Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Paul's Place

I’ve been planning to write about Paul’s Place—or as it is formally known as Paul's Place Famous Hotdogs—for the longest time. I originally heard of the place many years ago. In fact, my first visit was probably in the late 80s or early 90s. If I am not mistaken, at the time, Paul’s Place boasted multiple locations. Now, it’s back to just the original.

This was my third visit. A couple of years ago, I had visited around the Holidays with every intention of penning a review, but time got away from me and I failed to remember enough to write about their dogs.

The inside has a feel of days gone by. Various canned goods, t-shirts, and tractor-type souvenirs are set out for sale under harsh fluorescent lighting. Numerous simple tables with Coke-carton condiment holders provide ample “dining” room.  A counter for ordering and picking up food and a hand-dipping ice cream case separate the eating area from the kitchen. It’s a utilitarian and yet nostalgic establishment.

I remember not being very impressed upon my first visit. It’s all very hazy now, but I do remember not caring for Paul’s Special Sauce.  It’s a ketchuppy concoction that’s a bit like relish, and being a Carolina Hotdog fan, relish never was my favorite.

“All the way,” includes the sauce, but luckily Paul’s sells hotdogs without that special sauce. Sure enough, they sell classic Carolina Hotdogs with mustard, slaw, chili, and onions, and that’s how I ordered mine. 

Two Carolina Dogs with accidental ketchup
Sadly, the person taking my order got it mixed up and added ketchup, but I didn’t want to be wasteful; because it was my third visit, I can wrote around it and recall the previous visits.

The dogs weren’t bad. They weren’t my favorite ones, either. The slaw was a bit too pickle-y and the chili didn’t add a lot. The chili reminds me of that which I encounter regularly; it has meat but is a thickish liquid with lumps of meat. I don't know what thickens the liquid, but I know I like a seriously meaty chili without a lot of liquid--some, but not a lot. And it should add a nice chili punch!

It seems this is what I thought upon my first visit. I liked them a bit more on my second visit, but even then, I wouldn’t put them near the top of my all-time favorite hot dogs.

If you’re in the area and hankering for a Carolina Dog, this one will do, but I’m on the lookout for better.

My verdict: 3 weenies

Post Script: Since I wrote this review, TNT's Good Behavior, starring Michelle Dockery, shot some episodes at Paul's Place.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


SmashBurger is a new burger chain that recently opened near Duke. I was so impressed with the burgers upon my first visit that I decided to try their hot dog on my second visit. It turns out it’s not quite as simple as that.

SmashBurger Carolina Hot Dog
First, their hot dogs are only available on the kids’ menu. That’s OK, though. They don’t mind selling kids’ meals to adults. The problem is… the hot dog is served as so many kids’ dogs are served: naked. And that’s certainly NOT the Carolina Hot Dog way! 

The naked dog sits on a big bun. I'm sure lots of folks like the trend of making a big deal out of the bread, but for me, a hot dog only needs just enough bread to hold everything in. Bread is not the belle of the ball, that's where the toppings come in. In fact, I've been known to skip the bread, entirely.

Now the kind folks at SmashBurger—and I do mean kind… theirs is some of the best customer service I’ve experienced… it’s like the people who work there like to go to work!!—were willing to add chili, slaw, and onions on the side (mustard is on the table) so that I could construct a real Carolina Hot Dog, myself. And I did just that!

Once I had assembled everything, I had a pretty decent hot dog. The slaw (one of my favorite components, as you might have noticed) is really pretty good. The chili isn’t bad. It’s meaty but not all-meat. It reminds me of a chili that make have smashed beans or some other thickener. Again, not bad, but not wowing. The onions, too, were fine, but nothing that stood out.

Veggie Frites
On the side, SmashBurger offers three kinds of fries,fried onions, and side-salads, but the Veggie Frites, flash-fried green beans and carrot sticks, intrigued my taste buds most.

In the end, I really like SmashBurger, but considering the obstacles to ordering hot dogs and the fact that they didn't really knock me out, I’ll stick with their SnashBurger's burgers and leave the hot dogs to the kids' menu. . 

There are better places to have a hot dog.

My verdict: 3 weenies

Friday, March 14, 2014

Steve's Place

The other day, I happened to be near Triangle Town Center and decided to see if any hot dog stands might be close. Indeed there was: Steve’s Place, in Plantation Square an older shopping center between Capital Boulevard and the Mall itself. I decided to give it a try.

Steve’s is located next to the post office, and the bold white lettering on the edge of the roof simply reads “HOT DOGS.” A neon sign in the window tells you it’s Steve’s and a white wooden sign above the door reads, “Steve’s Place.”

One of the first things I noticed is that there are a few high tables but no chairs or stools inside. A couple of tables with chairs provide al fresco dining when the weather is nice. I’ve read some complaints about the lack of chairs; but to be honest, hot dogs are usually quickly consumed, and a place to hold your food and drink while you stand and eat really is sufficient.

Steve’s offers hot dogs, deli sandwiches, and salads, but I was there for the dogs. Stacks of colored paper caught my eye, and I quickly and correctly surmised that I would order by choosing a sheet from the stack for hot dogs and checking the options I preferred.

Traditional red and all beef wieners are the same $2.25, so in the interest of scientific evaluation, I opted for one of each—after initially thinking I’d just try the traditional ones. I chose my usual toppings: mustard, slaw, chili, and onions, but they offer several others. Steve’s also serves several side and dessert items, but I decided to focus specifically on their hot dogs.

The service was exceptionally friendly and amazingly quick. I’ve never understood what should take so long to put together a couple of dogs; apparently, Steve’s Place agrees with me. Really. The service was fast and friendly.

One Traditional Red, One All Beef, Two Yum
Within a few seconds, I had two very delightful-looking hot dogs in a plastic basket.  Both were pretty good dogs. If forced to choose, I’d probably prefer the beef, just because it did have a touch more flavor. Their slaw is clearly home-made; it’s quite good but perhaps a little too sweet. The onions were subtle players, not sharp as onions can sometimes be, just right.  The chili was tasty but not very strong. Perhaps more chili would have made the dogs better. I mainly noticed the chili flavor with bites light on mustard, onions, and slaw. While I don’t like a “hard” chili, this one may have been too soft, so that it was hard to distinguish it from  the rest, but again, it seemed to have a nicely flavored spice mix.

All in all, Steve’s delivers a solid Carolina Hot Dog, worth a try if you’re in the neighborhood but not a destination hot dog worth going out of your way to obtain.

My verdict: 4 weenies