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After Work: Hot Dog!

…I hoisted myself up and looked at the menu of all the different kinds of hot dogs I could order. I went with the Leroy Brown Junkyard Dog with special sauce, chili, onions and melted cheese…

Dona Gibbs recalls the hot dogs of her childhood days as she munches her way through a Leroy Brown Junky.

To read more of Dona’s tasty columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/

“There it is,” our host shouted as he made a quick, hard right hand turn into the parking lot of an old-fashioned diner. It was the kind of place that once could be found in every American town of any size. It was covered in shiny aluminum and looked like a railway car that had lost its wheels.

“They have great hot dogs!” he exclaimed.

“I’m not really hungry,” Ever-Enthusiastic Husband sputtered in an uncharacteristically unenthusiastic way. We’d just gotten off a cross-country flight and had eaten our way across the continent to fight off boredom.

“Eating a hot dog has nothing to do with being hungry,” our host replied.

The hot dogs were okay. They were plump and juicy and nestled in toasted buns. The chili lacked bite though and the hot dogs had been boiled.

“They make them here just the way I remember hot dogs tasting growing up in Ohio,” our host paused to wipe mustard from his chin.

Hot dogs, it turns out, are not as simple as you might think. First there’s the choice of the sausage itself. Should it be short and fat or should it be long and lean? Should the casing yield easily or should it snap when you take that first bite? Should the meat have a hint of cumin or garlic? Hot dogs get complicated even before you plop them into a pot of boiling water or slice them open and spread them on a grill.

Me, I try to keep an open mind. I’ve eaten hot dogs at a place famous for them on East 86th Street in Manhattan. I’ve eaten them at Mountain Man’s in downtown Flowery Branch, GA. I’ve even had a deep fried hot dog at a roadside place in Connecticut.

Years ago it was a treat for my son when we pulled up to a hot dog stand called Walter’s in a Westchester, New York suburb. The stand looked like a Chinese pagoda, one you might find as a folly in an estate garden. It had been around for years and even had a bulletin board filled with letters and postcards from World War II from soldiers yearning for a Walter’s hot dog.

The best hot dogs in Palm Beach County, I heard could be had at an atmospheric restaurant about twenty miles north of where we spend a chunk of the year. I’d looked online and found my destination had gotten rave reviews –something rare for a hot dog stand. I chose to ignore the one naysayer who mentioned, “projectile vomiting.” Ever-enthusiastic Husband would not be accompanying me.

Directions in hand, I found I it across the road from the railroad track and near a bait shop and tattoo parlor. There was a line of people waiting for a table.

“If I sit at the bar, do I have to wait?” I asked the hostess in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops.

“Nope,” she gestured to an empty seat.

I hoisted myself up and looked at the menu of all the different kinds of hot dogs I could order. I went with the Leroy Brown Junkyard Dog with special sauce, chili, onions and melted cheese.

As interesting as it was, it was not the hot dog of my girlhood. From time to time, as a special outing, my mother and father took me to a hot dog stand down at a rural crossroads. The place was in a one-pump gas station and occupied the space where motor oil and fan belts would usually be sold. It was a six-stool counter with a grill, a hot plate and a bun warmer behind it. The proud chef was Mr. Meacham. If Santa Claus shaved his beard, sported a grey crew cut and wore a slightly soiled apron, that would be Mr. Meacham.

The combination of chili with discernible red pepper flake, finely diced onion and cool, creamy coleslaw made his hot dogs the standard by which I would judge all other hot dogs.

Even at age nine I could down so many of his fifteen-cent wonders that my mother would look away in embarrassment.

As I ate my way through the Leroy Brown Junkyard Dog that I had driven a half hour to consume, I looked around. The menu cover read, “Located in beautiful downtown Jupiter.” I judged that to be a bit of humor, given that the view was of the railroad tracks or a plumbing supply place, depending on which side of the open-sided restaurant you happened to land on,

The place was packed with families all stuffing themselves with hot dogs and fries and slurping their way through milkshakes.

I think it’s very likely that all the kids would hold every other hot dog they downed for the rest of their lives to the standards of that hot dog eating experience. The sun was shining and their parents were beaming. Our friend back in California is right -- eating a hot dog has nothing to do with being hungry.

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