How can you mourn the passing of a business that you just stepped into for the first time?
Like the old Kaspar’s on Telegraph, once the owners retire at the end of April, an important and special part of the Bay Area will just be a fond food memory.
After 35 year the owners are passing the spatula. Hopefully there will be new owners, but … you know … I’d get there to experience a tasty chapter of hot doggy history.
The menu is simple, the condiments are classic. The dogs are served on a sesame seed bun that is more than the usual fluff.
There’s a pot of hot sauerkraut (gratis). There is also cold sauerkraut and chopped onions. There are two kinds of relish – dill (nice & fresh) & the standard sweet relish. There are jars of mayo, catsup and three types of mustard – yellow, hot mustard and Gulden’s spicy brown.
For the New Yorkers there’s a shaker of celery salt, orange whip and kosher franks imported from New York.
Dogs are grilled. Buns are toasted. This is someone who knows how to serve hot dogs.
The menu is simple
- Royal Dog (great) – beef & pork $3.95
- Kosher - All beef shipped directly from New York $3.25
- Portuguese Linquisa – All pork, spicy & hot $4.50
- German Old-Fashioned – 2/3 beef, 1/3 pork $3.95
- Swiss Bockwurst – 1/2 veal, 1/2 pork $3.95
- Chinese Lopchong – All pork dried $3
- Polish Kielbasa – 1/3 beef, 2/3 pork $3.95
- Cheesefurter – beef, pork and cheese inside $3.25
- Louisiana hot sausage – beef, pork and very hot pepper $3.95
- Chicken Frank $4.50
- Calvin’s potato salad (good) $1.65
- Mama’s cheesecake (nice) $1. 65
Standard drinks plus good fresh lemonade, jasmine tea and oolong tea
The Royal dog is good … really good. It is what I remember a hot dog tastes like. There’s a mild snap and nice spicing. Being grilled it is not water-logged like most.
I had to try the Chinese Lopchong and asked what condiments to use. The owner said try a bite plain, but first take a whiff … it has an aroma unlike a regular dog.
The owner said he liked it with a little mayo and chopped onion.
So I whiffed (nice), bit (good) and then pumped a little mayo along the dog and sprinkled on a few chopped white onions. This really brought the sandwich to life ... very satisfying indeed.
The lemonade is lovely with a good balance of sweet to tart.
The potato salad is quite tasty, somewhere between a German and American version … mayo-based but with a little vinegary tang. What was nice was the balance … grated carrot & chopped parsley with maybe some pickle juice (?) … there was a dill seed pop. But it was all done lightly so it added to the whole flavor and nothing dominated.
Mama’s cheese cake is a nice small homemade slice with a solid layer of sour cream on top of a cream cheese base with little pieces of cream cheese in it … it wasn’t whipped to death. The crust was graham cracker. Not overly sweet. I enjoyed it.
Maybe some might fault the bun which is large in relations to the dogs ... about sub-sized. But they are good buns and I enjoyed the toastiness. It didn’t seem like too much bread.
The owners are really wonderful. Locals drop by and chat briefly about what is happening … one talked gardening, another about how business was … on and on. Everyone knew everyone’s name.
There are old pictures of trains and farms and ships on one wall. Sepia photos of the owner’s grandfather, father, cousins and Aunt Betty are on the other wall. The owner joked that they watch him at the grill to make sure he is doing a good job.
I asked how he decided on selling hot dogs 35 years ago. He said it was easy since you didn’t need to be a chef.
It’s not so easy. No other hot dog joint does this as well. Sometimes simple goodness is the most elusive thing to achieve.
Like Kasper's, the owner is taking the secret of the brands of sausages with him. "Miller's?" I asked? Swartz, Saags ...."
"No, no", he replied. I decided to stop dogging him about it and enjoy the frank.
He didn’t have a definite answer yet about the future of the shop. I recommend stopping by before you miss something rare and special … and above all tasty.
Then go over to La Fayette bakery and buy some real donuts. The bakery closes its doors in April when that owner retires.
Then you can reminisce fondly about how much tastier things were in the ‘old days’ ... 2007.
811 4th Street
San Rafael, CA 94901
Hours: Uh, I was charmed by the place and forgot. I just know that during the week they close at five … and be careful, because there is no parking on 4th from 4-6 pm.