Before we get started, I want to address a concern I had regarding the whole IEM concept. How do I prove to the reader that all of the eating for each session takes place on the same day? Initially, I had the idea to have my photo taken in front of each establishment holding that day’s newspaper- like in a kidnapping photo. A friend pointed out that I could hold up that same day's paper three years from now, so that wouldn’t prove anything. After that brilliant idea was so crudely debunked, I couldn’t come up with anything else too concrete for proof.
So, all I can do is place my hand on the Holy Bible and promise you all: “By the power of Greyskull, I, Andrew Levy, the Inhuman Eating Machine, solemnly affirm on the immortal souls of Walter Hudson, Homer J. Simpson, and William Howard Taft that the food I am about to receive was all consumed within the same calendar day. So help me God.”
Eating Day: Saturday, April 21, 2007- HOT DOGS
Why hot dogs? I had 3 reasons. Firstly, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my favorite food sites- Watch Me Eat a Hot Dog, which seems to have slowed down somewhat post-Katrina. Secondly, I wanted to go really big on the first session of Inhuman Eating Machine (IEM) and I knew I could really knock it out of the park with hot dogs. IEM by-laws state that I must eat at least 8 of the item in question. 8 hot dogs in one day is child's play. I vowed to eat 15 for my debut to show you that I was serious. Finally, I read somewhere that the Bay Area is one of the biggest hot dog eating regions in the U.S. and I wanted to see if the area's franks were of a quality I would expect in such a wiener-centric region. The quest was a little harder than I thought it would be, but I had a blast. Join me, won't you?
10:52am- Glenn's Hot Dogs- 3506 Mac Arthur Blvd (Oakland )- $2.50
Ever eaten Chinese food at a place where the entire place was staffed by non-Asians? It's never good. On the other side of the food coin, if you go to an "American-food" place that appears to have been taken over by recent Chinese immigrants, you're probably gonna be disappointed, too. The Chinese may do doughnuts better than anybody, but for diner-fare, they have a tendency to get it slightly wrong. Give 'em time, though. American culinary influences are universal and they CAN be learned. They'll be cranking out awesome double cheeseburgers years before Honky ever cooks good Hunan.
The proprietor of Glenn’s speaks broken English. He’s probably pretty new to the US, but he works that grill like he's the second coming of Mel Sharples. I couldn’t have hoped for a better place to start off my hot dog journey. Glenn’s is run by a friendly Cantonese-speaking guy and what appears to be his wife and daughter. The establishment seems to be circa 1950’s or 60’s and I imagine it has known several owners. The place has a few tables and a counter with about 6 stools. There is a 2ft. high clear plastic wall on the side of the counter closest to the employees. This is either a sneeze guard or some sort of barrier installed to make it harder for miscreants to jump over the counter and kill the employees. Judging by the “Grand Opening” sign hanging outside, the new management haven’t run Glenn's for too long, but they have started off with a bang.
I ordered the regular hot dog. By the crimp on the ends of the dog, it appeared to be some boutique/gourmet brand. I was psyched when I saw the owner throw the dog on the griddle. It’s been my experience that grilling/griddling a hot dog automatically improves its flavor by a good margin. And he toasted the bun, too- another way to increase the overall experience. The dog arrived in just a few minutes, topped with onions, mustard, and relish. Normally, I eat my dogs with mustard only, or maybe with a little kraut or onions, but for this experiment, I ate each place’s “default” hot dog. One bite of this dog and I knew Glenn (or whatever the new guy’s name is) was cooking with gas, literally and figuratively. The dog was longer than average, it had a good snap, just the right seasoning, and lots of juice in every bite. And the sesame bun tasted fresh (sometimes a toasted bun is an attempt to mask staleness). This hot dog was everything I could ask for and the price was right. I will be visiting Glenn's again when I do a session on burgers. That day can't come too soon.
11:12am- Kasper's- 2551 Mac Arthur Blvd ( Oakland )- $2.69
Like Glenn's, Kasper's appears to be from the 50's or 60's. It's part of a chain that has a handful of East Bay locations. Kasper's is a separate chain from Casper's, a slightly larger (and significantly inferior) East Bay hot dog chain. It's also separate from "The Original Kaspers" at the junction of Telegraph and Shattuck, which is currently (permanently?) closed. I once asked the guy at "Original Kaspers" what the deal was with all of the similarily-named hot dog places in the East Bay and he gave me the low-down. I don't remember all the details, but the gist of it was there was a guy named Kasper who ran a hot dog stand in Oakland. Both of his sons wanted to take over the place. They never came to an agreement, so they each started their own hot dog place- Kasper's and Casper's. The old dude's place became known as "The Original Kasper's."
I don't know how the MacArthur Kasper's stays in business, unless they get incredibly busy on weekdays. When I stop by, there's never more than a handful of people in there and nobody seems to be eating much. They're all just talking like old friends. There's almost always a cop in there and he probably gets his food for free. (By the way, what does the beige Oakland P.D. uniform mean?) Everyone seems to know each other and they just hang out. It's the same kind of clientele I used to see at the incomparable Ann's Cafe before it closed in 2000. The counter-staff seem to know all of the customers and they sit around talking a lot, too. There's a jukebox with 45's like "The Gambler", "The Joker", and "Dancing in the Moonlight", but they were playing a mix tape that day. The tape had "She's a Goodhearted Woman" (live version) on it, Charlie Pride's "Kiss an Angel Good Morning", and "Rock Around the Clock" among other country and 50's classics. The 70-ish counter-lady seemed to know every lyric and she danced around and sang as she went about her hot dog duties.
The Kasper's Dog is obviously a take on the Chicago-style hot dog. The dog is steamed in a massive steamer and it's topped with onions, relish, mustard, and tomatoes. The bun is really fresh, but the highly steamed dog, kind of shrivels up the bun. For some reason, it actually tastes good that way. The dog has a lot of old school hot dog flavor and it snaps properly. Like a moron, I forgot to take a photo of the first dog I ordered, so I had to order another one. That was ALL I needed on this day- to eat an extra hot dog.
11:48am-Weinerschnitzel-1529 Park St. (Alameda,CA)- $1.79
This chain used to be called Der Weinerschnitzel. Though they're still the largest hot dog chain in the US, it's not that easy to find their stores without really looking for one. They used to have a ton of franchises all over the West and Southwest. Until very recently, it had been easily 25 years since I had eaten at this place, so I can’t remember if they also used to serve good hot dogs. Regardless, they don’t serve good hot dogs now.
It’s possible that dropping the “Der” from the chain’s name doomed them to financial ruin. Maybe they dumped the Deutsche article, as not to offend Jewish hot dog lovers. As a hot dog -loving Semite, I find their half-assed franks as offensive as any connection I could ever infer between this hot dog stand and the Third Reich.
The dog I ordered was only marginally better than the ones they sell for $1 each at Wednesday Oakland A’s home games. Both dogs are the kind you would never want to eat if you had to pay full price. Not only did I pay full price for the dog at Weinerschnitzel, but I “upgraded” by paying 80 cents extra to get an all-beef frank. If this was their premium dog, I can’t even imagine what their regular dog is like. The dog was skimpy and had amost zero flavor and not much snap. The bun wasn’t quite stale, but it was crumbly like it had been drying in the sun. If this dog cost 50 cents, I could see eating it occasionally if I was to get it with cheese or chili. But in its natural state, the dog is just not worth your time.
The best thing about Weinerschnitzel is the A-frame architecture. The second best thing is their napkin, which is printed with the slogan, “Pushing the boundaries of taste.” Don’t they understand that some folks could take that slogan the wrong way? They obviously have the same dumbkopfs working on Der Marketing as Das Hot Dog.
12:06pm- Pampered Pup 1401 Park St. (Alameda,CA)- $2.75
Glenn’s showed me that Chinese guys can take over an old time hot dog stand and not have the quality suffer. I’m not sure if this place was any good before the Chinese owner took over, but it’s only so-so now.
Like Kasper’s and many other places I would eat on this day, Pampered Pup is trying to replicate the Chicago-style dog. They like to put big slices of onion and tomato on top of the dog. Unfortunately, the dog wasn’t very flavorful and it tasted like it had been steamed too long, which is strange, considering the place had only been open an hour when I arrived. The bun was not quite stale, but it wasn't fresh, either. The whole thing wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t anything I’d get again if I had my druthers. It was like filet mignon next to Weinerschnitzel, though.
If you’re in Alameda and you MUST HAVE A HOT DOG, go here. Pampered Pup will fulfill your need for a hot dog. You may be left semi-satisfied, like when you try to take a dump and you only fart. But you could do much worse- like going to Weinerschnitzel.
12:50pm- Village Dog- 6112 LaSalle Ave-Montclair Plaza (Oakland, CA) $4.00
Montclair is a very rich, very white enclave on the top of a hill overlooking a very poor, very black city. Although it is technically part of Oakland, Montclair’s narrow streets, which wind through massive redwood trees, bring to mind Marin county. There are no sideshows up here. And there is nowhere to get your teeth fitted for a gold grill in Montclair Plaza. But there is a UPS store, a shoe repair, a video rental, a SCORE tutoring center, and Village Dog.
Apparently, this space used to be a Top Dog, but they are no longer affiliated. Like Top Dog, Village Dog specializes in fancy gourmet sausages. There were lots of white people with tan pants and down vests waiting in line for a variety of encased meat products. All of the items are cooked on a grill, which was very promising. The place had a condiment bar with onions, jalapenos, kraut, and like 4 kinds of mustard. That’s even better than what they have at Top Dog. And they had a TV on with the NBA playoffs. This place was looking very good so far.
I ordered the standard beef dog. It arrived well-grilled with a little char on it. The bun was toasted on the grill. The dog had a good snap, and it was pretty tasty, but it wasn’t nearly as flavorful as I would have expected at a gourmet place like this. It was just okay. And the bun wasn’t just toasted. It was DRY. I’m guessing the bread wasn’t quite fresh prior to toasting. The spicy mustard was a nice touch, though. Would I eat here again? Are you paying? Because if you’re not, forget it.
$4 for a hot dog? Who do they think they are? If they’re gonna charge that much for a HOT DOG, they should have some pride in their work and kick my ass with that frank. This dog would have been totally serviceable down in “the Flats” at Flats prices, but up in the Hills and for $4, it just did not live up to its thoroughbred pedigree. How the hell did all these crackers get so rich when they spend $4 for a dog like this?
1:44pm- Hot Dog Palace- 1990 Grant (Concord, CA) $3.45
I had high hopes for this place. It was recommended by Mitch “The Crocketeer” Cardwell who really seems to know his grub. I reckon this place holds some sort of nostalgic appeal for him, because it looks like it’s as old as the town of Concord itself. When I arrived, my heart sank. There was a huge banner outside proclaiming themselves the “Home of the world’s greatest hot dog.” Everybody knows that you don’t need to put that kind of claim on a banner if you really are the best. John Holmes didn’t go around wearing a Miss America sash telling everybody he had a 13 ½" (some say more like 14") schlong. Like a really good hot dog joint, he knew to let his meat do the talking.
This place had kind of a forced old-timey ambience, not unlike the late, lamented Farrell’s Ice Cream chain- kitschy and fun. All the signs looked old. They may even be the original signs, but I think the place has had a recent management change, because it seemed to be run by a Korean family. I took this as a good sign. Unlike recent Chinese immigrants, for some reason, recent Korean immigrants seem to know their way around American-style food. I think the U.S. presence in post-war Korea may have led them to an understanding of greasy spoon cuisine. And I love it when they say “frenchee fry”. I ordered the beef dog, which was once again proclaimed as “Chicago Style”. They even had Vienna Beef signs on the wall.
Let me just say that I like the Chicago dog. It’s a decent sandwich. But it’s overkill. If you start off with a really good hot dog, there is absolutely no reason to cover it up with all of that stuff. For all I know, the dog at Hot Dog Palace may have been an actual Vienna Beef dog, but it was just average, even though it was easily 1/4 lb. The item was similar in some ways to the Kasper’s dog in the way the bun kind of shriveled up when the steamed dog hit it. That’s a nice touch. But alas, the dog itself was kind of bland. It snapped properly, but it was still a pale imitation of the superior Kasper's dog. The pickle wedge was really good, though. If I lived in Concord, I might eat here regularly and try some of the other menu items if there wasn’t a Costco and Sam’s Club in town. Atmosphere, pickles, banners, and endearing mispronunciations will only take you so far in this life, my friends. Get a good hot dog together and we’ll talk.
2:09pm- Sam's Club- 1225 Concord Ave. (Concord, CA) $1.50 with a Coke
There is a myth that kosher beef is better than non-Kosher meat. It may be healthier, but it doesn't generally taste better. Kosher meat preparation requires heavy salting and soaking, which can leave beef tasting dry and leathery. And since the hind quarters of the beef are verboten, many of the best cuts of meat are unavailable in kosher form. There is one place where kosher beef shines- the world of hot dogs. The kosher dog is not only devoid of the usual lips, hooves, and anuses found in the standard hot dog. It is also all beef, made without fillers, and in most cases, seasoned way better than any other dog.
For some reason, Sam's Club and Costco both sell kosher franks in their snack bars. Sam's has Best Kosher dogs. For $1.50, you get a 1/4 lb. all beef dog on a sesame bun with a bottomless soda. This is a great deal, even for a Weinerschnitzel-quality dog, but Sam's actually serves a great hot dog. The dog is juicy and full of flavor, though in this case, I think it may have been steamed a little too long, because it didn't snap like other Best Kosher dogs I've had at Sam's. The other problem this day was the bun. It was a little too chewy and gummy as if it hadn't been baked long enough. But for $1.50, how can you complain? A Best Kosher dog is better on its worst day the 90% of other dogs on their best day.
Sam's Club is part of the Wal-Mart empire, so some folks may feel guilty supporting these evil overlords. I'm not always the most socially responsible consumer, but I feel good about eating at the Sam's Club snack bar for 2 reasons:
- Unlike Costco, you do not need to be a member (about $50/year) to eat in Sam's Club snack bar.
- The snack bar at Sam's Club is practically a loss leader. They are making little or no profit on the dogs there. The snack bar is bait to lure you into the store to buy something with a much more significant mark-up. They won't make that money from me, though. I will not buy a palate of paper towels there, because I am not a member. When I buy hot dogs at the snack bar without buying anything inside, I am actually hurting Wal-Mart's designs on crushing the workers of the world. With every delicious bite I become more and more like Cesar Chavez.
3:10pm Sam's Doghouse- 2432 San Pablo Ave. (Pinole, CA)- $2.64
Sam’s Doghouse (no relation to Sam’s Club) is in a nondescript strip mall in “downtown” Pinole. Living in the “cool” Bay Area, I often forget that there are a lot of small towns around here like Pinole that are indistinguishable from any burg in my former home, Iowa. Sam’s Doghouse has fat counter girls with perms who look like the girls I'd see working the counter at Taco John's in Marshalltown, Iowa. They were singing along with a “rock of the 90’s” radio station. The brunette with the glasses seemed to especially love “Time Bomb” by Rancid. I had no idea kids knew those songs these days. And who knew they still played Rancid on the radio?
The place seemed to be going for a 50’s theme at one point, but there was so little effort put into the whole concept, I could barely detect it. They had a few stock portraits of ’57 Chevy’s, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, etc., strewn around in a haphazard manner. And they had some yellowed newspaper clippings about a classic car show from the 80's. They also had an autographed 8x10 glossy of Robert Boatright. I’ve never heard of this guy. He looked kind of like an Ernest and Julio Gallo-period Orson Welles. I figured he was a 50’s actor or crooner who had stopped through Pinole on his way to play the state fair or something. I Googled the guy, but I couldn’t find anybody remotely famous with that name. Who is he and why does Sam’s Doghouse want a photo of him on the wall? Sure, he wrote, “To Sam’s Doghouse. Thanks for the best hot dog I ever had.” But so what? If I was to write that (false) statement on a photo of myself, would they frame it and put it on the wall?
By now, I was getting pretty full. One might think that my taste buds were dulled at this point. Actually, the opposite was true. Normally, I will eat quickly in an attempt to satiate my hunger as quickly as possible and I don’t always stop to savor my food the way I should. But in this state, where I felt like my gullet was going to detonate, I became acutely aware of every single bite.
Once again, this place served Chicago dogs. It was another pale imitation of Kasper’s; it had the shrivel-y bun, but a rather run-of-the-mill dog. It made zero impact on my palate. If I still lived in Iowa and this was the only hot dog joint for 60 miles, I might eat there regularly. Otherwise, I can’t think of any reason to eat a regular dog at the Doghouse. They seem to specialize in chili-cheese dogs, so maybe one of those would make this place worth my while. But my trip was about regular dogs. There would be no chili cheese for me on this day, friends. My lot was to slowly and sadly eat a mediocre dog while my distended belly stretched in agony. My only solace was the winsome gaze of Robert Boatright above my table.
3:49pm- Pup Hut- 12505 San Pablo Ave. (Richmond, CA) $2.75
At this point, I was feeling a good deal of pain. I never realized this mission would be as hard as it was. After all, I once polished off 13 dogs at an A’s game before the bottom of the fifth inning. And I've eaten 8 dogs in 5 minutes on a few occasions. I forgot that those were measly little dogs like you get at the grocery store, though. All day, I’d been eating big restaurant dogs, many purporting to be ¼ lb., and I was getting pretty sick of the whole Chicago dog gimmick that the bulk of Bay Area doggeries have succumbed to.
Pup Hut, another Mitch Cardwell recommendation, is on San Pablo Ave. in a pretty run-down part of Richmond. From the looks of the building, it’s been there since at least the 60’s. It seems to be a hangout for the local youth and I imagine it’s been that way since it opened. I seriously doubt if many of the teen clientele had gold teeth in 1963, though. The kids were goofing with the cook while they sat at the counter. At one point, the cook pulled a can of mace and appeared as if he was going to spray the kids. Luckily, he was just joking around with them. If things started to get ugly at the Pup Hut, I was in no condition to run.
I ordered the regular dog and was not at all happy to see it was another Chicago-esque offering. I could barely get the thing in my mouth; the pain in my gut was strong. But strangely, this dog was great. Even with a bellyache and the superfluous Chicago toppings, I could tell this was a superior dog. The casing snapped right and it had great seasonings. And the bun was very fresh. I wished I wasn’t so full, because I would’ve ordered several of these, but it took me at least 20 minutes to finish the one dog I had ordered. Although I thought I might pass out when I forced down the last bite of the dog, it tasted just as good as one of the dogs from earlier that day. So far, only Glenn’s and Kasper’s were in the same league as the Pup Hut dog for overall dog quality. The place also had milkshakes and grilled burgers. They both looked great, but I could barely move at this point let alone eat either of those things. I waddled out to the parking lot. One more dog and I was going to allow myself to go home and regroup for that evening's repast.
5:30pm- Costco- 4801 Central Ave. (Richmond, CA)- $1.50 w/Coke
When I arrived at Costco, I almost considered not going inside. I had no interest in eating a hot dog or anything else ever again. My stomach felt like I had swallowed a cannonball. But my "commitment to the bit” was too strong. I decided to hang out in the car for a few minutes and steel myself for the inevitable. After a very brief nap, I entered the store. Luckily, I had some grocery shopping to do, which enabled me to burn up another half hour. Walking around the massive warehouse store was helping to redistribute the food-baby in my man-womb. And then it happened. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I began feeling that familiar twitching down in my lower intestines. Before I knew it, I was in the Costco bathroom making a boom-boom. To say I was no longer full after that would be a lie, but dropping a deuce released just enough pressure to allow me to go eat a Costco dog.
While I waited in the long-ish line at the snack bar, I snapped the photo of the sign you see below. About a minute later, a chubby Costco employee came up to me and said:
“Sir, I noticed that you just took a picture of our sign.”
“Yes, I did.” I said.
“Can I ask you why you took a picture of our sign?” He said.
“I’m doing a blog about hot dogs.” I said.
“Oh really?” He said, sounding sort of excited.The guy’s manager was right behind him. She looked very serious. The guy whispered something to her, but she shook her head. The guy said, “Sorry sir. We don’t allow photos in Costco.”
I was in no mood to argue. If I was to raise my voice in anger I might spew nitrate-laced vomit all over Costco. “I won’t take any more photos.” I said.
“Also, I have to advise you that if you post that photo you may be held liable.” He said.
In retrospect, I should have told him, "And you, sir, will be held liable for serving delicious frankfurters!" I expected them to grab my camera and smash it to the ground as if I had photographed a bum in Tiananmen Square or Fidel Castro masturbating behind a Havana nursery school. “Okay, I won’t post the photo.” I lied. They walked away slowly.
It was my turn in line. I ordered the hot dog deal- a Sinai 48 ¼ lb. kosher dog on a sesame bun with a self-service soda for $1.50 plus tax. Even though I was still very full and had just been persecuted by the Costco Gestapo, that dog was just plain awesome. There were no Chicago-isms to screw up the perfection of the dog. Tomato and sport peppers are not needed there. That tube steak snapped better than George Michael during the intro to “Father Figure.” Although I didn’t get the Polish sausage, the Sinai 48 hot dog is way more sausage-like than any other dog out there. It packs so much flavor and juice that I almost forgot that I felt like puking. I wasn’t eating with my usually vigor, but I ate that dog twice as fast as the Pup Hut dog, which was no slouch itself. Maybe going BM allowed me to pick up the pace a little. Perhaps I just felt unwelcome in the store and I ate faster so I could leave the watchful eyes of the oppressor. I like to think it was the superior quality of that kosher dog that allowed me to finish it in a respectable amount of time; savoring it as if it was my last meal before the secret police executed me by firing squad and forced my family to pay for the bullet.
9:09pm- Smokehouse- 3115 Telegraph Ave. (Berkeley, CA)- $3.20
After resting at home for a while, I was ready to start anew. The pain had vanished and my hunger was restored. I grabbed the wife and we embarked on the final chapter of the first session of Inhuman Eating Machine. We had intended to start at either the Ikea snack bar or at the Top Dog inside the Long's Drugs at 51st and Broadway, but both of those places were closed, so we headed to the Oakland/Berkeley border.
The Smokehouse is open late. I had a burger there a long time ago, but I can't remember anything about it. I'll re-visit when I do the burger session. It was a chilly, rainy night, so eating there was rather uncomfortable. There's a roof over the eating area's wooden picnic tables, but for all intents and purposes, you're eating outside. The clientele were primarily patrons from the White Horse across the street. The White Horse is the East Bay's oldest gay bar. The constant stream of femmes, butches, bears, stone butches, and lady-boys provided a nice floor-show while we waited for our food.
The Smokehouse grills their dog and they toast the bun on the grill. They could've really been a contender. But then they committed the cardinal sin of putting ketchup on the dog! Subtract 12 charisma points immediately! This was the only place I ate that had ketchup as a default condiment. I knew we were in for trouble. Next, I discovered that the dog was flaccid and flavorless. The bun had more flavor than the hot dog, for chrissake! It should've been great. Except for the ketchup, they did all the right things, preparation-wise. The dog would've made a great model for a photo in a magazine ad. It was positively beautiful in its presentation. But they began with a sub-Oscar Mayer dog, so they were doomed from the start. They clearly tried to polish a turd here. I noticed that none of the flamboyant folks from across the street ordered a hot dog. They all got hamburgers. The gays must know something. Could they be the canary in the coalmine of hot dog quality? Regardless, I am now a strong suppporter of the Gay/Lesbian/Transgender community's right to steer me away from cruddy weiners.
9:38pm- Oscar’s- 1890 Shattuck Ave. (Berkeley, CA) - $2.95
Oscar’s is apparently a Berkeley institution. It’s been around since the early 60’s, I'd reckon. Due to its proximity to UC Berkeley, a lot of students eat here. I can’t help wondering if they ever had their windows smashed during looting following the many riots during the Free Speech Movement, Black Panther rallies, or anti-‘Nam protests. Do you suppose tear gas tastes good on fries? And how did Huey Newton like his burgers cooked?
In addition to students/professors, there’s almost always a crazy person or a derelict in Oscar’s. Before we entered, I snapped a photo of the building. When we got inside, a shifty dude shouted, “You better not have taken my picture!” He was either A- Afraid the photo would make the voices angry or B- On the lam. He was muttering to himself, so I’m going with option A.
I’ve eaten Oscar’s burgers a few times and I remember liking them, but this was my first time with their hot dog. Like Smokehouse, the dog and bun were nicely grilled, but the dog was the skimpiest entry since Weinerschnitzel and they did the Chicago thing again! It had decent snap and passable flavor, but it was a very middle of the road offering overall. It was considerably better than the Smokehouse, though. If the dog was a little larger, I might order it as a side order with a burger on occasion, but it’s definitely not a necessary frankfurter. I like their big grill and the kooky atmosphere, though, so I’ll probably be back again for the burger session.
10:12pm- Albany Bowl- 540 San Pablo Ave. (Albany, CA) - $3.75 w/fries
We tried going to Saul’s in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, but they had just closed. It’s for the best. We looked through their window and their menu said a dog there was $6! Unless the hot dog is the size of a Buick, I’m no longer interested.
The Albany Bowl is a great bowling alley. It’s one of the few alleys around that have any character. It was opened in 1949 and while there have been some concessions to the modern world (rock n’ bowl, electronic scoreboards, etc.) it still retains its old-time bowling alley charm. Most bowling alleys have been sterilized and modernized. Perhaps they are more conducive to serious bowling that way, but they lose their souls. The snack bar/cafe at the Albany has a huge menu. In addition to the usual burgers/nachos/hot dogs, they also serve breakfast. Plus, they have a substantial Thai menu and a couple of Filipino items. (I think the owners/managers are Thai.) I may come back to sample some of these other items, but I will stay as far away from their hot dog as humanly possible.
Calling the Albany Bowl hot dog the worst hot dog I’ve ever eaten would be a compliment. I am not a picky eater. After all of my grousing about the Weinerschnitzel dog, I’d still gladly eat several of those dogs if they were free (or dirt cheap.) It’s still a hot dog, after all. But I would NOT eat a free Albany Bowl hot dog. In fact, I will never eat another one unless I am paid handsomely. If I survived a plane crash and the only food available was Albany Bowl hot dogs and the flesh of the dead passengers, the hot dogs would go undisturbed.
To begin with, the dog there was the wrong color. I’m colorblind, but even I could tell something was amiss with this dog. It was too dark, but not due to cooking. When I bit into the sandwich, I was surprised that the bun offered more resistance than the dog. There appeared to be a casing, but my teeth begged to differ. It was at once bitter and liver-like. And it smelled like an overfilled garbage can. It was as if someone had fashioned a hot dog-shaped cylinder of turd and placed it on a bun with some onions. Unfortunately, I was so flabbergasted by the dog’s nastiness that I forgot to take a photo.
I did NOT want to finish this thing, but I couldn’t wuss out, especially not on my first eating session. Luckily, the dog came with crinkle fries. They were obviously previously frozen, but they were cooked just right. After every bite of the dog, I took some fries to get that liver-turd taste out of my mouth. I remembered that when we visited Thailand, we saw hot dogs in the local 7-11 that didn’t look quite right. It’s possible that the Albany Bowl hot dogs came from Thailand, because there is no hot dog in America that tastes like these. Thank God. I really liked the atmosphere at the Albany Bowl Café and the service was quick and friendly. I will probably go back to try their Thai food, breakfast, or maybe a burger. But if I even SEE one of those hot dogs, I’m leaving.
10:35pm- Nation's 1/4 Lb. Giant Burger- 6066 Central Ave (El Cerrito, CA) $2.35
I could not wait to eat here. I had to get the memory of the bowling alley dog out of my head. Nation's has a really good hamburger. I always enjoy eating there, even when I have to wait for 20 minutes for a "fast food" burger, which is most of the time. I figured the dog would live up to the burger. While I was ordering the dog, I noticed they were playing the Style Council's "My Ever Changing Moods" over the restaurant's sound system. Classy. No other burger joint plays Paul Weller. Granted, it wasn't "In the City", but it sure beat the muzak or smooth jazz they usually play in restaurants. The counterman, David, had a great baritone voice. When this burger gig goes south for him, he should consider a job doing voice overs on Mexican radio. "Esta Noche en Oakland! Los Tigres del Nooooorrrrrteeee!"
When the dog arrived, I about crapped myself. This was easily the best looking dog of the day. It was served sans-condiments, but it was grilled and split down the middle to allow the insides to get a little grilled, too. And get this- they put the dog on a grilled buttered bun! Yes! But then I took a bite. Where was the flavor? They put forth all of that effort for this? Why not just throw a salad on it and call it a Chicago dog like most everybody else? It baffled me they would allow such a lackluster dog to go out in public naked like that. This dog was the biggest let down of the day. Even moreso than Smokehouse. Jesus, Nation's! I know you only charge $2.35, but come on, spend a little more on the actual dog! If Nation's treated a top-quality dog the way they did the throwaway they serve now, they would be the undisputed kings of the wiener. Their burgers are really good. They have great pies. Their breakfasts are excellent. Why would they put forth such a meager effort with their dog? Why??!!! I wanted to scream or cry. I didn't want to live anymore. It just didn't make sense.
I felt cheated. It was like getting the the prettiest girl at school to sleep with you, but when she pulls down her pantaloons, she's secretly a dude.
11:23pm- Top Dog- 2534 Durant Ave. (Berkeley, CA)- $2.75
Top Dog is run by kooks. There are bizarre political ramblings all over the walls in a literary style that recalls the Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap label. I couldn't really tell if the owner is a leftist or a reactionary, but he's a certifiable madman if any of this stuff makes sense to him. I felt as if I should do my civic duty and report him to the authorities- after I finished my hot dog.
Despite its moniker, Top Dog is more of a sausage place than a hot dog place. There's only one hot dog on the menu and about a dozen sausages, including kielbasa, bratwurst, knackwurst, etc. Like Nation's, the dog here is grilled and the bun is toasted and served sans-condiments. You can dress it up with their assortment of mustard, relish, onion, etc., but unlike Nation's, this dog is full of flavor. Every bite is like chewing a piece of Freshen-Up gum filled with delectable hot dog juice. It literally exploded in my mouth. This was the perfect dog to end the day. It was the Omega to Glenn's Alpha. And it was so good that I ended the quest still loving hot dogs. I figured I'd be sick of hot dogs both literally and figuratively at the end, but Top Dog just left me wanting more. And if I wasn't so tired, I could've kept eating there for a few more hours, because the Top Dog on Durant is open until 3am on Friday and Saturday.
Whatever the Top Dog owner stands for, I want to follow him and will give my life, if necessary, for the hot dog revolution.
Coming Soon: IEM#2: Fish and Chips