Saturday, July 23, 2011

Interesting Hot Dog Recipes

For several months I have been really enjoying a program on the Food Network, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. I haven't seen many hot dogs on there but lots of other interesting food.

Today I was poking around on the Food Network web site and discovered a big hot dog feature from their Food Network Magazine. The feature is "30 Days of Hot Dogs". There are 30 different recipes for preparing and serving hot dogs, some of which are intriguing. For example consider these hot dogs:
  • Chimichanga Dog
  • Pizza Dog
  • Nacho Dog
  • French Poodle Dog
  • Sausage and Pepper Dog (with an Italian flair)
  • Bruschetta Dog
Take a look Here.

Below are some pictures I copied from their site: The Po-Boy Dog, French Poodle Dog & Chimichanga Dog.

Friday, July 22, 2011

V. Richard's - The "Good Dog"

This week my bride and wife of 36 years, the lovely Caroline, pointed out to me an ad in the News for V Richard’s that featured their hot dog. Robert and I got in touch with each other Wednesday morning (our default day to do these excursions) and quickly agreed on her suggestion of an obviously “upscale” destination, V Richard’s.

This place is located on Clairmont Avenue, just east of the Highland Golf Course. I’ve heard of V. Richard’s for years but have never gone there. It is a grocery store/gourmet shop/wine shop/deli/salad/sandwich/hot dog server right in the Forest Park – Avondale area; and is close enough for many to get to at lunchtime without taking extra time.

I don't know how I got a picture without all the salad eaters there, but this is the ordering area.

When we arrived we took a look around at all the interesting items for sale. There are definitely some uncommon items in the inventory here, not to mention an award-winning selection of cheeses. When we finally decided to try to order we found a long row of people along a glass showcase in the back of the store. This assembly of people seemed to have a destination at the far right end where the cashier is located. We asked one of the guys with this group and found out that most of these people were waiting to order and be served a salad (AKA rabbit food). We were thankfully directed toward the cashier to place our orders for non-salad items. I will restrain myself from commenting on why so many people wanted salad rather than real food.

So, we placed our orders for the prominently displayed “Good Dog”. The Good Dog is a quarter pound, all beef hot dog, on a “made from scratch bun”, topped with “sirloin chili” and “house cheese sauce” served with an order of fries. Although it’s not listed as an ingredient it also comes with a very light application of chopped onion. The obvious missing ingredient is mustard. The chili is outstanding and is made using tender chunks of beef, presumably sirloin, rather than the usual ground beef. The cheese sauce is definitely not the usual yellow “nacho cheese” gummy sauce/topping. When served it appears to be simply melted white cheese applied to the hot dog. Robert and I agree that it would be better with a little mustard. That is easily remedied since they have available the usual fast food type of little plastic pouches of mustard.

After we ordered we moved toward the dining area along the front side of the building. We discovered that the tables inside were taken, so we went outside to the deck overlooking the patio. For some reason nobody was dining on the patio in 90-plus degree weather and even the covered deck didn’t have too many occupants. We soon observed some tables inside being vacated, so we also moved in to the air conditioned dining room before our food was served. Yes, call us wimps; but we were more comfortable.

I’ve already given the official description of the “Good Dog”; so I’ll make some comparisons. Hot dogs like this are a little different from the usual hot dog stand offering. At first they appear to cost a little more; but that is often an illusion due to the high prices charged for sides and drinks at many places. The immediate comparisons we made were to Broad Street Deli, Max’s and Johnnie Rocket’s. These places also serve high end dogs that are comparable. They tend to have things in common but are all big dogs. What can I say: this one is another one. It is good, but nothing to motivate rave reviews. The dogs at V Richards are definitely filling and taste good; but are also definitely hard to eat. I don’t know where to lay the blame; but the bottom of the bun tends to dissolve or give way. This could be due to the very big weenie, or the moisture of the toppings, or even the design of the “made from scratch bun”. Regardless, this dog is hard to eat without resorting to a knife and fork. Hey, that’s not necessarily bad, especially when you are sitting at a table. It sure beats the “pencil weenies” served at some places.

Bottom line; give the “good dog” a try. Take the time to look around the store while you’re there. You can even stand in line to get a salad if you are so inclined. Somehow I don’t see many readers of a hot dog blog choosing a salad rather than the good dog.

Woof Woof.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sophia's and Looking for the Twilight Zone

This week we went back to downtown Birmingham. I must confess that I really enjoy going downtown; and as far as hot dogs go, there are lots of choices. It seems that hot dogs have gotten a great deal of "press" recently after the death of Gus Koutroulakis. It was one of these articles that led us to Sophia's Deli.

But before I get to Sophia's, the article that led us there is in the July 2011 issue of Birmingham Magazine. You can read the article Here. Robert and I noticed a couple of inaccuracies in the article, but it is a fun read with lots of good pictures. Take a look.

So where is Sophia's? It's right at the corner of Reverend Abraham Woods Jr. Boulevard and Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard (previously known as 8th Avenue North and 21st Street). They are right on the corner on the lowest level of the parking deck at the Jefferson County Court House. Those who have had to serve jury duty, buy a car tag, renew a drivers license or handle other county related business have likely seen this place.

The surprise is that it when you go in, it is bigger than it looks from outside. Another surprise is that there is a George Sarris look-alike who works there. The owner, Howard Faulk named his deli after his wife, Sofia, who happens to be the sister of George Sarris, the very successful owner of the Fish Market restaurant on Southside. But, it doesn't end there, George's brother, Nick Sarris works at Sophie's, thus the George Sarris look-alike. I must say, these Greek restauranteurs in Birmingham not only know each other, but all seem to be related. That is something that the Birmingham Magazine article alludes to, even if some of the details are wrong.

Howard Faulk & Nick Sarris

Here we were at Sophia's. Sophia was nowhere around due to family issues, but her husband, Howard did a wonderful job of greeting us. We always enjoy interacting with one of these proprietors who is a "people person", and Howard is one. We didn't have to go out of our way to interact with him.

He has been in the hot dog business in Birmingham for decades. Before opening Sophia's he had Toms Hot Dogs located on the southeast corner of 19th Street and 2nd Avenue North, right across from Pizitz. He is proud to show off the first prize ribbon and certificate he won in a competition between all the downtown hot dog stands many years ago. Several of the businesses he competed with are no longer in business; the competition is down. But the fact is that Howard and Sophia were judged to serve the best hot dog in Birmingham many years ago.

How are they today? They are still good. They are served hot and freshly grilled unlike many vendors who serve them warm after they were grilled at some point in the past. Robert was also impressed that they had real fresh lemon available for tea. Sophia's, like all the other hot dog stands in Birmingham, makes their own hot dog sauce, with their own recipe, similar to the others yet unique. These recipes are a closely guarded secret by each maker. Sophia's sauce is prepared by Sophia herself and even Howard isn't sure about the recipe. Her sauce is different, unlike any we have encountered so far. It is loaded with various seasonings and has a flavor that definitely makes these dogs stand out. As usual we ordered both a chili dog and a regular hot dog all the way. There was no discussion as to what they should put on them. Robert and I agreed that we preferred the hot dog to the chili dog at Sophia's. That's a switch for me because I tend to like the chili dogs better.

On this visit for some reason I noticed particularly the pricing on drinks and chips. Both are priced at $1.99; you might as well say two dollars. This is typical for fountain drinks especially where the customer can get refills like at Sophia's. Even so there is a healthy markup making drinks a profit center. The chips (small bags) at two dollars a bag seem a little high to me. I don't particularly like playing games with prices, but this isn't the only place where this happens, so I certainly don't want to reflect negatively on Sophia's.

It was interesting to talk with Howard. He really whetted our appetites for learning a little more history. He was adamant that he could tell the true history of the Birmingham hot dog stands. It has made me want to interview not only him but the other old timers at length. Who knows, maybe we will be able to assemble the definitive history of hot dogs in Birmingham. There is most definitely a unique history here compared with most cities.

A couple of final thoughts about Pete's Famous Hot Dogs. It looks like Pete's will never reopen as it was. Gus had planned on taking his secret sauce recipe with him to the grave and seems to have done so. The wonderful neon sign on his shop has been removed and is reported to be on it's way to the Barber Motor Sports Museum. Yes, Birmingham will miss this unique establishment; but there are still some great hot dogs being served by some long time vendors in town. Try Lyric just a couple of blocks away and Gus's over on Fourth. Sauce is just sauce. I don't think there is any recipe that is so good that it shouldn't be shared with heirs; nor do I think that a flourishing business should die simply because the owner dies. Of course that's only my opinion.

Finally, despite the challenge, we didn't make it to the "hot dog guy at Mazer's on the weekends". We tend to do these excursions during a weekday lunch and don't get together on weekends. We actually pulled in the Mazer's parking lot Friday at lunch; but the hot dog guy wasn't there so we headed on downtown to Sophia's. I wonder where this guy is during the week? Could he be the illusive hot dog guy at Cooper Green that we could never find? Maybe he or they are actually residents of the Twilight Zone.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Surprised at Bistro Pro Vare

WOW, What a hot dog stand!!.

No, it's not really a hot dog stand, but it sure has good food.

This week Robert and I went to a familiar haunt and were surprised with a hot dog. A little over a year ago we would meet for lunch weekly at this place. Robert's younger daughter was in the culinary program at Jefferson State, at the Shelby County campus. Part of the curriculum there is for the students to work for at least one semester in their bistro. When working there each student takes several turns doing each of the different tasks involved in running a restaurant. The bistro is only open at lunch on weekdays during the semester. We found it to be a great place to eat lunch, dining on gourmet food. The menu varies daily since they include items they have been working on/learning recently.

Today we found on the menu something we had not seen before, a "black Angus beef hot dog". Of course hot dogs were not the plan for the day but as soon as we saw this on the menu we knew what our order would be.

Our dogs came with a side of truffle flavored fries and the usual bread basket. So how were they? Better than many. We did enjoy our dogs. They had a unique flavor which didn't surprise either of us; after all this is a culinary school. We kept trying to figure out the identity of the chopped pink plant matter on top. We finally asked and found out that it was marinated onion with a flavor somewhat reminiscent of bread and butter pickles. The dogs came with a light addition of mustard, pickle relish and marinated onion. Also provided were some purple onion and tomato slices as well as some ketchup.

I can't tell you how surprised we were by this offering. The menu always has a couple of fast food items on it such as a couple of different pizzas and a burger. But, the really interesting items are the entree's which can not be predicted. I have eaten some great food here in the last couple of years, including the best Italian dish I have ever eaten. I would recommend this to anyone. You probably won't get a hot dog; but you will most likely enjoy your lunch.

Reservations are suggested, although on this visit there were numerous empty tables. This is an upscale little bistro that is usually fun and good. The prices are very good and tipping is not allowed. To make a reservation call: (205) 983-5214. The location is the left hand end on the ground floor of the above pictured building right off of Valleydale Road.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Great Article and Video About Pete's Famous

I appreciate the comment left by Stephen telling me about this article. Click Here to read another article about Birmingham's recent loss of Gus Koutroulakis who ran Pete's Famous Hot Dogs for years. Be sure and don't miss the short video.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hacienda - "Mexican Hot Dogs"

I haven't had much to write about the last couple of weeks. My brother and companion on this trek, Robert, was seriously injured in an accident recently. I am happy to report that he is doing well and slowly recovering.

So, what about important things like hot dogs?

Last week I took dinner to Robert and family one afternoon. I took Bar BQ and various trimmings to feed a family of 7, yes seven. The Bar BQ I took was from Full Moon on Hwy 280. Robert and I had been talking about moon dogs just prior to this and he had told me how he would like to have one again soon. When I placed my order I also ordered several moon dogs. What can I say, except that as I drove out to his house (way out) I decided to eat a moon dog, then another; so there were two fewer by the time I arived. Have no doubt, these things are good. Take a look at our previous visit to Full Moon for "moon dogs" here.

Moon dogs aside, this week we decided to dine a little closer to where we both work; so we went to Hacienda Mexican Grill on Valleydale Road. The obvious question is; "Why are you writing about going to a Mexican restaurant on a hot dog blog?" The answer, which might not be so obvious is to include "Mexican hot dogs". Early in the planning of this hot dog tour I wanted to include tamales on the tour. I love good hand rolled tamales like we once could get at Mancha's.

Last December Robert and I joined forces to prepare a big batch of tamales. We actually did pretty good as verified by at least one Hispanic who sampled our efforts. After doing this I have a whole new respect for the humble tamale. Preparing these things is very labor intensive. Tamales are not just whipped out in a few minutes. I guess that's why it is so hard to find good hand rolled tamales in Birmingham any more.

I had previously had the lunch order no. 12; Tamale & Chile Relleno, Served with lettuce and tomatoes. I had enjoyed the tamale so much that this time I ordered lunch no. 15; "Two tamales with enchilada sauce served with rice and beans." Comparing the two orders I must admit that I preferred the prior order. Their tamales are clearly hand rolled and have ample filling (not necessarily easily done). Either order will give you a good sample but the one with chili is a little closer to what we gringos expect. The no 15 is good, but to me the "enchilada sauce" tasted more like gravy than a Mexican dish. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed my two tamales and trimmings. I was unquestionably in the "clean plate club".

Robert chose the lunch no. 9, Lunch Fajita, Served with rice, beans, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo and two tortillas (beef or chicken). He chose beef, aka cow. He also rolled some of his lunch into a hot dog like presentation in the tortillas. (Hey, we're still doing hot dogs!)

We left Hacienda well fed and with no complaints.

I was also glad to see that Robert's numerous injuries are healing and to see him walking freely and using both arms. His accident was on a vehicle the likes of which I haven't ridden in many years, a motorcycle. I now address him as Mr. Knievel. This is his second serious accident on one of these devices. His first accident was many years ago in his junior high years. This accident happened to a mature man trying to save money who was being much more careful than that boy years ago. Yet in some circles these machines continue to be appropriately called donor-cycles.

There is another whole story there. The short version is that ten years ago I was a live donor for a kidney transplant, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Please consider being a donor yourself and tell you family so they can help make it happen if the occasion ever comes. It is a "gift of life" for those who receive.

Post Script 7/19/2011. I had another lunch here today with a companion that knows much more than me about Mexican food. I have discovered that the gravy looking sauce is actually traditional enchilada sauce rather than the cheese and salsa type sauce often seen in the US. Live and learn. This is still a good place; in fact my companion raved about his lunch.