Monday, June 20, 2011

This Just Wasn't Our Day

We have visited well over 30 hot dog vendors as we have been on The Great Birmingham Hot Dog Tour. Robert and I are based very close together in northern Shelby County; so it is a challenge for us to get to some areas on the tour. Recently we realized that it was a good week for both of us to take a little longer than usual for lunch, so we decided to go for one of the vendors we have missed so far.

The first choice was Dino's Hot Dogs in Woodlawn at 5422 1st Avenue No. Robert asked his son Alex to spot this place for us a day before we were going, but he couldn't find it. We then tried to call the phone number we had for Dino's and found it disconnected. NEXT!

We decided to visit the Dawg House in Center Point. The GPS Couldn't locate their address and their phone was no longer in service. So, NEXT.

The next choice was Paul's Hot Dogs on Edward's Lake Road in Trussville. Please be aware that by this point we were on the way... headed to a destination. Unfortunately the Paul's Hot Dogs on Edwards Lake Road is nowhere to be found. So at the last minute we decided to visit Big Al's Hot Dog Wagon. Big Al's is the hot dog vendor who is located on most days in front of Lowe's in Trussville. It was manned again by Chris Sellers without Big Al, just as on my previous visit.

One of my desires on the tour is to find something positive to say about every place we visit. Sometime that is a challenge. This week I will start with the positive. When you go to Big Al's you can definitely get enough to eat. The hot dogs are consistently plump (no pencil weenies here) with ample toppings. W e have observed that fellow patrons are very open to discussing the experience. These patrons are consistently appreciative and loyal. They also have a perfect health score against all odds for a cart.

We each got a chili-cheese dog and a regular dog. Toppings offered are gardenias (onions), kraut, relish, mustard, ketchup and an oriental style of hot sauce. For the chili-cheese dog, they add Hormel chili sans beans and nacho cheese sauce – the kind you can purchase at Sam’s in a number 10 can. We had the regular dog all-the-way, and the chili-cheese dog with mustard, gardenias, chili and cheese. Robert had jalapenos added to his (see below). Flavor-wise, the regular dog was about average. The chili-cheese dog was pretty good, and needed to be eaten with a knife and fork. Big Al had plastic forks, but no knives. For the record, let me say that the need to eat a loaded dog with knife and fork is not a negative. Some of the better “loaded dogs” out there must be eaten with knife and fork. In this case, since we had no knives, we were delighted that Big Al’s cart had a sink for hand washing.

Now for a few less than glowing comments. A hot dog cart has challenges every day. I am sure that dealing with those challenges gets old but they are nevertheless there every time they open for business. Some of these challenges are to serve a HOT dog, to serve COLD drinks, and to keep it all sanitary. Big Al's seems to be missing a couple of these. Our hot dogs were served warmish but not hot. The drinks were in a bin that had had ice on them a few hours ago, unfortunately we observed there was an ice container that had numerous bags of ice that could have been added to the drink bin. Our drinks were cool but not cold. Somehow it is easy for me to overlook this at a cart but there were also some other negatives that I won't detail.

Bottom line, at Big Al's you can definitely get a good lunch if you are hungry; and you can have a good time with the locals; but don't expect a great meal. It's difficult to argue with the opinion of the masses but I must confess that I don't think I will be returning to Big Al's unless I am right in the vicinity and am very hungry.

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