Saturday, January 28, 2012

Finally... Sam's

You have no idea how many people have asked or told me about the hot dogs at Sam's, as in Sam's Club. I was a member for years but never tried their hot dogs while I was. A week ago Robert and I started out to visit a hot dog cart I had just noticed a few days before. But that day it started raining and the traffic was bad so we changed our destination in route and went to Sam's.
The picture above is ONE photograph (not two) which shows the scale of the signs
hanging above the food service area at Sam's in Hoover.

I guess most people have been there at least once. Sam's has some appeal for most people along with some frustrations. That aside, I was really impressed with the hot dog deal at Sam's. It has to be the unquestioned best buy at any hot dog stand I've ever been to. Like everything else at Sam's, hot dogs are done on a large scale. When you approach the snack area you see the GIANT signs complete with pictures of the food. Somehow this just all seems to fit at Sam's because it is such a big place and so much is done on a large scale. But the big doesn't end with the signs. The dogs are huge... they must be at least 1/4 pound hot dogs. The drinks are huge, 32 oz! Think about it; that's almost the size of 3 canned drinks combined. Then you can get refills! After you get the undressed dog you then get to use the industrial size dispensers of onions, relish, mustard and ketchup. Kraut in individual packages is also available upon request.

Take a look at the menu and you will see that there aren't many choices. Keeping it all simple keeps it easy to run with a minimum of effort. Robert, being an old hand at Sam's dogs , knew that even though it isn't on the menu they also offer chili dogs for a few cents more. It made me wonder if there are many other options not shown on the menu. With his experience Robert ordered just one dog. I thought he was being "good" about trying to keep his weight down. I in my ignorance ordered two dogs, one plain and one with chili as well as a bag of delicious kettle chips. Of course with the combo we got a 32 oz cup (or is it a pitcher?) to fill with a drink. Robert chose tea while I partially filled mine with coke.

The hot dogs are clearly sold as Nathan's, the famous New Your hot dog since the signs as well as wrappers use their logo. The Nathan's dogs are a good product and are a far cry from the "pencil weenies" one gets some places. Despite the lack of ambiance, and almost industrial presentation this is a great option for lunch, a big lunch and a good lunch on a budget. The chili on the chili dogs was excellent hot dog chili and while the dispensers look a little unusual they work well. I was concerned that the onion and relish devices would dump a large quantity on my dogs but they add toppings with reasonable moderation. It is quality food and the whole system works well. A visit to Sam's will even confirm that college football pictures, plaques and signs are not necessary even though they are found in most hot dog establishments.
I wish I had added something to this picture to provide a sense of scale.
This is a BIG chili dog!

As much as I wanted to I couldn't finish my two dogs. But, the entire purchase was less than $5.00! What a deal, more than I could eat or drink for less than five bucks.

Maybe next week I will make it to the cart I mentioned.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pop's for a Birmingham dog

Last week, right after Christmas, we decided to go back to Pop's Grill at Five Points South. We had a group of three since Robert and I were joined by his son Michael who was visiting from the west coast.
Almost a year ago during February thru April 2011 we focused on Chicago style hot dogs in Birmingham but never tried the Chicago dog at Pop's when we were doing that. If you would like to read a little about the subject, we started reporting on those efforts with this visit in February. By April we had tried several Chicago dogs and were ready to get back to Birmingham style hot dogs. But here we were again ordering Chicago dogs at Pop's. Robert and I agree that the Chicago dog is pretty good on occasion but isn't our standard for comparison.

Now regarding Birmingham style hot dogs, I had never used that label prior to this visit. Michael has not been around for the hot dog tour and hasn't been exposed to the many options for hot dogs in our area; so we were trying to tell him a little about the subject. That's when it clicked for me that Birmingham does have it's own style of hot dogs. There are many servers who sell similar dogs. They each have their own sauce made using their own unique mix using many of the same ingredients. You can learn a little about that sauce in this video, also linked on the left side of the blog below the alphabetical list of reports.

The Birmingham style hot dog when ordered "all the way" usually comes with kraut, mustard, onions and of course the special sauce. Notice in the pictures the dogs at Pop's have purple onions which I imagine is a touch added by Heather Guarino a graduate of Culinard in Homewood. Heather and her father, Sammy, run Pop's and serve their own version of the Birmingham style hot dog. We were telling Michael how the Birmingham dog can be pretty predictable yet different at each place.
Between the three of us we actually had quite a variety of dogs on this visit. Robert and I both started with one Chicago dog while Michael ordered a junk yard dog. We weren't sure how many to order since some of the Chicago dogs we've had were really big. The ones at Pop's are a more modest size,closer to that of an ordinary hot dog (also priced closer to an ordinary hot dog). To the dogs we added an order of the great chili cheese fries that we all shared. After our first dogs I went back for a chili dog and Robert had a regular (Birmingham style) dog.
So how are the dogs at Pop's different from other dogs? Even though we had Chicago dogs I see an influence of a New York street hot dog. All the dogs we had came with a generous application of mustard, a little more than we have seen many places. This is a key flavor for the New York dog. Of course the Chicago guys also use mustard along with their mix of toppings. Pop's has ketchup on the tables but the dogs don't usually come with it. So predominant flavors include mustard, mild purple onion and a mild hot dog sauce. I also noticed that they cook dogs to order; they aren't sitting there on the grill waiting for you to come in. It takes a little longer but is fresher. Michael really liked his junk yard dog which was enough to not send him back for another dog but he did a number on the last of the chili cheese fries.

The Chicago dogs had all of the ingredients called for by the purist except for the poppy seed bun. They are smaller than most Chicago dogs I have had, but priced accordingly. They even come topped with "sport peppers". Of course I have already given my thoughts about these tough peppers; I would just use basic southern jalapenos, but they are the authentic topping.

Pop's is also the late night place on Southside, with a second shift staying open very late to serve those who work at the watering holes.