This is a city which has never had its own hot dog. Perhaps I should amend that, slightly. This is a city which has never had its own successful hot dog. This not because there’s a lack of interest in the things or a lack of trying. The two dominant styles which have won citizens over in the city seem to hail from nowhere near here, the reason stemming from the origins of the two most popular hot dog stands in town.
First is Felix’s Frankfurters, in the Courthouse District (of course). On the menu at Felix’s, you primarily have two choices- the Chicago Dog or a standard burger. The Chicago Dog is an excellent example of the form- thick poppy seed bun, crisp spicy frank, topped with mustard, celery salt, onions, tomato wedges, peppers, a dill spear and frighteningly green relish. Felix Kozloski, a transplant from the Windy City, moved here and started up the place in 1965. The name goes over well with the lawyerly types in the area, but you still hear a lot of “No, get it? Felix’s Frankfurters? Felix Frankfurter? -sigh- Okay, in 1939, Roosevelt…”
The longtime competitor for Felix’s is the Coney Shak, on North Baerstow Avenue, which, as the name implies, features heavily the Detroit Coney, a much simpler combination of hot dog, bun, chili, onions and mustard. Louis Barton opened the Shak not long after moving here from Dearborn, Michigan in 1967.
Oddly enough, in newspaper/local televison station opinion polls that crop up from time to time when they are desperate for material, the two are often neck and neck, with each dogs’ devotees defending them passionately. Just to cover the bases, most mayoral candidates have at least one public appearance at each establishment.
With two longtime institutions serving up what, by all accounts, are excellent examples of two of the world’s best types of hot dogs, what need would there be for someone to start from scratch? Well, Pat’s Diner tried in the early 70s, with their Stand Pat Dog. A concoction involving an all-beef frank, grilled pastrami, horseradish, onion, chili and mustard- it had some initial interest, but didn’t last too long. It’s odd that the most popular versions of something so beloved that has become ingrained in the city’s culinary fabric in the last forty years are transplants from the Midwest.
All things considered, it could be a lot worse. At least the turkey Reuben (turkey, swiss, coleslaw and russian dressing, grilled on rye) originated here and we have that. Those that imply its beginnings in Georgia are filthy, filthy liars.
– RJ White