Sausages. Just about every culture in the world has a homegrown version of it. The Chinese have the lap cheung; the Filipinos have the longanisa. The Germans, a sausage loving society if ever there was one, has knockwurst and bratwurst, just to name just a few. It seems that the urge to stuff the intestines of an animal with the ground-up meat from whatever is left of the carcass is as universal as the propensity to make love and reproduce.
We Americans, of course, have our beloved hot dog, which we eat everywhere -- at the movies, at baseball games, at the beach...even at the AMPM gas pump while we're topping-off the tanks on our giant SUVs. This is no surprise since Americans are trained to love the hot dog from a young age. Don't believe me? Surely you remember this catchy little ditty:
"Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener.
That is what I'd truly like to be.
'Cause if I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener,
Ev'ryone would be in love with me."
Advertising jingles and Wienermobiles aside, no other food is ingrained into the American experience as the hot dog, since nothing else is so accessible, cheap, and unfussy. A ten-year old can prepare a hot dog for himself. A burger, on the other hand, wouldn't be so easy.
Yet, even as simple as it is, hot dogs can inspire a lot of regional pride in people (second only to barbecue). Case in point: ask a Chicagoan what they think of a New York hot dog, and prepare to put the "earmuffs" on junior. What's even more sacrilegious is to ask for ketchup on a Chicago Dog. Those in the "Windy City" are serious when it comes to their wieners.
But if you ask Steve Doggie Dog, he'll tell you L.A. has some seriously good franks of its own. He's dedicated his blog (www.hotdogspot.com) to all things hot dog in Los Angeles. His conquests are quite impressive. He has a list so comprehensive that I wonder how many more places could be left in the City of Angels that he hasn't visited. I think that there's a time in the near future when Steve will finally have to drag his butt into a Burger King. But no matter how finite the supply of sausage joints in L.A. might be, Orange County has far fewer.
While I'm sure there are good dogs to be had in our many restaurants, O.C. has always been left wanting for a homegrown hot dog joint.
Wait. I know what you're going to say.
Yes, I've heard of Portillo's in Buena Park, which is part of a Chicago chain now open in Buena Park Downtown. I'm sure they do a fine dog, but it's not indigenuous to these parts. We shan't claim it as our own as much as China wouldn't claim KFC as Chinese when it opened in Beijing.
Enter Jerry's Dogs.
With only two locations (in La Habra and Santa Ana), this is Orange County's own hot dog joint.
The name of the game at Jerry's Dogs is "Wood Fired". All the sausages get some roasting time above the lapping fires of the grill. And after soaking up a good bit of smoke and char, Jerry's invites you to load up toppings to your hearts content. There's 21 to choose from. But you'll be well advised to stop before sausage and bun becomes buried under a mountain of veggies and turns into a salad.
My favorite at Jerry's, however, is not the hot dog, but the fat, red sausage called the Jalapeno Hot Link ($4.50). Biting into the sausage's snappy membrane unleashes a juicy torrent of porky flavor and a latent peppery burn that hits at the back of the throat.
My toppings of choice in the prescribed order I ask my grill man to apply them are as follows:
Shake of celery salt.
Squirt of mayo.
Dollop of Dijon mustard.
Raw, fresh red and green peppers.
But most important of all is the request to grill the bun to a toasty brown before application of sausage and topping. This is to fend off the onslaught of moisture until I take my last bite.
Jerry's also fries up homemade potato chips ($1.95), freshly prepared to order. But unfortunately, the chips have a short half life, quickly degrading and becoming limp if not eaten within seconds out of the hot oil. The fries ($1.95) are better, but also has the tendency to get soggy. I eat them as fodder, a palate cleanser between bites of the sandwich.
But you can use as much ketchup on the fries as you want. Heck, put some on your hot dog! They won't stare at you.
2276 E 17th St
Santa Ana, CA 92705