Saturday, November 9, 2013

What's Happening to Lyric Hot Dogs?

After many months of not posting on this blog I have suddenly been motivated to write again. Before I start I will confess that after doing a hot dog blog for three years I grew kind of tired of it. It didn't help that the last couple of places we visited back in the Spring were a little disappointing. (No I never wrote about them!)

So today I am writing about Lyric Hot Dogs. On Friday Robert and I visited Lyric Hot Dogs again. More about that later, but first I want to address the great tragedy happening in our city right now and how it involves Lyric Hot Dogs. The outfit that restored the Alabama Theatre and now owns the Lyric Theatre is in the process of destroying a piece of Birmingham history so they can add a much larger lobby to the “restored???” Lyric theatre. All of this is being done in the name of “restoration"; but they are moving way beyond restoration.

Regarding Lyric Hot Dogs, I was startled to read a story on the web site early this week. You can see that article by clicking the link here. The story is that apparently the social elite at the helm of Birmingham Landmarks, Inc. have decided that one Birmingham Landmark must be destroyed in order to make a more spacious lobby to the side of the original lobby of the “restored” Lyric theatre. Lyric Hot Dogs is one of Birmingham’s oldest hot dog stands doing business in a particular location. We have seen many others close for good through the years; but this time the owner isn’t choosing to close up shop. Andrew Collins, the owner of Lyric Hot Dogs, is being forced to shut his doors as he has been given until January 31, 2014 to vacate his space so that the “restoration” of the Lyric Theatre can include moving the original entrance and elevator for the office space in the Lyric Building. It doesn’t seem to bother the Birmingham Landmarks bunch that they are closing a long time Birmingham business, a landmark. It seems they really are not committed to historic continuity or the preservation of successful businesses in downtown Birmingham. The expansion of their lobby way beyond the original lobby is very important to them despite the historic nature of those being forced out. Their agenda seems to be set even though they could have easily drawn their plans to keep Lyric Hot Dogs open.

I have gone to the Birmingham Landmarks web site and found the floor-plan for the new bigger and improved Lyric Theater. I am sure it will be beautiful when they are finished, but at the cost of a Birmingham icon. Maybe they think that hot dogs are just a little beneath them and would rather not have them around.

Now regarding hot dogs… During the time I have been writing this blog I have been asked many times where to get the best hot dog in Birmingham. I have always given an answer that included my top five favorites at the time. I have enjoyed visiting almost every place we have visited and haven’t wanted to steer people away from most of them. I encourage people to try them all. But I must now admit that Lyric Hot Dogs has been on my list of the top five every since I first went there. This is the place to which I have taken family and friends for a visit to an authentic downtown Birmingham hot dog stand. It is a consistently good server of hot dogs as well as being one of the two remaining long time locations for hot dogs in downtown Birmingham. Lyric is on 3rd Avenue North between 18th and 19th Streets, right across the street from the Alabama Theater.

Please look back at my previous posts about Lyric:

This is the same hot dog stand where Pete, Sam and Jimmy Graphos grew up helping their father with his hot dog business. These guys went on to start their own restaurants (Sam's Super Samwichs in Homewood, Jimmy's on Southside and the Sneaky Pete’s chain). The current proprietor, Andrew Collins, is a member of their family who bought the restaurant from their father. Birmingham Landmarks sees no history here; they want a big lobby at their “restored” Lyric Theater. It doesn’t matter that in the theater’s entire history the lobby has never included this space. It’s even more tragic when one looks at the seemingly empty storefronts they own next to the Alabama theater.

On this visit I was very happy to see that the place was swamped with people. Compare the two pictures below. On an earlier visit we had a wide choices of seating options, but not this time. The word has gotten out that this place is closing soon so on this trip the place was almost full of people, like us, wanting to reinforce their memories while they can.  I will encourage the reader to visit the Lyric while you still can.

Andrew is planning on closing well before his drop-dead date of January 31st. He says his daughter might recycle the equipment to open a place in “the suburbs”. This will be a loss to Birmingham; but I guess we are all too accustomed to losses in Birmingham.

So here we were at Lyric again. We both opted for our usual order of a hot dog and a chili dog, both all the way. We sat on stools at the little counter facing the plate glass window looking out on 3rd Avenue and ate delicious hot dogs. In fact they were so good we went back for more. No weight watching that day.

I think we are going to be tracking down hot dogs again. Changes in the hot dog landscape continue. Places come and go, and some move. So we will be addressing some of this.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

JoJo's Diner Again

You may remember our recent visit to JoJo's Diner in Homewood. The day we made that first visit Zelda was telling us about the slaw dog and explaining why they couldn't serve it that day. As she described their Lebanese slaw as vinegary, kind of sour with spices. We kept thinking about those slaw dogs and decided to go back in hopes of getting to try one.

On that second visit Robert and I were greeted with the news that not only could we get slaw dogs but we could also try a new dog recently added to the menu, a Reuben dog. Kind of makes you pause and think a little doesn't it? The Reuben dog is a hot dog topped with Swiss cheese, corned beef and kraut. On our previous visit Joe and Zelda had told us about how they were working on a recipe for this unique dog. So we were faced with wanting to try several different dogs. We both hoped to try a slaw dog and the previously untried by us chili dog. Then we also wanted to try the new Reuben dog. 

So faced with a choice, we finally each ordered a Reuben dog and ordered a chili dog and slaw dog to split between us and an order of the seasoned fries. That way we each got to have two full dogs but try three different ones. These are all memorable hot dogs. The slaw dog is the first slaw dog that I have ever really liked. The sour slaw is a much better topping than sweetened slaw. In fact I liked it so much that a few days later I was in the area and stopped for another. On that third visit Zelda told me how several customers had come in after reading about JoJo's on this blog. It's nice to know that it is read on occasion.

Pictured below are a Broadway dog and a slaw dog from my third visit.

The chili dog at JoJo's is topped with their own unique chili. Joe told us how he starts with bacon, then adds his own sausage and chunks of beef brisket. This ends up being the chunkiest, beefiest, meatiest chili you will find in a perfectly seasoned base. It's a chili dog unlike any that I have previously encountered.

Then almost lost between these was the Reuben dog. It has all the flavors of a Reuben sandwich on a hot dog. I thought it was better with the addition of some mustard; but I usually add mustard to a Reuben when I have one. I think Joe is on to something here. I wouldn't be surprised to find some other places trying to do this.
 Pictured below are a chili dog and Reuben dog from my second visit.

Finally, below is a poor picture of some of Zelda's "cake pops" proudly displayed up front. So far I haven't tried one of these, but the sure look sweet, tasty and not too big. Probably a perfect desert after eating a more restrained order than I tend to have.

I'll give two warnings. First, the place is small. There are 4 stools at the counter and four tables. Two of those tables only seat 2 people. So there is a grand total of indoor seating capacity of 16 people and out front an old church pew and couple of small tables. That looks like a nice place to eat on the right day. The other warning, if you get a dog be prepared for a little mess as you eat. These dogs are topped with juicy sauces and can get a little messy; but it's worth the mess. All in all I find that JoJo's will be highly recommended by me. I notice a word that keeps coming to me as I talk and write about JoJo's. That word is "unique". This place is unique and has some unique dogs and remains worth a trip.

There is also a nice story about JoJo's in the February 2013 issue of the Homewood Star. This seems to be a monthly local newspaper focused on Homewood. It's a good article, take a look. The whole February issue is Here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lets go to Alex City!

A few days ago we were celebrating the 7th birthday of one of our grandsons. He and his brother have always had a fascination for anything with wheels. They live in Auburn where their father is a professor; and we live in Birmingham. So what better place to meet on a Saturday than the Wellborn Muscle Car Museum in Alexander City. 

For those who are unacquainted with this museum, it is interesting to visit. Tim Wellborn has quite a collection of rare muscle cars. He owns so many that he must rotate the collection through this large museum. The museum is located in the heart of Alexander City in a building that once housed a Chevrolet dealership at 124 Broad Street, Alexander City, Alabama.


I am including a few pictures from the museum. We all had a good time playing “what if”, as in; “If you could have any one of these cars, which one would you want?’. This is a good place to go and dream For thoise of us who remember these cars on the street it is a trip down memory lane. It's also an opportunity to kick yourself for not having the insight to buy one of these cars back in the day. I must confess that as we palyed "what if" I would have a hard time choosing between the Pontiac GTO convertible and the former Alabama State Trooper AMC Javelin. I will assure you that a good time was had by all.

What does this have to do with hot dogs? Well, here we have it. Just up the street from the museum is the 99 year old Carlisle Drug Store complete with a full service old fashioned soda fountain complete with sandwiches, burgers and of course hot dogs. That was our choice of where to have lunch.

We arrived at Carlisle to find a choice of tables. Since we had a large group (7 of us) we selected one of the large tables and proceeded to look at the menu. The birthday boy quickly announced he wanted a cheeseburger. That was the choice for most of the table except for little sister and myself. We had hot dogs. I also ordered a burger but felt that due to my interest in dogs I had to try one. I’m glad I did. The little girl ordered what I call a “kids dog”, a plain hot dog with just ketchup (cheebot for some). Mine was a chili dog all the way.

If you look close you will see the corn curl she had dropped behind the 
hot dog and was hoping to find. Also notice the RED dog!

I had no idea what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. The dogs were the ones loaded with red dye, maybe “red food dye 666”. I jest. But they were RED (look at the picture). Even so I really liked it. The chili was definitely mild, kind of like Wendy’s chili. But the overall effect of the toppings was to combine a sweet taste and a sour taste. I really enjoyed this dog. What more can I say. It really wasn’t anything outstanding or different, but it was good.I will order it again when I'm there.
I ate all of mine, but baby sister had only eaten half when she was distracted by the appearance of cupcakes for the birthday celebration. I was tempted to finish off her “kids dog”; but I restrained myself.

What about the burgers? They were also very good. They were surprisingly NOT greasy, with a good flavor. They were obviously freshly made patties rather than the thin frozen ones. The buns were steamed and not warmed on the grill in the hamburger grease. Hey, I know that can be good, but a more healthy burger can also be good. It leaves room for a chili dog, cup cake and who knows what else.

At Carlisle there are no fries. I guess that is consistent with the more healthy burgers. It also keeps from smelling up the 99 year old store with deep fat frying odors. They do have a large selection of chips. I would rather see my local favorite, Golden Flake, than the Lays; but they were well stocked.

Let me encourage the reader: If you are in the area, no… just plan a trip! Go to Alexander City and visit both of these treasures. It is also a great place to stop mid way between Auburn and Birmingham. I plan to make this stop on many more trips between Birmingham and the Educational center of the universe.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

JoJo's Diner

I knew it would take a few days to make this post so I put a teaser post a few days ago. But now here's the full report.Last week Birmingham had a minor snowfall on Thursday. The TV weather men kept down playing it but hedged their bets by saying it was really hard to predict. When it came it was one of those soon forgotten events for most people.

Robert and I along with a friend, Fred, risked our lives in the "blizzard" to venture to a new place in Homewood. Susie had passed on a coupon for hot dogs at JoJo's Diner in Homewood. That was all it took to raise my interest. Then we chose snow day for our visit. I must admit that we really enjoyed being out in the snowfall. It was pretty and invigorating.

We made our way to 903 Broadway looking for JoJo's. JoJo's is located in one of the small comercial buildings toward the southern end of Broadway in Homewood. For many years there was a little sandwich place called "Lag's Eatery" located either in this spot or nearby. I never tried their offerings before they retired and closed. Nevertheless, we now have JoJo's Diner.

I have said before that I tend to enjoy "the unexpected" on our hot dog excursions; and that's just what we found at JoJo's. This is a tiny little place with just a hand full of tables; but the taste is BIG. It didn't take long to encounter Joe (Jo Jo) Resha and his sister Zelda. Zelda waited on us and told about their unique dogs. The menu offered two basic dogs: a "Broadway Dog" and a "Slaw Dog". The Broadway dog is listed as an all beef dog with mustard, red onion, fresh Kraut, and downtown sauce, all for $1.99. The slaw dog is listed as an all beef dog with mustard, red onion, Lebanese slaw, and downtown sauce for $2.49.

We were trying to decide just what to order when Zelda informed us that our options were limited. That day there was no Lebanese slaw; so the slaw dog wasn't an option. So, Robert and I opted to have two Broadway Dogs and split a JoJo Burger and some fries between us. It was a good choice! Both items were outstanding.

The Broadway dog with the "downtown sauce" was familiar yet unique. The sauce starts with what I call "Birmingham hot dog sauce" that has been modified to make it thicker and spicier. It is different enough for me to consider it a unique hot  dog. For those who havent kept up, "Birmingham sauce" is the hot dog sauce that seems to be served at all of the Birmingham hot dog stands. Every vendor has a similar yet slightly different recipe. JoJo's also has their own unique recipe. It is thicker than most and has a nice spicy flavor. It is worth a special trip to sample.

JoJo and Zelda

We talked with Zelda about the Lebanese slaw. It is a sour vinegary slaw that sounds good. Any regular reader will know that I am not a fan of slaw dogs, but this one actually sounds pretty good to me. I must return and try it. Maybe I'll finally find a slaw dog that I like. Regardless, even if I don't care for the slaw dog, as long as I have a Broadway dog I'll be very happy.

I must mention the hamburger. It was also very good and also worth a trip. The fries also are different. It's subtle, but the spices added to the fries give them a special flavor. Zelda told us how JoJo makes his own corned beef which is the basis of a couple of their deli sandwiches. There's no grocery store  or factory made corned beef at JoJo's. It's all made right there. It makes me think of one of my favorite TV shows, Diners, Drive Inns and Dives (AKA: Triple D). They are also trying to develop a "Reuben Dog" made from a dog topped with the ingredients of a Reuben. It's not ready yet; but I look forward to trying one once JoJo thinks he has it right.

What can I say except; you need to try this place, even if it's not snowing.