Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dee's Cart With A Heart

Somehow both Robert and I were too busy to make a hot dog excursion last week; so we were ready for hot dogs at lunch on Thursday. We are at the point where we are having to get a little more creative and go to a little more effort in our quest (to visit every hot dog server in Birmingham). We have both heard several glowing tributes to a hot dog cart in the area of UAB Hospital on Southside; so we decided to start finding the street vendors. We weren't even sure where to find Dee's but had no trouble spotting her at the busy corner of 7th Avenue South and 20th Street. Every day the weather permits, Dee parks her cart just around the corner from tho old University Hospital right outside the Dentistry Building. Her bright umbrella and hot dog shaped cart are hard to miss.

Here's an article about Dee that was in the Birmingham News a while back. LINK

So what did we find at Dee's. A surprisingly good product sold by a busy vendor with a loyal following! I went to our first street vendor prepared to lower my standards due to the difficulties of doing business from a cart only to find that Dee can compete with the best. We placed our order and chose to stand next to the cart to dine rather than walk down the block to some benches. It was interesting to see the mix of customers who came and went during our short time there. We noticed that she greeted several regular customers by telling them their usual order with a question mark on the end. One noticeable customer was a well dressed man in coat and tie who was buying his usual, an all beef dog with relish and mustard. He looked a little sheepishly at us and remarked how he should try some other options sometime; but I think he has found what he likes and doesn't need to experiment any more.

Here are some great positives we noticed:
  • The chili on the chili dogs is definitely fresh home made chili with a great flavor. Maybe she should sell it by the bowl.
  • Her drinks are stored in big tubs of ice and served ice cold.
  • The hot dog shaped cart is a real winner.
  • The prices are among the best values we have found anywhere.
  • Dee is a stickler for hygiene putting on a clean plastic glove every time she starts an order.

There are thousands of people within a close walk of her stand every day; and parking can be difficult in that area. So one would not expect much drive up activity, yet we were able to park within 20 feet of her stand and saw at least one customer pull up and pause in the turn lane for an order, an order that was communicated by a wave. I don't remember seeing anything like this at any of the other places we have visited.

This is one of those places I plan to return to. My next visit will most likely coincide with a trip to UAB for some reason other than lunch, but also will most likely involve some special planning in my schedule. It is worth the effort.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sammy's Old Fashion Hot Dogs

Today Robert and I visited Sammy's Old Fashion Hot Dogs. Sammy's is located in the strip shopping center just east of the location of the old Eastwood Mall. This shopping center is where K-Mart is located and backs up to Montevallo Road near Crestwood Blvd. I give the specific location because it is a little difficult to spot. The narrow space they occupy is located to the right of Dollar General almost behind a huge column.

Sammy's was started years ago by Sammy Guarino who is now a founder of Pop's (see last week). The current owners have had it for years and seem to have built a loyal following. I must say that Sammy's ranks among the friendliest hot dog stands we have visited. Early in our visit Robert told them about this blog and we talked a little about what we are doing. It is easy for these people to think this is a bigger deal than it is so I tried to put things in perspective.

Nevertheless, Michelle who works the counter, came out to talk with us as we ate. During our visit we learned about the pride they take in their hamburgers; we saw one and it definately looked good. Michelle thinks they have far surpassed the big specialty hamburger place nearby. We also talked about other items on the menu as well as some they don't carry. About the time we were finishing "Ike", Michelle's husband and master of the grill, showed up and gave us a "special dog" to try. Robert promptly cut it in half and we woofed it down.

That gray-headed old man is me preparing for my first bite of a Sammy's hot dog.
(Please ignore the expanding waistline)

We had talked about the special dog with Michelle as an item that they also pride themselves in. The few longtime readers of this blog may remember some of my previous comments about special dogs. They have never been a favorite of mine; in fact the usual presentation of a hot dog with a soupy gray beef concoction poured over it is something I really don't care for. BUT, the special dog at Sammy's is the first "special dog" I have ever had that I liked. The beef topping wasn't gray and was spiced sufficiently to add a good flavor. I'm glad I have found one of these special dogs that I like.

Overall the food at Sammy's ranks among the best we have found during the Great Birmingham Hot Dog Tour. The chili on the chili dogs was excellent, as well as their own special hot dog sauce which has a great flavor. We have observed that many hot dogs are served a little on the cold side; but not at Sammy's. The buns were fresh, soft and generally perfect.

I would offer them one piece of advice. I think they would do more business with better signage. As I said above, the narrow little shop is difficult to spot and easily missed. They should try to get a creative sign, maybe neon like Pete's, and have it placed on the big column that hides them from one side. Try to use the architectural barrier that makes them hard to see. Also it wouldn't hurt to redo the sign above their space to get it into good repair with a more eye catching design.

The bottom line is that I plan on returning to Sammy's for more.