Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gus's in Helena - Are there disappointments in life?

Yes there are disappointments in life.

This weeks visit ranks as one of those. This week we went to Gus' Hot Dogs in Helena. We asked the proprietor if this establishment is associated with Gus's downtown. The answer is no. He said that years ago he ran Gus's downtown but isn't associated with them now.

Robert and I as well as Aaron went there to sample their offering. Robert and I each ordered our usual, a chili dog and a hot dog, both all the way. Aaron ordered a chili dog and a "Polish Dog". We all added chips and a drink.

Aaron reported a good experience with the polish dog (see below). The polish dog is served with grilled onions and peppers (no mustard?). Robert and I have continued our practice of ordering a hot dog and chili dog at every visit. We have felt that the same order at every place helps with comparisons.

When we ate our dogs we made the following observations:
  • The "chili" at Gus' is not chili at all, and it's hard to imagine eating a bowl of this stuff.
  • The hot dogs were served at a temperature that is a little cooler than we would like.
  • The onions on the dogs were stronger than any we have yet encountered (this was our 20th hot dog server), I mean POWERFUL.
  • Below average! Sorry about that, I would love to give a better report but must be honest.
I went into doing these visits wanting to be positive and encouraging to the servers rather than critical but I must report a less than wonderful experience here. This has been confirmed by others who are not a part of this initiative.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Let's Go To YaYa's for a Q-Dawg

When you want a Q-Dawg there is only one place to go; YaYa's. This place sure wasn't on my radar screen but it's just the kind of place we have enjoyed visiting. They serve bar-BQ, grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and Q-dawgs. A Q-dawg is a hot dog with kraut topped with pulled pork bar-BQ and sauce. When I talked about this to the folks in the office I got mixed reactions. I admit the concept makes one pause and think a little. It's probably not for everyone, just those who like good food. Of course you don't have to order a Q-dawg; you can get lots of other "samichs", or ribs on Friday or Saturday. For the real adventurer they also have a "nacho Q-Dawg", a Q-dawg topped again with nacho cheese sauce and peppers.

YaYa's is located on highway 119 about midway between Alabaster and Montevallo right in an area known as "Crossroads". We had to look for it because we drove right past it without seeing it the first time. YaYa's is a little trailer parked next to the building at the Pitstop gas station right at the crossroads intersection. We were told about this place by a friend of Robert's, who is the owner of Crossroads Cottage, Home of Forgotten Arts, which is right behind Yaya's.

When you get to YaYa's it doesn't take long before you encounter the proprietor, Tracy Hale who introduced himself to us saying; "Hi, I'm YaYa". This guy is an EXTROVERT and a delight to talk to. He see's himself as not only being in the food business but also the people business. He has quite a sense of humor which can be seen when you read some of his signs such as his posted hours of operation posted as:
MONDAY 10:57 - 3:37
TUESDAY 10:42 - 3:52
WEDNESDAY 10:50 - 4:51
THURSDAY 10:51 - 5:17
FRIDAY 10:37 - 5:67 (This must be another time zone!)
SATURDAY 10:39 - 6:39

He tells you the amount due for your order in "U.S. Currency".

We placed our orders and waited a few minutes while it was put together. We spent that time taking a few pictures and talking with our fellow customers. When we had our food we moved to the dining room, the picnic table under a beach umbrella just to the right of his trailer. I had told him about our mission, to eat at all the hot dog restaurants in the Birmingham area, and about the blog; so he came out and joined us at the table.

He started this business with a trailer restaurant that he took to festivals and other events but decided to find a permanent location so he could do a more consistent business. This is definitely a low budget location and operation but it's not low on quality, enthusiasm or service. They also have very good fried pies... not the factory ones like you get at Micky D's or Milo's... but real fried pies.

Now a few subjective observations:
* The barBQ sauce is a mild tomato based sauce with a good flavor.
* Their soft drinks are canned drinks kept in a cooler on ice!
* We agreed that this was the best value of ANY place we have visited so far.
* You just have to like this guy.
* While good, the Q-dawg wasn't the most flavorful samich I've had... I think a dash of salt would bring out more flavor.
* I have no doubts that I'll make a return visit to YaYa's.
* I'd like to see them serve Golden Flake chips or Zapps.

These hot dog guys like to play with spelling. A couple of weeks ago we went to "Sam's Super Samwichs" and now we go to YaYa's that shows "samichs" on the menu. That's fine... after all there's nothing high folutin bout hot dogs.

Revisiting Mike's in Homewood

Very early on the hot dog tour we visited Mike's Chicago Hot Dogs in Homewood. See Here. We decided we needed to revisit Mike's... or maybe we just wanted to go there again. Either way three of us proceeded to go to Mike's. This time I remembered to take my camera so we now have pictures.

Mike's still looks like somebody's back yard storage building transplanted to downtown Homewood. This visit was Robert and I along with the relatively new participant, Aaron. We also tried to include one of my daughters with no success. Unfortunately we didn't get to go when we thought we would. This kind of blew up our whole plan to meet at Mike's.

Regardless, the three of us got there for lunch. We had learned on our previous visit the Mike's serves "jumbo" hot dogs, and more than one is too much for most normal people; so we each ordered just one dog. I ordered a chili cheese dog while Robert ordered a chili dog and Aaron ordered a hotdog. We were very pleased to discover that they serve not only Golden Flake chips but also Lays and Zapps. I've made it clear that I like Golden Flake, our local chip, but I also like Zapps a great Southern product from Cajun country. So this time we ordered Zapps.

When we got our order we moved to one of the two dining rooms, the one on the right, and proceeded to eat.

These hot dogs are good as well as filling. Here's a couple of observations regarding Mike's:

1 - They have some specials or combos that don't appear on the menu.

2 - Their drinks at 75 cents are a good buy.

3 - They also offer a "Chicago style dog" dressed out like one would get in Chicago... but it's not on the menu.

Bottom line... Mike's is still a great place for lunch.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

THE Hot Dog Blog

There is a guy I work with who just discovered that this blog exists. Everybody else in my office knows about it but somehow he has missed out. I must wonder where he has been the last few months. Of course he can't be bothered with actually reading the blog so he came to my door and asked; "Where would I get the best hot dog?" Rather than one single stand I gave him a short list of my favorites.

This made me start thinking about favorites and started a dialogue with Robert about our favorites. We discovered that we are not totally on the same page here and particularly don't remember as much as we would like about every visit. So we have made two decisions. First we are going to revisit a few places and second I have generated an evaluation questionnaire we are going to start using on all our visits. As we talked we discovered that on our recent visit to Sam's which was an "early lunch" Robert had been snacking during the morning and as a result was not particularly ready for lunch and accordingly not especially impressed. We will endeavor to keep that from happening again.

I will not rank my current list of favorites. I think they are all so close that any one could be the top on any given day. They are in alphabetical order:
Chris Z's
Full Moon Bar BQ
Jimmy's (Owned now by Chris of Chris Z's)
Lyric Hot Dogs
Sam's Super Samwichs
Scott's Koneys

This list could very possibly change but for now it's good.

One more item; I have not found ANYONE who has ever clicked the link on the left side of this blog to a "must see video". If you are interested in the history of hot dogs in Birmingham you have missed something good. This video was done by the "Southern Foodways Alliance" associated with Ole' Miss. Their purpose is to preserve, promote, and chronicle the culinary standards of the South.
The video is HERE. They also have some other interesting videos on this same video hosting site.
Their web site telling more about what they are doing is: Here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sam's Super Samwichs

Yes, that's right, we finally went to Sam's Super Samwichs in Homewood. I have intentionally moved Sam's down the list so we would visit other places first. For many years my office was very close to Sam's and I became a regular customer. I have always considered one of the best hot dog stands I know of.

On this visit we had an entourage of four. We went for an early lunch which is a switch from our usual late lunch. When we arrived Sam didn't seem to be around. We later found that he was in the back working on some sauce. I enjoyed a short conversation with him before we left. I'm sure the reader remembers my previous posting regarding the Graphos family. Sam's was started and is still run by Sam Graphos, one of the three Graphos brothers.

His heritage in the hot dog business has translated into a top drawer product.

Robert and I each ordered our usual hot dog and chili dog, both "all the way" along with chips and a drink. We both added red pepper from one of the shakers on the counters. We ordered Golden Flake chips (We like to support the local company) and a drink. Here came the source of my one complaint for this visit. I ordered a Coca Cola but immediately realized that Sam's doesn't carry Coca Cole products, BOO HISS. I tried to get the attention of the old geezer who was preparing drinks so as to change my order but he dutifully gave me a Pepsi. I didn't think it was worth making an issue over so I took the Pepsi. As I consumed it I renewed my conviction that I really don't care for Pepsi.

Other than that we had a great meal. I continue to love the chili dogs at Sam's. My opinion is that they are perfect. You will never go wrong at Sam's.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kosy Flavor - Five Points South

Kosy Flavor is this place this week.

I spotted this place a couple of months ago but just got around to visiting there this week. Kosy Flavor is a smoothy/ice-cream/hot dog place located in the Five Points South area. They are right next door to the well known pancake house. We included them in The Great Birmingham Hot Dog Tour since they have a large sign in the window advertising "Kosher Hot Dogs".

So Robert, Keith and I set off in the Keithmobile and ended up at Kosy Flavor. We were concerned that parking might be difficult in five points but actually found a convenient parking place quickly. Kosy Flavor was quiet; maybe too quiet. We couldn't help but wonder how long they will last, based on the business (or lack thereof) we observed.

Kosy is a very clean little place. We encountered a staff consisting of two Hispanic girls, one of whom spoke fairly decent English. The other didn't appear to understand much in the gringo tongue. The hot dogs are clearly billed as "jumbo" so we each ordered only one. They have a great deal, the combo of a hot dog, chips and a drink for about $4.00. The prices for their hot dogs and chili dogs seem to charge an extra premium for chili, but in the combo there is no additional charge. This might be a language problem or an oversight in setting up the buttons on the cash register; nevertheless the chili dog combo is a good deal.

The hot dogs come wrapped in a paper that labels them as "Nathen's". Robert took the initiative to ask about the hot dogs and discovered that they come from Sam's and the current staff couldn't remember the brand name. That's OK with me since my limited experience with Nathan's hot dogs has left me somewhat unimpressed.

These hot dogs were almost perfect. They were served hot with a very good chili. They didn't ask what we wanted on the chili dogs (I think the language barrier contributed). Robert and I like to have a little mustard and some onions (gardenias) on the chili dogs and missed having this added. We were able to add some mustard before we finished which helped.

All in all.... this is a good hot dog. Give it a try, SOON, they might not be around much longer based on the business we saw. This place was slow... I tried to talk to the one employee who appeared to understand some English and asked about the business flow there. I don't think she totally comprehended what I was asking; but she did indicate that business is usually slow.