Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Joe's Diner

For several months now, I’ve seen references to Joe’s Diner in historic East Durham. I drove by once to make sure I knew where it was;then, about a week ago, I decided to give it a try.

Joe’s diner is located at the corner of Angier Avenue and Driver Street in a commercial area that has seen brighter days. Joe's Diner,though, hints that the worst of days has past and the area is back on the rise.Certainly, the hip foodie chatter I’ve heard won’t hurt.

I arrived early enough to try a combination of items from the breakfast and lunch menu. After discerning the ordering protocol, I placed my order at the cash register, found a seat, and waited.
After a moderate wait, my food arrived. The breakfast left me uninspired, but I’m here to talk about hot dogs.

I had the Judge Dog, originally ordered without ketchup, but served with ketchup, after all. The wiener was pretty big and dense, the kind that snaps when you bite it. Even among all-beef dogs, this was more a deli-dog than a skinless Nathan’s, Hebrew National, or Sabrett’s. The slaw was fresh and tasty. The chili had a good flavor, but it wasn’t meaty like a Carolina Dog would normally be. A large bun accommodated the wiener and generous toppings,and the whole thing required a knife and a fork.

The prices were pretty staggering. The cheapest dog is a basic hot dog for $2.50. Most of the dogs are quarter pounders, and they ring in at $4.25 and up. They ARE bigger, and they are all beef, but the prices seem steep for a hot dog.

I thought the Judge Dog would be the closest to a Carolina Dog, and it may be, but it really wasn’t a Carolina dog. For the concoction it was, I thought it was pretty darn good, but compared to a Carolina Hot Dog, I felt it fell short.

My verdict 3 weenies

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

King's Court Frankfurter Express

It's been a while since I've updated CarolinaHotDog.com. I've been out of town, mostly spending time with my partner who is home for the summer. We've done a bit of travelling over the past several weeks, and that includes a couple of hot dog experiences I want to share.

The first is in San Antonio, where I spent several days while my partner took a course on teaching AP Physics. I decided to Yelp! for hot dogs and found a place that really interested me: Dirty Dogz. The eatery is in a shopping center that seems to be created from old train cars, tucked behind some larger buildings on one of the major north/south streets in San Antonio. Not only was the place hard to find, it was closed for vacation the week I was there. The handwritten note on the door indicated it would re-open the day I left, but it didn't. In short, no idea how their dogs are, but their desire to be open seems questionable.

The next hot doggery I found was King's Court Frankfurter Express, a hot dog stand made from an older home... complete with a white picket fence and twists and turns inside from dining area to dining area. When I arrived it was dark and quiet except for a friendly guy working as order taker, cashier, and chef.

The Heaven Dog
The choices were nearly endless and overwhelming, and I didn't immediately see anything resembling a Carolina Dog. I let took the friendly guy's suggestion and ordered the Heaven dog, a brat with grilled onions, home-made guacamole, and mayo. Sadly, on that trip I didn't notice the trimmings bar and just ate the  dog "as is." As is, it wasn't bad, cloud-like, actually. It kind of sounds heavy, but it wasn't. It was mostly a fluffy canvas that would have been great if I had added some kick--perhaps pico de gallo or peppers.

After leaving, I regretted that I hadn't tried the toppings, and I regretted I hadn't tried other dogs... So I returned the next day. By this time, I'd reviewed their menu online, and I wasn't overwhelmed. In fact, I found their slaw dog: a 100% beef hot dog, covered with chili and "creamery" coleslaw.

The Slaw Dog
KCFE features three different kinds of chili: Texas chili, Coney Island chili, and Cincinnati chili. Unless otherwise specified, the slaw dog comes with Texas chili, and it really is similar to the Texas Pete chili readily available in cans in North Carolina. Their Cincinnati chili is made in-house with a recipe reminiscent of  Skyline Chili, and the Coney Island chili is also made in-house, more of a Greek chili, the beefy chili I grew up on here in NC.

The slaw dog was tasty concoction. I do prefer the Coney Island chili, but the combination was still pretty good. I added a little pico de gallo and loved it. Still wanting to try their Coney Island chili, I ordered one Hot Dog Express, a dog with or without chili and enjoyed it with onions and mustard; another win.

The Hot Dog Express
It was great to find a hot dog stand so far away from home that offered not only their take on my familiar favorites but several other combinations to make my mouth water. If I'm ever back in San Antonio, I'll be sure to go back... for hot dogs and conversation. What a great find!

My verdict: 4 weenies

Friday, June 29, 2012

Restaurant Starlu

a dearly departed dog

Restaurant Starlu was a great eatery near my home. Their regular fare was a bit above my everyday price range, but they had a late night menu with a pricey burger and a couple of less expensive hot dogs.

On our anniversary one year, my partner and I decided to hit the late night Starlu menu. We decided to spurge and split the burger, and someone at the bar suggested we try one of the hot dogs. The name escapes me, but the description was unforgettable: an all beef hot dog, wrapped in bacon and deep fried, served with peanut butter, mayo, and red onion...

It sounded downright weird, if not disgusting to some. I grew up on peanut butter and banana sandwiches with mayo, so I was pretty sure that combo would be awesome. I love onions, so that might not be bad. And... well... bacon... Duh.

We timidly ordered one. It was gone so quickly we had another. I know. It wasn't a real Carolina Hot Dog, but it was such a darn good... and memorable.. dog that it earned a ranking among the dearly departed dogs...

My lower-carb homage to dearly departed Starlu's creation

Despite the fact I can't remember the name, that dog will forever stick in my memory. Perhaps, Sam Poley will stumble across this post and let us know what they called it...

My verdict: 5 weenies

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hot Dogs & Brew

A few days ago, I searched Yelp for hot dog establishments in the area. I do that from time to time to keep up to date in my quest for the perfect dog. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a new hot dog restaurant in Chapel Hill.

If you're a pedestrian in Chapel Hill, Hot Dogs & Brew is easy to get to, but if you drive, it takes a bit more effort to find a good parking space. I parked in the garage near the old Post Office and took Post Office Alley to get to Franklin Street. Other than having to pay for parking, not a bad place to park--when the garage isn't full.

The store front it self isn't much to speak of: a blue awning with the name. The half windows sport a sign that reads "GRILLED HOT DOGS." It's clean and new, not much character... yet. Only the chalk sign on the sidewalk indicates this might be worth checking out.

Inside, it's clean and spacious, a long room with tables and a couple of big screen televisions. Walking in, I felt a twinge of nostalgia. The layout is similar to the legendary Amos 'N Andy; the decor is not. It's much brighter and doesn't have wooden school desks.

The woman taking orders was friendly and could tell it was my first time there. We chatted a bit about hot dogs, and she asked about my favorites. She promised that Hot Dogs & Brew would be my new favorite. 

The menu is a colorful chalk board with several "specialties," including one called Carolina's Favorite: mustard, slaw, chili, and onions. Of course I ordered one of those, and I had to try the Spicy Redneck: bacon, jalapenos, slaw and chili--as well. I took a seat and waited for my dogs to arrive.

After a bit, the woman who took my order delivered my dogs to my table. They looked good. In fact, thinking about them today makes me hungry again. 

I tried the Carolina's Favorite first. The bun wasn't steamed, but it was fairly fresh, so it was soft enough. The first taste I got was sweet, and I wasn't sure I was going to like it. The sweet came from the slaw, which was not homemade, sadly. The chili and onions, though, almost made up for the slaw. It was a darn good hot dog. I'd have it next time without the slaw--unless they take my advice and make their slaw fresh daily.

Like the Carolina's Favorite, the Spicy Redneck suffered from the slaw. Otherwise, the chili, bacon, and jalapeno were tasty combination.

The prices are a little steeper than most, in keeping with the prime location: $2.50 & $3.25. Good for the expected lunch and dinner, but I'm betting most of their business will be late night; they're open until 3AM on weekends. All in all, Hot Dogs & Brew has pretty good hot dogs. They could be great with a little freshly made coleslaw.

My verdict: 3 weenies

UPDATE: Sadly, the lack of homemade slaw may have done them in. This hot dog stand is history.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


By chance, driving along Chapel Hill Road this afternoon, I noticed a new hot dog business, Citidogs, in the former Dog House location at The Shoppes at Lakewood. I was actually on my way to check out another hot dog venue in Durham and decided to change my plans.

Apparently, this location has been open for less than a week. Business seemed moderate. A couple of folks in front of me had ordered, and several arrived shortly after me. However, I'm not sure what the future holds for Citidogs. As you'll see, it's not one of my favorites.

Northside Dog
Dog prices aren't bad at 1.50 per hot dog, including the toppings. They also offer a special: 2 dogs, fries, and a beverage for 5 bucks.

I prefer my hot dogs with slaw and onions in addition to the mustard and chili, but sometimes I find that pre-packaged slaw (slaw that is not freshly made) can distract from what might be a decent dog without the slaw. Some folks call the dog with mustard, slaw, chili, and onions a combo dog. Others call it an all the way dog. Others understand all the way to mean mustard, onions, and chili. Perhaps the easiest way to name them is with cute-ish names as they do at Citidogs. However, I saw no combo dog on the menu, so I chose one Northside (mustard, onions, chili) dog and one Eastside (mustard, slaw, and chili) along with my usual diet Coke.

Eastside Dog
After a short wait, my dogs were ready. A couple of picnic tables are close, so I opted to sit at one of them. I unrolled the Northside first. It felt cool in my hand, which surprised me a bit. I'm used to a hot dog being at least lukewarm if not warm. I guess that's because my favorite hot dogs have traditionally been served in steamed buns. These were not. But the dog looked pretty good except that the chili seemed to be more mush than meaty. When I tasted it, I confirmed. There really isn't much to the chili. It's a bit sweet and mushy. The onions were a bit mushy as well. I wasn't very impressed, but I still had my Eastside dog. Maybe it would be better...

It wasn't. Sadly, it made the Northside dog better. The slaw as prepackaged and very sweet. That sweet combined with the sweetness of the chili made me debate whether to even finish the dog. I did, and I wished I had not. The only thing I could say for either was that the wiener was not to blame. They looked and tasted as if they had been grilled, and it had a bit of char on them. If I were ever to eat here again, I'd opt for a naked dog, perhaps with just mustard and onions... but there are definitely better dogs to be had.

My verdict: 2 weenies

UPDATE: The public agree. This hot dog stand is history.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Amos "N" Andy

Image from Open Durham

One of my plans for this blog was to feature entries for dearly departed hot dogs… hot dog businesses I fondly remember and wish were still around.

No such entry would ever be complete without the legendary Amos "N" Andy. Although I probably ate there more before I can remember, I only have memories of three times. Oddly, those three were at three different locations. The first was what I assume to be the original at the site of the current Durham Marriott. As I recall, it was a long room with a counter on the left. The man preparing dogs would line them up side-by-side along his arm… I assume he had clean arms. He had topping the dogs down to a science.

The second Amos "N" Andy location I visited was on NC 55 heading out of town. This additional location was a stand-alone building that remains today, but it has been a combination of numerous establishments, as well as vacant, since that meal back in 1972. I remember the year because “Stuck in the Middle With You” was on the juke box.

The last time I had an Amos "N" Andy dog would have been in the late 70s or early 80s. By that time, the original location had moved closer to Five Points on Main. The hot dogs were as good as ever, and they’re really the standard by which I judge a hot dog these days—however, fair that may be, considering time and romanticism may have made them even better in my mind… but I don’t think so.

My verdict: 5 weenies

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Millie's Hot Dogs

After attending a funeral for a friend's mother in Selma, NC, I decided to see if there were any CarolinaHotDog style places in the area, and with a little help from Yelp, I stumbled upon Millie's Hot Dogs in Smithfield, near the corner of NC 39 and US 70.

The establishment is a small addition to a larger building, no seating, just a window for ordering and picking up. Luckily in the remnants of the  latest tropical storm, they do have a small awning under which three to four folks could stand, if they didn't mind being close.

The prices were good. Regular hot dogs are $1.50. All beef hot dogs and the Millie Dog are 2 bucks. The Millie Dog adds cheese and Texas Pete, along with all the normal toppings--and then some.

I opted for my standard dog: mustard, slaw, chili, and onions. It came in a Styrofoam "casket" of sorts. That packaging keeps things a little neater, but I missed some of the magic of peeling the greasy paper back and unrolling the dog--but I digress.

I found the dog to be respectable. It's not my favorite, but it wasn't bad. Of course I'm looking for the best, so not bad is definitely not what I crave. The slaw was probably homemade, but it had a little something that made me think it might not be. I'm not sure if there is a way to season fresh coleslaw and make it taste that way; if not, it was bought. I can't be sure. The chili seemed OK, but I didn't get much of it. In fact, the slaw appeared to be the main attraction, overpowering everything else.

My verdict. 3 weenies*

*Oh yeah, I guess I should explain the ratings. It occurred to me that I didn't have a ratings system, so I've decided I'll award weenies--not like green weenies, these are the good kind of award. If I rate a hot dog one weenie, that means I really didn't like it. If I rate it five weenies, it's darn close to perfection.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Old King's Sandwich Shop

One of my first hot dog memories involved the old King's Sandwich Shop at the corner of Foster and Geer Streets in Durham. As I recall, we spent many Friday evenings, driving "to town" after my dad got home from work.

My mother's aunt and her daughter lived in apartments on Geer Street, and we often visited them. We would occasionally shop at the department stores in downtown Durham: Belk's, Thalhimer's, and Sears, but the most important part of going "to town" was Friday night supper at King's. The establishment has been named King's apparently since 1942, but we never called it that. Mom & Dad just called it the Ballpark or the Hot Dog Stand.

Hot dogs were 25 cents apiece back then. I could tell from the menu that King's sold more than just hot dogs, but we never ordered anything but hot dogs, fries, and Cokes. The menu was painted on a board above the awning, but sometime between the early 70s and the 80s, it was taken down and replaced with the current King's sign or one quite similar to it.

The taste of those King's hot dogs from the 60s and early 70s defined what a hot dog was for me. To this day, when I think of hot dogs, the original King's combo dog--mustard, slaw, onions, and chili--is what I think of.

When I was very, very young, I remember my parents taking me along when they went out for an evening with their square dancing club. Afterward, if my memory is correct, they went for a bite to eat at Honey's on Guess Road. I ordered a hot dog, and it came naked. I was appalled. I needed the chili and slaw, but I was hardly more than a toddler, and I recall pitching a fit wanting chili and "lettuce." I'm sure I made my parents proud that night. Honey's hot dogs were not the Ball Park's.

Later, my family lived in Godfrey, IL, for a few months while my dad was trained for work in Alton. I was about seven years old, and finding a real Carolina dog was impossible in IL. I was so happy when we returned to North Carolina and my old friend, King's Sandwich Shop.

At some point, my family stopped the Friday night suppers at King's, and for several years I remembered it fondly--without visiting. Some time in the 80s or early 90s I decided to drop back by to see if the dogs were as good as I remembered them. Almost. The only problem is that they stopped making their own slaw and started buying pre-made stuff. I really can't stand pre-packaged slaw. I'd just rather not have any if it's not freshly made, in-house. Still, I remained a fan until it closed, and I was terribly sad when it did.

(King's Sandwich Shop has been lovingly updated and re-opened. More about the new King's Sandwich Shop later.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I grew up in Bahama, NC, just outside Durham, during the 60s and 70s. My earliest foodie memories revolved around hot dogs, and while I was growing up, it wasn't a hot dog if it didn't have mustard, slaw, chili, and onions. I knew folks ate them other ways, but I was not interested in anything but what has come to be known as a Carolina-style hot dog.

My plan for this blog is to reminisce about great hot dogs I've known in the past and to review hot dogs as I encounter them today. Though I grew up with the Carolina-style dog, my tastes have expanded; I've tried some unique combinations, and I've tried dogs in several places in the US as well as one or two in France and Egypt.

I've also developed an affinity for Southwestern food: tacos, burritos, and most especially, the New Mexican Green Chile Cheeseburger. With that in mind, the occasional musing on Mexican food will be on topic.

Hope you'll join me in the quest for the perfect hot dog. And if you know of a hot dog I need to try, tell me about it...