Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's Ho Down!

This past Saturday I went to a client's establishment for a rare Saturday appearance. On the way there I noticed a Bar-BQ truck/trailer/vendor in a bright red truck and trailer on a vacant lot along Highway 11 just west of Dearfoot Parkway. I asked my clients who have a fixed base operation less than a mile away if they had ever tried it. They had not. Even so, I was hungry and thought I would stop and get some Bar-BQ. So I stopped at the red truck and trailer with a couple of guys sitting next to it in lawn chairs.

My experience is that these side of the road guys often have some really good offerings, which was the case here. Although I wasn't looking for dogs, I immediately noticed them on the menu. I was in the mood for Bar B Q so that had to be part of my order; but I also asked about the dogs.

I was told that their hot dogs have a special seasoning that brings people back asking for more. That was enough to get me to order one. I asked the guy at the window how he liked his dogs. The answer I got was far from creative; he likes catchup and mustard... that's it. I must say it kind of dampened my enthusiasm a little. I did finally order a dog with kraut, catchup and mustard. I tend to default to what the "house" thinks is good. Somehow I missed the optimal hot dog experience at Ho Down as mine was lukewarm and seemed to have no special seasoning. It was OK but nothing special as far as I was concerned. The menu offered dogs with chow chow or with slaw but there was no "signature dog" that they had decided was the way to serve a hot dog. Perhaps they should give this a little attention.

As I talked with these guys I learned that some customers have requested a hot dog topped with Bar-BQ (think Q-dog) or moon dog. It seems a shame that they haven't put enough creativity into their menu to push their own unique hot dog.

Now on the other side, the Bar-BQ is wonderful. You will not find better Bar-BQ anywhere. I like lots of different kinds of sauces, but when I find a bar BQ that tastes this good in a mild sauce like theirs, I know I have found the real thing. Even if they don't know how to market a hot dog, their Bar-BQ is good.

Now a little more about Ho Down: This trailer is an engineering marvel. If you are there ask about the trailer. The roof is covered with solar panels so that they have no need to connect to Alabama Power and pay no power bill. They cook meat 24/7 with the use of gas to heat the cooker supplemented by a wood chamber that provides smoke.I would like to see them figure out how to smoke the dogs before they serve 'em. And maybe serve them a little warmer. Regardless of the dogs, this rig is a real marvel.

So if stop at Ho Down (the red truck and trailer) try some Bar-BQ and tell them to warm you up a hot dog and pile on some Bar-BQ. I bet you will not be disappointed especially if they have started smoking the dogs.

I had a recent comment about Lulu's in Trussville. This a long trip for at lunch time; but we plan to visit Lulu's soon.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


There is a new burger joint at The Colonnade. Just down from Taziki's and Pablo's on the corner you will find Mooyah Burgers. I had spotted this place a few weeks ago and took the lovely Caroline there for a burger last week. While there I noticed the hot dogs on the menu and quickly realized I would be returning soon to try the dogs. It didn't take long to get back since I found myself in the area at lunchtime a few days later.

My first impression was; this place is kinda like Five Guys. Kinda like but not a clone. Mooyah is more polished and concentrates on service. They don't have the peanuts that Five Guys has, but I didn't miss 'em once I got my order. Who needs peanuts when you get servings like this?

On my first visit, Caroline and I had burgers and fries. The burgers were big, tasted great and the fries were served in massive quantities. On my second visit I was aiming for a dog or two. I started with one dog, a small order of fries, and a drink. I figured I could always order a second if I wanted one. When you order at Mooyah you check the boxes on a menu/order sheet to select your sandwich and it's components. I selected a fresh baked white bun and a hot dog topped with mustard, grilled onions and relish. The one topping I would have ordered if they had was kraut. I guess a restaurant that specializes in burgers doesn't have many calls for kraut. Once I started eating I didn't miss it. The toppings available include all of their various burger topping which make for some interesting options.

When my dog came I first had to find it in the bag. I had ordered a small order of fries which looked more like a jumbo order when it came. The fries had filled the fries container easily, then more had been dumped into my bag burying my hot dog under a heavy layer of fries. When I finally opened my dog it had been split down it's length and grilled.I was impressed that the fresh baked bun did not break open on the bottom like I have seen similar hot dogs do. I was really impressed with the flavor! I found out that they use an all beef, Hebrew National dog. when they split and grill it there is a wonderful flavor. I have said many times that as I try hot dogs I really appreciate the unusual. Mooyah has succeeded in blending the expected with the unexpected to make a unique hot dog.

I was alone on this visit since Robert is in Oregon for a couple of weeks for family visits and a wedding. I look forward to his return so I can take him to Mooyah for a dog. Next time I think we should split one small order of fries so we can get two dogs.

I can eat out of a bag and a wrapper with the best of ''em, but a paper plate would have been nice to have. Maybe they should make these available over by the drinks or somewhere. It would have made this old timer feel just a little more comfortable. Even so, I will return.

Before I left I was taking a few pictures and apparently attracted the attention of Josh Barrow one of the owners. I had a nice talk with him and heard of their plans to open several more of these places in the Birmingham area. His three man group has purchased the Alabama rights to open more of these restaurants. They want to have a high standard for service to the customer and they are off to a good start. Mooyah's opened first in Dallas and has their largest concentration of locations in Texas but is spreading across the country. We will probably be seeing more of Mooyah in the future.

Another Visit:


Here we are a couple of days after I posted the entry above. Today, Sunday, Caroline wanted to meet Susie and Aaron at Mooyah for lunch after church. So, there we were. I had raved about the hot dogs so she wanted to try one. (Listen folks, this is rare, that she is asking to try a hot dog). This was an unusually warm December day; so we ate outside.

We did have hot dogs, burgers and fries. Caroline and I each had our own dog and then split a "Mooyah Little Burger" and a small order of fries. This was enough to more than fill us. This time we had our dogs in fresh baked whole wheat buns which fit the split and grilled dog real well. We had different toppings than I had ordered the first time; and we both loved our hot dogs. The service continues to be good; and they still don't have plates (boo) but the food is good.

They were doing a brisk business and they still don't have platres, but the food is still good!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Takeout from Max's

I have been away from this blog too long. When I was making the post about the barkers at Riff Burgers recently I discovered the following entry I had written but never posted three months ago. So here it is with a new ending added.

Max's Deli at the Colonnade continues to be a high end deli. I recently picked up takeout for some family members, one of whom wanted the "1962 Dog".

The "1962 Dog" is a quarter pound kosher Dog with slaw, onions & BBQ sauce, served with a side of steak fries. This is a meal in itself.

I opted for the "Russian Reuben" which is: Pastrami on grilled rye with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. This has come to be a favorite sandwich of mine. As I write this I consulted the online menu to verify the ingredients of this sandwich and find that the description on the menu lists slaw instead of kraut. Whenever I've had this sandwich it has come with kraut, as it did this time. I believe the menu used to list kraut rather than slaw as an ingredient. I'm going to have to ask about this. If it is slaw it must be a sour rather than sweet slaw.

You might remember that when we discussed Chicago style hot dogs a while back I concluded that Max's Chicago is the nearest thing to authentic that you will find in Birmingham. They clearly take pride in their hot dogs at Max's. My focus at Max's has been on the Chicago style dogs and I've never tried the "1962 Dog".

This is a BIG hot dog that to some degree dwarfs the fries served with it. The report I got from Aaron who ordered the "1962 Dog" was that it was outstanding. The red sauce on top is a sweet bar-b q sauce that perfectly compliments the sour slaw. I guess I need to try one myself. As I write this I have decided to get one this week; so I might add to this entry before I post it.

I must stop and speak up for Steve Dubrinsky, the owner operator of Max's. A while back he was quoted in the Birmingham News as commenting on how Alabama's new immigration law has made even legal workers uncomfortable. After that many people who are passionate supporters of the law decided to twist his statement and accuse him of either hiring illegal aliens and much worse. All of these comments have been far from the truth. At the time of the article he had 9 LEGAL latinos working in his restaurant. If you click on the link above to Max's website the first thing you will see is a message from Steve in response.

Here's the afterthought added much later. I did try the 1962 dog at Max's just a couple of weeks after I saw Aaron eat his. My reaction was much like my reaction to the "Beale St. dog" at Riff Burger. I don't care for slaw on hot dogs, and don't want a sweet sauce on my hot dogs. That made two strikes for me on this dog. I like a little sweet relish if it is balanced with some good sour toppings like mustard and kraut. This was just too sweet for my taste. If you like this kind of thing like Aaron does, I say; "Help yourself". Just let me get one of their other dogs and I'll be very happy. Max's remains a favorite of mine.

As I look back over this I see I mentioned the Birmingham News when I wrote this back in the days when it was a local paper published daily. I still miss what was a pretty good paper for a city our size. Since it is now the print version of a news website for Alabama's four largest cities it seems to be quickly becoming irrelevant and uninteresting to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Barkers" at Riff Burgers

This week we cranked up the the hot dog tour again. I really appreciate my friends who tell me about the new dogs in town. In this case, Beverly told me about a recent trip to Riff Burgers the "new" burger seller in Hoover. Take a look at their web site and their link to a map. It will show you right where they are, near Taziki's, across Hwy. 31 from Hobby Lobby.

Riff Burgers is a burger place that seems to take great pride in their food. There are many choices for toppings along with an interesting variety of sides that are offered along with a good choice of beverages. Again, take a look at their web site and see the menu.

 This is clearly a burger restaurant, but we went because of the "barkers" (hot dogs) on the menu. This reminds me of our long time neighbors, the Barkers, who for many years had two dogs known to us as "the Barkers barkers". Riff Burgers' barkers are offered as chili dogs, Chicago dogs, Beale St. BBQ dogs, and plain dogs, all made with Hebrew National all beef hot dogs. I didn't ask but I would wager that you could order a dog made with any of their burger toppings and "build your own" creation. It was obvious that they want to please the customer.

On this visit Robert and I arrived toward the end of the noon to one lunch hour. There were still numerous tables occupied in the dining room, but we had our choice of places to eat. There is an interesting large multi-pane garage type door in the side wall facing the outdoor seating area. I would like to eat here some mild day when they have that open.

We were waited on by Eric Pilkinton the manager who was very helpful. The prices as stated on the menu are all for dogs served with a side. We wanted to try all three of the dogs listed on the menu but just get two sides. That was easily done and the price of the extra side was deducted from our total.

When the dogs came we immediately used the real metal knives and forks (not plastic) to cut all three dogs in half so we could each have some of all three dogs. I guess we were hungry and a little rusty in our hot dog tour skills. I had to run out to the car to get my forgotten camera after we had ordered. It has always been kind of a ritual to take pictures of the food before we start. It did dawn on us before we ate, but after we had cut the dogs up; that's why you see the picture with the dogs cut in half.

I have commented before about how we sometimes get immediate attention when we start taking pictures. Well, that didn't happen this time as we were in a back corner not easily observed. This day we tried to keep a low profile until we had eaten.

OK, the big question is; "How were the dogs?" Robert and I agreed that of the three we had the chili dog was the best. The chili is good and cooked to the perfect consistency to be a topping. The dog is full but not too full to be picked up and eaten. It was made in a freshly steamed bun as was the Beale St. dog.

The Chicago dog was very authentic. We found out that Eric agrees with my take on the infamous "sport pepper", that most of these are not very good. That's why they pickle their own at Riff Burgers. Their home-made pepper comes out on the mild side but definitely softer than the usual offering. Their Chicago dog seems to have all of the required ingredients in a dog that's fairly easy to eat. If you aren't familiar with Chicago dogs take some time and google them on the web or look back at some of my posts in early 2011. The Chicago style dog is different from what we usually see around here, the dog I have dubbed the "Birmingham dog".

The other dog we tried on this visit was the "Beale St. BBQ Dog. I spent a short time looking this up and Beale Street is in Memphis. I've never heard of this particular type of dog until now. They make if with a sweet BBQ sauce, pickled veggie relish and coarsely chopped slaw. If you like slaw and sweet BBQ sauce this dog is a good choice for you. It's not something I would personally go out of my way for; but I'm sure there are people who would like it.

On the way out we stopped and talked with Eric a couple of minutes. We told him about the blog and took a few pictures up front. He then wanted to make sure we tried something on the menu that he is really proud of. So he rushed back to the kitchen and brought us a sample of their "fried pickled veggies" with ranch dressing. He told us how they pickle the veggies themselves with a kind of "bread and butter" pickle recipe. They contain cucumbers and a little onion and red bell pepper, all battered and fried. I understand why he wanted us to try them because they are very good. This would be a good thing to start with while waiting on sandwiches.

One final factoid, this place used to be called Baha Burgers. They recently redecorated, came up with a new name and modified the menu. Eric told us how the old name actually kept some people from ever trying them since they didn't want a "tropical burger" whatever they think that is. I was a fairly regular customer of the old Baha Burger location at the Colonnade (now gone) and know they had good burgers, most of which were in no way "tropical".

Friday, August 10, 2012

Flat Nutrisystem Hot Dogs?

OK, as far as I'm concerned this is clearly in the category of weird.

I was humoring the lovely Caroline recently by shopping with her at Big Lots. I certainly didn't anticipate encountering a hot dog at Big Lots; but life is full of surprises.

Here it is... a turkey hot dog in a pretty flat little box no more than a half an inch thick. It's all ready to be microwaved and devoured for a satisfying (?) lunch. Please notice the picture that even shows a somewhat flat hot dog in a bun (not included). I thought this was so bizarre that I was really tempted to buy one just so I could open it up and see what it looked like. I restrained myself.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tasty Dogs - Cart at Wildwood

A while back we visited another hot dog cart. The cart that goes by the name "Tasty Dogs" is a regular fixture outside the front door of Lowe's at Wildwood. I had spotted this guy one day when I had just eaten; so I made a note. We tried on another occasion to eat there but that day he wasn't at his regular station.

But we did finally connect.

Some of our past episodes have convinced us that eating at a hot dog cart can be a little bit of an adventure. You don't know quite what you'll get. It can range from the best hot dog you ever had (That really happened!) to a somewhat regrettable experience.

Tasty Dogs ranks toward the upper end of that spectrum for carts. This guy knows what he is doing. He's a musician in his other life,but makes a pretty good hot dog by day. His cart is right there with all the John Deeres and other equipment on display right in front of Lowes. But Lowe's also displays picnic tables at the other end of the covered front area; so one can actually sit down there rather than eating standing up or in the car.

This would be a good place to stop for a quick lunch if you find yourself in the Wildwood area.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A New (To Us) Cart

We are always on the lookout for hot dog servers that are new to us. So, when Robert spotted a new cart downtown we put it on our short list of places to visit (Unfortunately, the whole list is short since we have visited so many).

This visit was to Greg's Hot Dogs, the new cart in town. Greg Nuckolls likes to park his cart at the corner of 5th Avenue and 20th Street (southeast corner) where once upon a time the original Tutwiler Hotel stood. These days he is in front of a steel and glass office tower that is currently totally empty. There was talk of converting this building into a hotel but it remains empty.

So, this day we headed downtown to visit this hot dog cart. The weather has bee a little unpredictable lately due to the summer rains and storms; but this day was beautiful. A perfect day to dine alfresco (I think that means outside).

Greg has a "cart"; but it's hard to call it a cart. It is pulled as a trailer into location daily with lots of other coolers and equipment carried in the tow vehicle. These cart guys definitely work hard to make their sales. Set-up and take-down every time they work. Add to that licenses, health inspections and the mandated commissary where the cart/trailer is cleaned and prepared every time. They also deal with weather and the various whims of the city government.

Let's talk about dogs! Greg has good hot dogs. It's hard to maintain the standards one would have in FBO (fixed base operation) from a cart, but Greg does a pretty good job. We had our usual first visit order of a hot dog and a chilli dog. Actually Greg doesn't have a standard "hot dog all the way" or "chili dog all the way". He prefers for the customer to tell him exactly what to put on the dog. The dogs we ordered and ate were outstanding (not just out standing on the sidewalk) but outstanding food. I don't think you can go wrong at Greg's. We were so busy eating these good hot dogs we almost forgot to stop and take pictures. We did manage the picture below of a custom chili cheese dog.

My only complaint, if it is a complaint, is that he has way more topping than he reveals on his menu. Only after talking with him a while did we learn that he has a few specialty dogs up his sleeve. One of these sounds like it's worth a special trip. He told us about a blue cheese dog. He like to add sauteed onions, kraut, a little Tabasco chipotle sauce and blue cheese to a dog. My mouth waters just writing this.
Of note also, take a look at his health inspection rating below. It doesn't get any better.

Greg has a history in the food service industry and chose a hot dog cart for his operation when he returned to Birmingham. I was particularly encouraged to find that he had read much of this blog as he was making up his mind about what he should do in Birmingham. When I started telling him about the blog he stopped me and told me he had read most of it already and was glad we had come for a visit.

Lastly, I couldn't help but think about Steve Malone who used to park his cart just one block north of this location. Look back Here and Here. Steve served the best hot dog I have ever eaten prior to his early death from pancreatic cancer. He left his mark in this world and his life continues to remind me that we are all a breath away from eternity. We need to live our lives accordingly.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Catching up

Where have we been? Good question. I guess I've been a little off pace during the first of the summer. I have my excuses, but I'll sum it up by saying; "Life is hard."

The lovely Caroline and I have had two different times of keeping two different two year old grandchildren for many days and nights. Wow, these kids are fun and touch the heart, but it's not always easy for some of us to take care of two-year-olds around the clock.

Then to follow that, Susie (our youngest daughter) gave birth to our sixth (count em) grandson.

Regardless, what about hot dogs? As I said in my previous post we have been making a few return visits as well as looking for some new places to visit.

A few days ago Robert and I started out to visit a new (for us) hot dog cart downtown. Robert had spotted it a week before and stopped by to talk with the guy. Unfortunately, the day we headed downtown to try his dogs there had been a weather forecast of rain around noon resulting in the guy not showing up.... (Wimp). So we decided to head for Homewood on our way back toward our respective offices.

The plan was to visit Mike's Chicago Dogs since there has recently been a change in ownership/management there. But, when we got there it was obvious that the new owners had not yet figured out how to serve on a timely basis. We saw numerous folks standing around waiting for their orders and watched the cashier take a very long time to review the order and finally poke the food out the window for one customer. We decided we would wait and try again at a later date. I hope these new owners can get this right.

So, when we left there we went a couple of blocks down the street to Salem's Diner. Actually I had been there on a Saturday about a week before but Robert had never been there. It was a good choice. Salem's is becoming one of my favorites!

On my previous visit I had a chili dog combo with a chili dog, a mix of fries and onion rings and a drink. The chili dog was one of those that needs to be eaten with a knife and fork. Being not terribly hungry, I was well fed with just one dog. On that day I opted for one of the Philly Cheese sandwiches which are the specialty of the house. Robert had a chili dog combo like I had eaten a few days before. He agreed with me that these dogs are among the best we have had. The option of a combo including their perfect onion rings also takes it up a notch.

Salem's is a must try place in the Birmingham area. Wayne Salem and his helper Ernie Dease will make you at home. I will give this advice; the place is small so you might need to wait for a seat. Then if you are at a table, watch the flow of people and try to finish up and be on your way if they are full.

Now here's another recent visit. We have gone back to G-Dogs a couple of times. Read about our previous visit Here. These revisits are fun. When we make our first visit we have a standard order of a hot dog all the way and a chili dog (also all the way). The revisits give us an opportunity to try more of the offerings. Below You can see our latest orders. I decided to try their sausage dog and a corn dog. Robert ordered a chili dog and some chili cheese fries.

I would say that between the two items I ordered I liked the sausage dog better. There is something about recipe used by whoever makes some of these previously frozen corn dogs that tastes a little too sweet for me. Nevertheless, G-Dogs remains a good choice for hot dogs in the Hoover area.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Year Two for 3rd Grade Hot Dog Day

Let’s talk about hot dogs. I can’t believe it’s been over six weeks since I posted here. We have continued to make visits to hot dog sellers around here with an emphasis on revisits. We are coming to realize that we have been to most of the hot dog sellers in the area, yet we do hear of or spot a new one occasionally.

But this post isn’t about one of our usual visits. Back in May, right at the end of school, Robert and I served charcoal grilled hot dogs to a bunch of third graders. For the second year now we had hot dog day for the third grade class taught by my son-in-law, Aaron. He teaches at Restoration Academy in downtown Fairfield. Restoration is an urban Christian school that does a wonderful job with these kids. You can read about last year Here.

This year I made a visit to his class a few weeks before hot dog day. My goal was to encourage them to try some toppings other than the usual ketchup and/or mustard often used by kids. I took a few pictures of some “serving suggestions” and led a lively discussion. I concluded that the visit wasn’t needed because I heard a big variety of preferences. So, as I prepared for the big day I collected a huge variety of condiments some of which I had never even had before.

On hot dog day Robert and I arrived early to unload and set up a grill and serving table under the big old trees in Fairfield City Park, right across the street from the school. We were then joined by the very pregnant “Miss Susie” my daughter, the wife of the teacher Aaron. I manned the grill and started some regular Oscar Myer dogs, polish sausages and smoked sausages as well as a pot of chili.I included the sausages after having had some great hot dogs made with these during the last year. I have particularly come to like the hot dog size smoked sausages and convinced a few to try one for the first time.

I also added something that I've never found commercially. I bought some really big chicken breasts and cut them into long fat strips. I then marinated them in Moor's Marinade (Dale's is also good) and grilled. These "chicken dogs" were served in a hot dog bun with Zoe's slaw and other toppings chosen by the individual.My personal preference is to have these with mayonnaise or white barbecue sauce and slaw or maters.

We were joined by my friend Dr. Edwards and the staff of Hope Health Center also located right across the street from the park. They came out at our invitation to get an early start before all the third graders came out.

It was a delightful time. Like last year, all who were served were appreciative and had a good time. I was impressed with the variety of toppings chosen by everyone. It was hard work but also rewarding to do this for these kids.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mexican Hot Dogs at Mexico Beach

Last week the lovely Caroline and I, along with Susie and Aaron, spent a few days in Florida. We decided to go to "Florida's forgotten coast" which is east of Panama City. So we went to Port St. Joe Florida and also visited the neighboring towns of Apalachicola and Mexico Beach. This trip was like an excursion in a time machine for me. I experienced something I thought I would never see again, Florida the way it was 40-50 years ago. There were no high-rises, no roller coasters, no goofy golf, no water-slides and no traffic. There were limited choices for eating out; but it wasn't hard to find the good ones.

That brings us to the topic of this posting. I have written a couple of previous entries about tamales and called them Mexican hot dogs; but this entry is about a hot dog that is Mexican. One day we ended up at Mexico Beach looking for a place to have a late lunch. The consensus seemed to be for us to stop at Playa Tacos. We had been having a pretty steady diet of seafood so we opted for a little variety.

So here we were stopping at a little taco shop in a row of wood frame commercial properties right on highway 98. These buildings just look like they belong at the beach. They are painted different colors and are connected by a deck across the front. Playa Tacos is the yellow building on the left end. The owners, Jimmy Lopez and Kristen Valko moved to Florida from Austin Texas to start this taco business. What better place for a taco restaurant in Florida than appropriately named Mexico Beach.

The first thing I spotted when we walked in the door was a sign on the counter advertising the "Mexican Hot Dog". Then I think each of my companions pointed it out to me. I guess they know me well; because when I saw that sign it simplified my decision about what I would order.

When it came, the frank/sausage/dog looked a little different, but it was good. It is a big fat frank filled with chicken, cheese and spices. It ends up being kind of orange in color with lots of dark speckles from the seasoning.

The Mexican hot dog comes in tortillas with the addition of cooked peppers, onions and a choice of sauces. When given the choice of what kind of tortilla I asked Jimmy which one he prefers and he recommended the corn tortilla which was a good choice. The pepper and onion are billed as sauteed but looked more like they were steamed. Maybe they had just been warmed again in a steamer, but I had no complaints. After I added the hot salsa, they were the perfect compliment to my Mexican Dog.

I was the only one in the group to order one. The others opted for tacos and fajitas. After I finished my dog I also returned for a taco which I also found to be very good. As I've been trying hot dogs on this "Great Birmingham Hot Dog Tour" I have found that I usually like the unexpected when I find it. This was another case of that happening. This Mexican Hot Dog is definitely worth looking for if you are in the area.

The shop is small with limited seating inside; but there is additional seating on the deck between Playa and the next building. The little deck was a nice place to eat around a table under an umbrella and the wind blowing around.

Now regarding the area, this whole area east of Panama City is worth a visit if you want to see the Gulf Coast without the crowds and massive highrise developments. It's a great place see coastal life that isn't just tourists. This is a great place for those who want to go to the coast to rest, relax, and enjoy the scenery and abundant wildlife.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

VJ's for Hot Dogs?

When I first started thinking about a Birmingham Hot Dog Tour I started trying to assemble a list of hot dog stands around Birmingham. The first place I went was to the internet where I did a lot of looking and making notes. I don't remember what site it came from but I definitely remember seeing VJ's on the Runway listed as having great hot dogs. This place has been on the list ever since but we have never gone there until this visit.

VJ's is known as a "meat-and-three" place, but the web referral I found also told of their great tamales so that gave another reasons to want to try them. So we finally decided to visit a long time Birmingham lunchtime server, VJ's on the Runway. VJ's has been around for decades out on the backside of the airport on Eastlake Boulevard. In all of my MANY years I have always heard good reports of this place and wanted to go there... some day. Well, the day finally arrived.
 Guess which one is the original location and which is the new location.

Robert and I went there recently planning on trying both the hot dogs and the tamales. Here's what we found. VJ's was once upon a time a pretty small place located literally near the end of the shorter runway of the Birmingham International(?) Airport. We knew they had moved and had a newer location so that was no surprise. When we went in for our usual late lunch the place was 3/4 full. It's a pretty big place so there were lots of people around. By the time we left at maybe 1:30-40 the place was almost deserted. This place has always been a lunchtime favorite of working people and it looks like those working people don't take late or long lunches. So if you want a leisurely lunch with nobody trying to hustle you out the door to make room, this is a good place.

What did we find? When we selected a table and sat down we discovered that the table was a little... no, a lot sticky, so we moved to another table. We commented to the waitress about the condition of the other table but she didn't seem concerned. I guess she thought we were late for lunch and should be happy to be seated. Apparently clean, non sticky tables are not always a high priority. So, here we were at a table that met our high(?) standards of acceptable cleanliness. We scoured the menu and found NO hot dogs... at all. OK. plan B, tamales. We had talked about it on the way and had planned on having some of both the dogs and the tamales. With no dogs on the menu went went for the tamales. We both ordered "Mexican chili" (4.99), and two tamales (hand rolled) 1.99 each. We found that there is a special for that combo that saves a dollar or two. Sorry, I don't remember the exact deal.

As far as we were concerned this was a good plan. Robert and I both love good tamales. In fact, we both remember growing up in Norwood where occasionally a "tamale man" would pass our house in the evening, selling tamales from his cart that was half bicycle/half cart. Our dad loved to get a few when he had the opportunity; so we grew up having hand rolled tamales on occasion.
How was it? Very good. The chili was obviously made from scratch and has never seen the inside of a can. It was a little mild to be called "Mexican" chili on the menu, but it was still good. The tamales were great! They are prepared with ample meat filling and a good flavorful sauce is provided. This was an excellent combo that would really be good on a cool day. But even on a hot day I bet this would be good.

I almost forgot; look at the biscuits in the picture above. VJ's serves great Mexican biscuits. These biscuits definitely contain peppers. Even without real butter (they have Country Crock - whatever that is) these are fantastic. Is real butter that expensive? I bet they save at least a dollar a day by serving something that came out of a chemical plant and doesn't even have a real food name like "yellow somewhat-greasy spreadable food product". On second thought, maybe Country Crock of Unknown Yellow Stuff is better.

Bottom line, in spite of the first table and the yellow food product, I'm glad I finally went to VJ's, and hope to return.