for six years as a CPA but returned to the food industry where his heart is. This guy loves what he is doing!

One last thought; he has a dream of seeing a hot dog festival in Birmingham. He can envision having all the hot doggers getting together in one location, each serving his own style of hot dogs. This would presumably be accompanied by entertainment of some sort. I must admit this sounds good; I would go.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Marilyn's is just a little off the beaten track for most people. I went looking for it a couple of weeks before eating there and had a hard time finding it. The location is on the east side of 18th Street between 7th Avenue North and Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Blvd. (previously known as 8th Avenue North). This location is an easy 1/2 block walk from two large buildings, the Alabama Power headquarters and the Bellsouth building. Marilyn's decor seems to feature multiple televisions, strange paneling, the name Pepsi and the Pepsi logo. There was a steady stream of customers, most of whom sat and ate at one of the tables.

This week we had a pleasant experience at Marilyn's. This was the best deal we have found so far. The hot dogs and chili dogs are good. There was nothing to make them stand out in the memory but they are good. My brother asked Marilyn how they cook their hot dogs, to which she replied; "we thow 'em on the grill". We were in agreement that they could have been a little hotter when served. I suspect they had been grilled and were being kept warm on part of the grill. While we were eating this week we discussed some preferences for hot dog presentation and realized we are not in total agreement. More about that subject later.

We both noticed two things missing from their menu; Golden Flake chips and Coca Cola products. We did agree that we missed seeing Golden Flake chips offered since it is our home town chip. We like to support the local economy when given the opportunity. Bottom line, try 'em if you can find 'em.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Where is the tour going?

Each week my brother and I choose the places we visit. There have been occasions when one of us needed to go a particular direction for a business or personal errand; but most weeks we just choose another place from our list. We started out wanting to visit "hot dog stands" but soon had to figure out whether we should include other places where hot dogs are served. We settled on the somewhat subjective standard of including any stand, restaurant or cart that either takes pride in their hot dogs or clearly holds themselves out to the public as serving hot dogs. Thus we will soon visit a smoothie place in Five Points South that has a large "Kosher Hot Dogs" sign in the window. Many of these places are not "stands" and might not even have an area to stand and eat. We initially have tended to go to the downtown area more than anywhere else but plan to visit all around the city. This week we were again downtown to eat at Marilyn's.