As those that have been to this site a lot have noticed, I have a weakness for hot dogs. Indeed, a coworker claiming that “hot dogs are just hot dogs” was one of my inspirations for starting this blog, since there are really quite a few varieties of hot dogs in existence (indeed, I’ve got as far as the Iceland Pylsur in my reviews). One of the more intriguing things I like is when essentially the same concept, like the “Chili dog”, gets some regional variations. When I was growing up (in the Southwest), a chili dog was simply a “chili dog” (albeit with the caveat that the sort of chili that makes a good condiment isn’t the same sort that tastes good in a bowl). The “Coney Island” dog is a variant of this with “Coney sauce”, a meaty, near-chili spicy meat sauce, and can be spotted by that name ranging from Michigan all the way over to Massachusetts. However, nearly the exact same dog as a “Coney Dog”, with a slightly drier and less spicy sauce, goes by the name “Texas Hot” or a “Michigan” (likely in homage to the Coney Island variety primarily coming from Michigan) in Upstate New York and Vermont (and as far north as northern Quebec, my friend Ben has a great story about buying a “Michigan” hot dog at a food cart at a Hydro Quebec station in far, far, northern Quebec). And a particularly good example of the “Michigan” hot dog can be found at Beansie’s Bus in Burlington, VT.
After we did the Cleveland Museum of Art, it was time for a late lunch. We wanted something interesting, but not something that was going to be heavy enough that we wouldn’t be hungry come dinner. After a little bit of discussion, we decided that it was time to check out Happy Dog on the West Side, known known for their wide variety of hot dog toppings.
Okay, I can already feel the skeptical vibe coming from some of my readers. The world has a lot of hot dog places, what makes a place like Happy Dog worth some of your precious stomach sapce? And I’ll be the first to admit, hot dogs as a menu item are often a high-risk item: while there are a lot of really great hot dog places out there (Indeed, I’ve reviewed about 20 on this site), there are a lot of dubious ones as well, and for every lovingly-assembled Gold Coast Chicago Dog, or pepper-relished-covered Blackie’s hot dog I’ve had, I’ve also been served up more than my share of Oscar Mayer 10 per lb hot dogs slapped onto a stale bun with ketchup and mustard to know that hot dogs generally aren’t the sort of thing I get without doing some research first. But I’ll tell you that from my visit, Happy Dog isn’t one of those places, instead, they are a great dive-ish joint that’s serving up some really great hot dogs with some good toppings.
N1 is probably Iceland’s largest retailer, running a rather large (by Icelandic standards) chain of over 100 gas stations, ranging from self-service kiosks (which proved to be relatively good at defending themselves from any attempt of mine to exchange a US-based credit card for diesel, even my Chip-and-PIN card) to full service stations.
But one thing is almost a given if you are doing like I and travel around Iceland, you will eventually find yourself hungry and in need of food, and through location, time, or other factors, N1 is going to be your best option. Indeed, I’d say that in a substantial fraction of Iceland, the nearest prepared food of any sort is actually an N1 station…
One of our first stops heading west from Klaustur was Skógafoss. Skógafoss is one of South Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls, about 75 feet wide and 200 feet tall, with a large enough water volume that it generates a fair amount of wind and mist. Like most of the major waterfalls, it also has it’s own legend. No, not trolls this time, but Vikings, apparently one early Viking settler, Prasi Þórólfsson, hid a chest of gold under the falls that was never found except for a large ring from the side of the chest. If it’s not those troublesome trolls, it’s the Vikings, I guess.
Oh, and Skógafoss also sports a hot dog truck. The Skógafoss Country Wagon can generally be found in the main parking lot of Skógafoss, near the campsites and the laundry area for hikers.
As I mentioned before in my review for Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur… Iceland loves its hot dogs. Virtually every staffed gas station will make you a hot dog. The major towns all have several hot dog carts. And even minor tourist attractions 30km from the nearest paved road will often have hot dog carts.
Well, on the fourth day of our driving trip, as we explored the Myvatn area, one place we checked out was the Krafla area, a series of geologically active ridges that include Leirhnjúkur (erupted in the early 1700s in what are known as the "Myvatn Fires") and Krafla (erupted last in 1984, now the site of a 60 MWe geothermal power station). Leirhnjúkur itself is a nice hike where you can see hot ground, steam vents, bubbling pools of mud, etc. It really is an incredible place to visit, with all sorts of neat sights, sounds, and smells, almost like visiting a prehistoric version of Earth.
It’s also a place where you can get a hot dog…
Just a block away from the busy harbor of Reykjavik lies a little stand in a modest parking area, next to a taxi stand. If you’re ever in Reykjavik, you can’t really miss the place. Between its opening at 11am, and whenever it closes (sometime after bar closing), this stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, has at least a modest line of people queued up waiting to order, and the line moves quickly. Doing a little bit of research, I also found that Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is actually (by number of annual visitors) the busiest restaurant in Iceland, and that the vast majority of Icelanders, and a good fraction of tourists, have eaten here.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is a hot dog stand. The name actually translates to “The best hot dog in town”. And judging from the lines, the name is probably accurate: I saw at least a thousand hot dogs served up from this little stand during my visit here.
As we continued our March through Chicago, about 1/3 of the way through our Milwaukee Ave segment we made two stops. The first was at The Map Room for a beer. The second was at Redhot Ranch for a hot dog.
I’ve always had a like for Chicago-style Hot Dogs, and you can read my writeup of several notable Chicago dog places here. While there’s definitely some difference between different vendors, there’s a widely-respected view that a proper Chicago Dog has some basic requirements: A Vienna Beef hot dog (preferably of the 6 per lb ‘Jumbo’ variety, with natural casings), celery salt, onion, that neon-green relish, tomatoes, a pickle, and, most importantly, sport peppers. Most any place that’s serving up a proper Chicago dog serves it up with exactly those ingredients, and as a result, there’s not a lot of difference between one place’s Chicago dog and another’s (mostly, the difference whether the dog is a char dog or not, and how carefully it’s assembled). But that’s actually talking about the “proper” Chicago dog, and it’s important to mention that a few places focus on a slightly more pedestrian variant of the Chicago dog: the “Depression Dog”. Redhot Ranch is one of these places…
As I briefly mentioned a few years ago in my review of George’s Coney Island, the phrase “Coney Island” means different things to different people. To someone in New York, it’s a neighborhood, best known for its amusement parks, beach, and boardwalk. In many places, it means a variant of the chili dog, usually one served up with a beanless and slightly sweet chili, diced onions, and mustard. To someone living in Southeast Michigan, however, it actually means a particular type of restaurant…This time, I checked out Leo’s Coney Island, which is actually one of the larger coney island chains in Michigan…
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, a lot of people believe that (to quote my former coworker Marc), “A hot dog is a hot dog.” I don’t concur, I’ve eaten enough hot dogs, from Sonoran Hot Dogs, to Chicago Dogs, to DC half-smokes, to New York papaya dogs, to Dodger dogs, that this clearly isn’t the case. It’s also important to note that it’s not just serving styles that vary, but also the dog itself. The Sabrett’s beef hot dog is what give those New York dogs their flavor. Similarly, a Chicago dog isn’t really right unless it’s a Vienna Beef dog hiding under all that stuff. And in the case of Connecticut, there’s quite a bit of variety hiding in this little state, with several regional butchers producing the hallmark style of that state: beef and pork blend, spiced similar to New York dog with lots of garlic and paprika notes. One of my favorite hot dogs is one of these from Hummel Bros. in New Haven, CT, making a good natural casing hot dog with a serious spiciness to it. And one of the best places to get a Hummel dog is Blackie’s in Cheshire, CT.
Our next lunch stop on the Manhattan Death March was for hot dogs. Like many regions of the country (as an aside, Wikipedia has a rather nice summary of regional hot dog variations, New York City has it’s own take on hot dogs. In fact, it has two: the “dirty water dog” (a typical street cart dog, so named since they simmer them in warm water in the cart) and the “papaya dog”. The latter is the interesting one, since, despite the name, the papaya dog doesn’t actually have papaya in or on it; it’s the same Sabrett’s hot dog you’re buying from the dirty water carts on the street, although they’ve grilled it instead boiling it, and it’s generally offered up with both kraut and hot onion sauce as condiments…