Hot dogs and nostalgia5/22/2013
Older folks pine for the days when butcher shops sold meat, green grocers retailed fruits and vegetables, milk trucks delivered dairy products and dry grocers sold canned goods. People too young to remember that era just wonder how much time was wasted grocery shopping. Food nostalgia wears racehorse blinders — it longs for what is gone without considering why it went away. After WW II, supermarkets replaced that old system, because even old sentimentalists were once young and busy enough to value convenience over specialization. Restaurants later emulated the supermarket model. Single-page menus became books with many chapters.
After the new millennium, a reactionary nostalgia began supporting simpler, more specialized restaurant choices. People flocked to food trucks and particularly to events that featured food trucks. Brick-and-mortar cafés began acknowledging this, too. Fifteen years ago in Des Moines, the only restaurants named after a single food were very old chains like Burger King, Maid-Rite, Taco Bell, etc., plus coffee, pizza and steak houses. KFC even changed its name to sound less specific. Since then, specialization bounced back in Des Moines with multiple new places named for noodles, barbecue, burritos, frozen yogurt, egg rolls, cupcakes, pho, burek and sushi.
Hot Shots, the latest specialist, celebrates the oldest processed food in the world. Homer wrote about sausage in “The Odyssey.” It has a big-city pedigree. Partner Tony Lemmo says that Hot Doug’s is his restaurant idol. That Chicago sausage café is an American classic with exotics such as wild game and duck fat fries as well as inexpensive hot dogs. Partner James Bruton moved here from Chicago. Lemmo also says the menu is a work in progress.
Hot Shots opened with 11 sandwiches, specific combos of sausage and dressing that are to hot dogs what Zombie burgers are to hamburgers. They were made with just five kinds of sausage, currently supplied by multiple vendors and lockers — Italian, beef, andouille, kielbasa and duck. Other than that, homemade dishes were restricted to “Hot Shot tots” and pasta salad. Chips, ice cream sandwiches and drumsticks were also sold.
Four dogs were made with a good all-beef sausage in a soft casing. “Cruiser” was a basic ball park hot dog, with ketchup, onions and mustard, but without the dreadful chicken sausage many ball parks now sell. “James Dean” was a virtual Chicago dog, without the Vienna sausage, but with relish, pickle spears, mustard, celery salt, tomato and peppers (Peppadaws subbed for sport peppers). “Katja Poensgen,” named like several dogs for a motor bike, was a sort of hot dog Reuben dressed in sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, tomatoes and caraway seeds. “Steve McQueen” was a virtual coney with homemade Cincinnati-style chili, cheddar, onion, tomatoes and cilantro.
Kielbasa, also housed in a soft casing, was neither too salty nor too sweet like many Polish sausages are. It is featured in “Marlon Brando,” with pickled carrots, radish and bologna and in “Softail” with two kinds of onions, cream cheese and jalapenos. Superb duck sausage starred in the exotic “Royal Enfield” with curried cheese curds, pineapple-pear chutney, scallions and cilantro. A rather mild Italian sausage was well suited for its “Moto Guzzi” application with Provolone, Romano, giardinara and hot peppers. It also featured in a red gravy-drenched “Valentino Rossi” with onions and cheeses.
My favorite dog was “CB750,” even though it was the most difficult to eat. Its andouille casing resisted my teeth while its toppings — horseradish mayo, caramelized onions, slaw, cucumbers and tomatoes — quickly soaked its bun apart. Do not try eating this one while walking around the sculpture park across the street. Sit down and savor it, like an old memory.
Side Dishes Look for 31 specific food and beverage tents at this year’s SwineFest on June 1 outside the Iowa Culinary Institute in Ankeny, $35 advance… Each Monday, Greenbriar now offers a burger, salad, fries and beer special for $10. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.