Happy National Hot Dog Day!

Since it’s National Hot Dog Day I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite hot doggeries around the country. One of my favorite historic hot dog restaurants, and tops in the country for original vintage decor, George’s Coney Island in Worcester, Mass, was one of my first blog posts a few years back.

 

George's sign

 

The hot dog was brought over to the U.S. from European immigrants, but its European origins are disputed. Sausage dates back to the 9th century BC (mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey), while the type of sausage used for hot dogs is similar to Weinerwurst or Vienna Sausage, which originated in Austria. However, the city of Frankfurt, Germany, claims it invented the frankfurter or “dachsund sausage” in 1497. Yet another claim is that a butcher in Coburg, Germany, invented the hot dog sausage in the 1600s and brought it to Frankfurt.

 

hot-dogs-hats

 

In any case the American hot dog on a roll is what we are concerned with here, which was reportedly already a German custom to eat sausage on a roll. It is a fact that hot dogs were first sold in New York City, either by a German immigrant from a cart in the Bowery in the 1860s or by Charles Feltman, a German butcher who opened the first Coney Island hot dog stand in 1871 (his employee, Nathan Handwerker, started Nathan’s in 1916). In 1893 hot dogs became popular at baseball parks and sold like hot cakes (or rather like hot dogs) at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (sold by a pair of Jewish immigrants from Vienna who later founded Vienna Beef, Chicago’s most popular hot dog manufacturer). Also in 1893 the oldest mention of the term “hot dog” on record occurred in a Knoxville newspaper. (For more hot dog history visit the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s web site, where I sourced this info).

 

photo by The Jab, 2003

Superdawg, Chicago – photo by The Jab, 2003

 

Which city has the best hot dogs: New York or Chicago? People will argue this forever, but based on my experience Chicago wins hands down for best hot dogs in the country. Then there are the arguments within Chicago about who has the best hot dogs. We won’t go there because there are so many different types of hot dogs in Chicago (likewise, for pizza). There’s the classic Chicago dog “dragged through the garden” that is a steamed all-beef frankfurter on a poppy-seed roll with sliced tomato, raw chopped white onions, yellow mustard, bright green sweet relish, pickled sport peppers, celery salt, and a pickle spear (but never ketchup), reportedly invented at Fluky’s in 1929 (sadly, the only Fluky’s left is at a Wal-Mart in Niles, IL). Then there’s the char-grilled “char-dog”, which is terrific at Weiner’s Circle, where they only serve hot dogs cooked that way. And until it closes this October, the always busy Hot Doug’s serves dozens of hot dog specialties.

 

photo by The Jab, 2003

photo by The Jab, 2003

My favorite hot dog stand in Chicago is Superdawg. My Chicago friends may not agree, and I admit the hot dogs at Weiner Circle and Gene and Jude’s are great also (Wolfy’s is another one that comes out on top in polls), but I love the all-original drive up with car hops that is SUPERDAWG! Opened in 1948 by Maurie and Flaurie Berman, who have been represented on the roof of the restaurant as caveman and girl “dogs” since the beginning, it hasn’t changed much and, amazingly, it is still owned by the Berman’s, who run it with their children. They still have the same ordering system as in 1948: you drive in to the parking lot, order from your car into a mic/speaker, and your meal is brought to you on a tray in a very cute vintage looking box, which you will want to take home as a souvenir (mine still sits in my kitchen). This is one of the last restaurants in America that still has car hop service.

 

Superdawg with fries - photo by The Jab, 2007

Superdawg with fries – photo by The Jab, 2007

 

In addition to the Superdawg™, which is a spicy dog that comes fully dressed and includes a pickled green tomato wedge, they also offer a Whoopskidawg®, which is a Polish-type sausage on a roll with special sauce, grilled onions, and pickle, and several other sandwiches. Their crinkle-cut super fries are excellent.

 

photo by The Jab, 2003

photo by The Jab, 2003

 

In New York City your best sources for hot dogs are the many hot dog carts around the city and the bargain Papaya-drink-and-two-hot-dogs stands which started in 1932 when Papaya King opened on the upper East Side of Manhattan (still on the same street corner of 86th St and 3rd Ave, and in several other locations in NYC). Although it originally only sold fruit drinks it started serving hot dogs because the neighborhood was predominantly German-American at the time. In the 1970s and 1980s Gray’s Papaya and Papaya Dog copied the concept, but Gray’s is down to only one location. Which is the best? I’ll let you be the judge as I’ve only been to the original Papaya King.

 

photo by The Jab, 2005

photo by The Jab, 2005

 

If you’re in Georgia, the town of Macon is worth a detour for Nu-Way Weiners, open since 1916 (their sign was misspelled in 1937 and they kept it that way to this day) and still in the same location (plus several other locations). Their specialty is chili dogs, which are made with their special homemade chili sauce (no beans, just the way I like a chili dog).

 

photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

 

My favorite hot dog stand in greater Los Angeles closed and was demolished in 2011. Papoo’s Hot Dog Show (yes, it was more than just a stand, it was a SHOW!) opened in 1949 in Burbank, across the street from Bob’s Big Boy designed by Wayne McAllister in the Googie style in the same year (and still open).

 

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photo by Terry Guy on Flickr

 

You can see Papoo’s in the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

 

InvasionBodySnatchers

 

Inside Papoo's - photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

Inside Papoo’s – photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

 

Lastly, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, I’ve been disappointed by most of the hot dogs I’ve had (they are usually lukewarm, not hot). My favorite was the old Kasper’s on Telegraph Ave at Shattuck Ave, which closed “for remodeling” way back in 2002 and never re-opened. Kasper’s was started by Kasper Koojoolian, from Armenia, in 1930 at the corner of Fruitvale Ave and MacArthur Blvd (old US 50). Partners invested and It expanded into other locations in the 1940s, but in 1955 Kasper’s brother Paul split off, continuing as Kasper’s, while the rest of the partners started a chain of hot dog restaurants called Casper’s. Today there is still a Kasper’s on MacArthur Blvd (not in the same location as the original), in addition to others in Castro Valley, Hayward, and Pleasanton.

 

Kasper's, MacArthur Blvd., Oakland - photo by The Jab, 2013

Kasper’s, MacArthur Blvd., Oakland – photo by The Jab, 2013

 

Casper’s continues with 8 Bay Area locations, and most have the original 1960s modern look in bright oranges and browns. Since 1989 the company has made its own frankfurters under the Spar Sausage name. I like the hot dogs at both Kasper’s and Casper’s, but Casper’s has the edge for taste and for decor.

 

photo by The Jab

Casper’s, Telegraph Ave., Oakland – photo by The Jab, 2013

 

I leave you, dear readers, with this photo I took on the road in Georgia in 2005, and a video of an amazing neon sign at Taylor Brothers Hot Dogs in Visalia, CA (where I need to go!). Please check the linked web sites for location, addresses, and open hours of the above establishments.

 

photo by The Jab, 2005

photo by The Jab, 2005

 

 

 

Johnny Harris, Savannah, Georgia – CLOSED & DEMOLISHED

Recently someone asked me if I had been to Savannah, and I answered with a hearty “YES!”. I stayed there on my Georgia road trip in 2005 (also see earlier posts here and here) and was quickly charmed by the town, with its lovely tree-filled streets of historic homes, its riverfront setting, and with my lodging choice, the Thunderbird Inn, which was restored by the Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD).

Thunderbird Inn 1
Thunderbird Inn 2

 

Johnny Harris restaurant is located in Savannah on old U.S. Highway 80, which before the Interstate Highway System traversed the entire country from San Diego, California, to Tybee Island, Georgia (much of the old highway still exists in San Diego County and is a great time-warp drive that I highly recommend). Named after the founder who opened a small barbeque shack in 1924, the restaurant opened at its current location in 1936. Johnny Harris passed away in 1942, but his partner Red Donaldson took over the restaurant and it’s still run by the same family.

Johnny Harris 2

The main dining room is a large circular space with a high domed ceiling with illuminated “stars”, a bar in the center (above photo), gorgeous partitioned wooden booths below a mural around the outer wall, and tables and chairs in the space between. A lot of people could eat in this room, but when I went for dinner it was pretty quiet.

Johnny Harris 3

plenty of privacy in the wooden booths

The restaurant has a diverse menu but it specializes in barbeque. I had their “famous” fried chicken & BBQ pork combination plate. The meal was served with a small bowl of a South coastal specialty, Brunswick Stew, a traditional tomato-based meat and vegetable stew, wedge fries, homemade dark bread, and coleslaw. The highlight was their tangy barbecue sauce. It was so good that I brought home a bottle of the stuff.

Johnny Harris meal

If you are ever in Georgia, a visit to Savannah is a must. It has some of the charms of New Orleans but without the party atmosphere. And when you go you should visit Johnny Harris. The BBQ isn’t the best in Georgia, but eating good food in such a beautiful, classic dining room makes it worth a visit.

Why not do a U.S. Highway 80 road trip across the country from San Diego to the Atlantic coast in Georgia? I pretty much guarantee you will have a better time warp experience than you would driving most of Route 66 (mostly swallowed up by I-40). Take out your road atlas and look it up. US 80 is pretty much intact across the eastern half of its route across the country. In Georgia and Alabama it exists far from any interstate highway, which I have found helps to preserve old places (restaurants, motels, etc.) because they don’t have the competition they would near an interstate where chain motels and restaurants pop up like weeds. In Mississippi, Louisiana, and east Texas it closely parallels I-20 but it still exists separately. West of Dallas it was merged into I-20, though it probably exists in most towns and cities as “Old Highway 80”. Road trip! Let’s go!

Johnny Harris
1651 E Victory Dr, Savannah, GA 31404
(912) 354-7810
Open Sun-Thu 11:30am – 9:30pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am – 10:30pm

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Trader Vic’s, Atlanta, Georgia

To continue on Le Continental’s 2005 road trip through Georgia, we come to Trader Vic’s at the Hilton in downtown Atlanta, There are only four Vic’s left in the U.S. since newer locations in Palo Alto and Chicago closed recently:
Emeryville, CA (opened in 1972 and my favorite, of course, because it’s the first one I went to and it’s near my home),
Los Angeles (a beautiful newer location which opened a couple of years ago),
Portland (a brand new location that I visited last May, that has some of the best decor of any recent Vic’s), and
Atlanta
(which opened in 1976 and is the best of all the U.S. locations as far as the decor).

 

photo by stagednormalcy.com

photo by stagednormalcy.com

 

Trader Vic’s Atlanta, photo taken by The Jab in 2005

 

Like many other Trader Vic’s, the bar is fine, but to really experience it you must dine in the dining room. The decor here is classic Vic’s, with lots of Polynesian art and artifacts, tikis, and tons of bamboo and tapa cloth. Every inch is covered except for the large windows which look out on tropical gardens.

 

photo by stagednormalcy.com

photo by stagednormalcy.com

 

Order a Mai Tai or the Trader Vic’s Atlanta specialty drink, the Peachtree Punch, some Cosmo Tid Bits, and soak in the wonderful atmosphere. For an entrée I recommend something from the wood fired oven.

 

Mai Tai - photo by stagednormalcy.com

Mai Tai – photo by stagednormalcy.com

 

photo by stagednormalcy.com

photo by stagednormalcy.com

 

Trader Vic’s
Hilton Atlanta, 255 Courtland St NE, Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 221-6339
Open Mon-Sat 5:30-10:30 (bar closes at midnight)

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The Colonnade Restaurant, Atlanta, Georgia

In the fall of 2005 I took a road trip from Nashville to Chattanooga, and then through Georgia, spending time in Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, and Savannah, then seeing the great Okefenokee Swamp before continuing to Florida for the annual Hukilau tiki event. In this and the next couple of posts I will recap some of the restaurants and bars I visited on the trip.

Georgia has a lot of great home cookin’ “soul food” places, and Atlanta is no exception. My favorite during my visit was The Colonnade, which opened in 1927, then moved to its present location in 1962 and is still going strong. In the 80s they expanded (and it looks like they remodeled then), adding a full bar with fireplace.

The Colonnade Restaurant

The decor is nothing very special, but the food is. Everything is homemade, including the salad dressings, sauces, desserts, and their famous yeast rolls, the best dinner rolls you will ever eat! Seriously, they are so fluffy and flaky and they melt in your mouth.

Colonnade’s iceberg wedge salad with Thousand Island dressing, yeast rolls, and sweet tea

They are especially famous for their juicy fried chicken, so I ordered that of course. On the menu you have 32 different side dishes to choose from, including such classics as tomato aspic and Waldorf salad. I wish I was more hungry so I could have tried several of them, but I ended up with just one. A great choice though – sweet potato soufflé, which was recommended on Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood.com, and was creamy and delicious. The fried chicken was some of the best I ever had. Mmmmmmm!

Colonnade’s fried chicken and sweet potato soufflé

This place was very popular when I went, so you may have to wait. The service was friendly and efficient, like most places in the south that I visited.

The Colonnade
1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta, GA 30324
(404) 874-5642
Open Mon-Thurs 5pm-9pm, Fri 5pm-10pm, Sat 12pm-10pm, Sun 11:30am-9pm

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