Every other summer of my childhood, my parents piled my brother, my sister, and me into the back of our 1986 Dodge Caravan and drove us 15 hours from Akron to Mount Desert Island, Maine. I wasn’t interested in lobster or clam chowder until I was nearly a teenager, so a healthy majority of my early family vacation meals involved the crunchy, bright red franks that can be had in New England but are unlike any other hot dogs I’d seen before or since. Served exclusively on the customary butter-drenched split-top buns, this was plenty exotic for me. Mount Desert Island is still one of my favorite places in the world, and, though I now partake fully of the bounty of the sea, I still have at least one “red snapper” every time I’m there.
We were camping in the Catskills and bought a pack of soy dogs to cook in the fire for dinner. We tried skewering them with long, pointy sticks, but because they were soy and not flesh, the “franks” crumpled and broke apart into pieces every time we tried to impale them. Channeling our inner Cro-Mag, we found a mostly flat rock to heat in the burning coals and tossed the bean weiners onto it to cook. They kept rolling off the rock and into the ash, which made for a pretty terrible seasoning on an already terrible, but nonetheless memorable hotdog.
I’ve long loathed ketchup and mustard, along with most other condiments, so I typically eat my hot dogs plain. You’d think, then, that I’d also loathe the idea of eating at a hot dog restaurant that offers 50 toppings, but you’d be wrong. At Cleveland’s Happy Dog, a meager $5 gets you a dog loaded with as many toppings as you can handle, including options like Brazilian chimichurri, wasabi peas, and Cheez Whiz. On my first trip, I discovered my personal holy grail, a peanut butter/onions/mole sauce/bacon combo that constitutes gluttony to such a high degree that eating it may qualify me to become a Se7en victim. Still, I always order a second. Who can pass up 46 more toppings?!
My most indelible hot dog memory—and proof of the sandwich’s versatility—involves a standard Sabretts dog, grilled, topped off with pulled pork, cole slaw, and maple syrup. Tucked inside a half-Belgian waffle instead of a bun, it ascended to a new level of decadence. That might be the best hot dog I’ve ever had. Secondarily, the deli that used to be located in the basement floor of Quaker Square in Akron provided me an introduction to the world of the chili dog. To this day it’s still my gold standard. My family spent many a wonderful Friday evening at this deli.
Any anecdote about hot dogs taking place in Athens, Ohio, should be about O’Betty’s, whose Dixie is about as close to heaven as you can get. However, while visiting my younger brother one homecoming weekend long after my own graduation, I encountered the most memorable hot dog of my life. While waiting in a long line for a late-night burrito—and enduring the usual antics of collegians at the No. 2 party school in the country*—I felt somebody slap me on the back. I whipped around, expecting to see a long-lost compatriot or a teetering undergraduate looking for a fight. Instead, I saw nothing. Puzzled, I returned to making a decision on my burrito when the inebriated gentleman next to me yelled “He got you, bro!” and pointed at the floor. There lay a de-bunned foot-long hot dog apparently flung from outside the burrito joint, 20 feet to the cash register, completely undetected directly into my back, leaving behind a phallic outline on in mustard and grease. To imagine its flight is to watch the Zapruder Film of hot dogs. To this day, despite innumerable washings, my Bobcat green shirt still bears this mark as one of few memories from Ohio University Homecoming 2012.
*Whether or not this is still true, I don’t care, and neither do these guys.
In conjunction with Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, and, thus, the unofficial kickoff of hot dog season, Eat a Sandwich is presenting a series of original content featuring the quintessential summer sausage. Have your own favorite hot dog memory? Share it in the comments below, or on Facebook.