I am always curious about regional difference in food. I like knowing the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese or Hong Kong Style cooking. Mexican food has some great regional differences as well. That always intrigues me because I like being able to see and sample the difference between an enchilada made in Sonora as opposed to Baja California. In America, you always find great regional differences such as Southern, Cajun, Hawaiian or a host of others.
A couple of areas that I don’t like getting involved in understanding regional difference is BBQ and pizza. The dividing lines are so thickly drawn that you are made well aware that no matter where you are, they have the best BBQ or pizza (even if they don’t). This is why you will never get someone from the Carolinas saying that Texas BBQ is the best they have ever had. Nor will you get anyone in New York or Chicago to admit that Pizzeria Bianco is fantastic pizza. People seem more concerned about regional pride than fact, so I let them go on about their business.
One other area of regional food that gets put in the same camp as BBQ or pizza is the good old American hot dog. If you live in New York and say you like Chicago style dogs, get ready for a fist fight... over a frankfurter. I have had hot dogs in NYC and I adore the BBQ onions that get slathered on my hot dog. Likewise, I love the taste of pickle relish and a dash of celery salt on my Chicago-style dog.
Every so often, I get a taste for a hot dog, and wanting to stay out of the great hot dog debate, I just stop in any place offering them. So, I recently found myself in Da Chicago Dog and Subs located at 38th Street and Thomas in central Phoenix. The place had been open a year or so and was in a small strip mall within a larger strip mall. I had seen the place when I had a tragic lunch at Ono Hawaiian Grill located a hop, skip and a jump away.
My goal was simple: hop in, have a couple of dogs and a side of fries and a soda and relax while reading the paper or watching whatever sporting program was on the television. I entered the place and was a bit unnerved at the fact that smack dab in the middle of the busy Saturday lunch hour, there wasn’t a soul in the place. In fact, there wasn’t even a staffer at the prep line or at the register. The place was eerily quite with no music or sporting event on the television to be found.
A moment later, two teen-age girls bounded in from the back room and asked if I was ready to order. The menu was fairly limited, but had plenty of styles of hot dogs. I decided to be traditional and ordered two Chicago Hot Dogs ($2.00 each), an order of Cheese Fries ($2.25), and a large soda ($1.75). While one staffer rang up my order ($8.66 including tax), the other got to work on making my order.
I was handed my cup and went to the fountain for my drink. Unfortunately for me, they were all Pepsi products, but they did have a diet grapefruit/cranberry/fizzy thing that was tasty. I grabbed a few extra napkins and found a table with a newspaper and began to read.
About five minutes passed and my order arrived. On my tray were my two hot dogs. Each was in a poppy seed hot dog bun and coated with mustard, red onions, a tomato half slice, neon green pickle relish, a hot pepper, a pickle spear and a dusting of celery salt. I was pleased with the look of the dog, but the dogs had rolled around a bit from being in such a large basket that I ended up scooping up a lot of the toppings back onto the dog.
I took my first bite. It wasn’t very good. I could taste the mustard, pickle and the bread, but the taste that dominated was the celery salt. These dogs were sandblasted with the stuff, so much so that the taste had me grabbing for the fizzy drink to wash it all down. I managed to get some of the salt off with a napkin, but the overabundance of seasoning had really decimated the taste. I ate another few bites and found that I couldn’t taste the meat at all. Perhaps the shock of the seasoning had killed my palate. I wasn’t sure, but I did detect some heat from the hot pepper and that was about it. All in all, a poor hot dog experience.
My Cheese Fries arrived and I was hoping that a decadent treat like this would get rid of my grumpy disposition. I grabbed some of the shoestring potatoes that hadn’t been in contact with the sauce and took a few bites. They were outstanding. Hot, crisp, salty and really satisfying. I was very, very happy with them and wish I had gotten two orders of the fries and only one hot dog. Then, I tried them with the cheese sauce. Apparently, my good mood was not meant to last because this cheese sauce was vile. It had no cheese taste at all. It made the cheese sauce on the nachos at Sun Devil Stadium seem downright gourmet. I am sure it came from some Chicago-based company that distributes huge cans of the stuff and swears it is just like the sauce in Chicago, but I had regrets on all levels that I just didn’t have the fries with ketchup.
I was able to get a few fries free of the orange sauce and munched on them enough to satisfy my hunger and finish reading the paper. I filled up my glass again and headed out. It was a very disappointing experience. I now know why the place had very few customers. Even though my meal was less than nine bucks, I still felt like the value wasn’t there.
If this was what the people in Chicago would classify as a good hot dog, then I will have to take the side of the New Yorkers on this one.
Or, I could suggest Nogales Hot Dogs from the cart parked at 20th Street and Indian School at night, but I really don’t want to get into a fist fight.
Da Chicago Dog and Subs
3923 East Thomas Road, B-2
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Notes: Near the Panda Express and Ono Hawaiian Grill
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
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