Dining Out, Wining & Dining

The Ubiquitous Hot Dog

By the Gastronomes

With July 4th celebrations happening this month and baseball in full swing, we thought it a good time to revisit our childhood friend…the Hot Dog. A hot dog is a food consisting of a grilled or steamed sausage served in the slit of a partially sliced bun. The term hot dog can refer to the “sausage” itself. The most popular sausage used is a wiener (Vienna sausage) or a frankfurter, also called frank. The names of these sausages commonly refer to their assembled dish.

These types of sausages were culturally imported from Germany and became popular in the United States. It became a working-class street food in the U.S. that was sold at stands and carts. The hot dog became closely associated with baseball and American culture.

Some consider a hot dog to technically be a sandwich. Indeed, you can find the hot dog on the sandwich section of a restaurant menu. Hot dog preparation and condiments vary worldwide. Typical condiments include mustard, ketchup, relish, onions, and cheese sauce. Other toppings include sauerkraut, diced onions, jalapenos, chili, grated cheese, coleslaw, bacon and others.

It is not exactly known who started the practice of serving the sausage in the bun. One of the strongest claims comes from Harry M. Stevens who was a food concessionaire. The claim is that, while working at the New York Polo Grounds in 1901, he came upon the idea of using small French rolls to hold the sausages when the waxed paper they were using ran out.

A German immigrant named Feuchtwanger, from Frankfort, in Hesse, allegedly pioneered the practice in the American Midwest, there are several versions of the story with varying details. According to one account, Feuchtwanger’s wife proposed the use of a bun in 1880. Feuchtwanger sold hot dogs on the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, and provided gloves to his customers so that they could handle the sausages without burning their hands. Losing money when customers did not return the gloves, Feuchtwanger’s wife suggested serving the sausages in a roll instead.

Another possible origin for serving the sausages in a roll is the pieman, Charles Feltman, at Coney Island in New York City. In 1867 he had a cart made with a stove on which to boil sausages and a compartment to keep buns in that they served fresh. In 1871 he leased land to build a permanent restaurant and the business grew, selling far more than just the famous “Coney Island Red Hots” as they were known.

Whether it was one of these reasons or a combination of them all, the American hot dog is here to stay and has been a staple for children and adults alike and we love them.

Today hot dogs come in all shapes and sizes. You can find foot-long hot dogs, Chicago hot dogs, Texas Tommy and many more. Our memory favorites like the hot dogs at the baseball game can be found in your local grocery. Being a fan of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile (now known as the Frankmobile) and the popular TV jingle, I buy their brand – they “plump when ya’ cook ‘em! However, it appears that I am in the minority if you believe a Facebook survey conducted by my partner last month. She asked her 555 “friends” what their preference was and it resulted in a dead heat between Nathan’s and Hebrew Nationals!

In conducting research for this write up, I ordered the Harbor Hot Dog at the Hidden Harbor Restaurant in Solomons, Maryland. I would have to qualify this as a “super” dog. It was stuffed with Pepper Jack Cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep fried. It was served on a toasted bun and topped with coleslaw, onion straw and their secret sauce. To be totally up front…it was a lot and I was thinking that a few Tums were in order later. Totally on the other end of the scale, we went to a baseball game to watch the Bowie Baysox play the Richmond Flying Squirrels and had your basic hot dog with just mustard. This was a real treat. I am a purist for the most part but my partner is a fan of mustard, chopped onion, relish and wait for it….ketchup on hers. When she is in public, however, she leaves the ketchup in the container.

We featured Old Town’s only eating establishment dedicated to this delicacy, Haute Dogs and Fries, in this section a few years ago. It is located at 610 Montgomery Street in North Old Town. They really do the “haute” dog justice in this little place! The choices run the gamut, so if you are a purist and just want mustard you are as good to go as the aficionado that would love the likes of the Harbor Dog I tried last month.

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