Hot dogs on Saturday

Published 7:39 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bill O’Reilly has his no-spin zone and my zone today is a political and economics free zone. A friend of mine told me last week that the last thing he wanted to hear was talk about the current hard times. He said he was “livin’ it” and didn’t need to be reminded of it every few minutes. In honor of my friend, I’ll move on to more enjoyable subjects.

Last Saturday I had a chili dog. How’s that for not being too serious? Actually, hot dogs on Saturday used to be a serious subject at my house. That was when I was growing up.

I don’t know how the tradition started, but from the time I was 8 or 9 years old until I left home for college, there would not have been five Saturdays that we didn’t have hot dogs for lunch. I love hot dogs.

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Sometimes people want to turn their noses up at the weenie. They start by talking about all the kinds of parts that might be included in the making of the hot dog.

“If you knew what went into that weenie you’d never eat another one,” they opine.

Wrong! I once ate chitterlings, also known as chitlins. I grew up eating hogshead Brunswick stew, so a little hot dog ain’t gonna bother me. I also might add that I eat my own cooking, so I’ve got a pretty sturdy constitution.

Plus, hot dogs are always smothered with other things so that one hardly tastes the dog. For instance, I put chili on the one I ate Saturday. Not only chili, but ketchup and mustard and onions. If I could have found a little cole slaw, I would have added that. You’ve heard of the “Dagwood” sandwich? I like a “Dagwood” Dog.

Having that hot dog last Saturday brought back memories of my favorites. That’s not too unusual, I would guess. Probably all of us have a favorite hot dog.

One of my favorites would be the same as millions of others. When I attended the University of Georgia, there were two Varsity restaurants in town. I’m really not sure restaurant is the right name for The Varsity, but for lack of a better term, that’s what I’ll call it. I ate at the downtown Varsity. It’s no longer there, but during my college years it got plenty of my business.

The Varsity originated in Atlanta and I know there are at least two in that town. There is the very popular one out near Georgia Tech and another smaller one near the Emory campus.

I don’t know if the hot dog is the most popular item on the Varsity menu, but if it’s not, it’s got to be close. I don’t think it’s the quality of the dog itself. It must have something to do with the chili. It’s also impossible not to remember the atmosphere.

As soon as you walk through the door, someone behind the counter yells out, “What’ll ya have?”

They’ve got their own language behind the counter at the Varsity. If you say two chili dogs, all they yell back to the kitchen is “Two dogs!” The chili part doesn’t have to be spoken. I guess that’s a good example of the phrase, “It goes without saying.”

If you want the hot dogs to go, that is to eat them elsewhere, the person at the counter yells back, “Two dogs walking!” I always got hot dogs, but some people would order hamburgers. That’s when I would hear my favorite phrase.

The customer would say, “I’d like a hamburger with lettuce and tomato to go.”

The order would be followed by the server barking back to the kitchen, “Give me a burger walking and take it through the garden.” The Varsity was a great experience and the hot dogs still taste the same.

That Varsity dog would be one of my favorites, but there was another that could give it a pretty good run for its money.

Growing up in Pelham, there was a poolroom on Front Street that had quite possibly the best chili dog I have ever eaten. Bobby Bass ran the poolroom and, to be honest, it wasn’t the place that most parents wanted their kids to frequent. The chili dogs were great, but the atmosphere was, well, it was sort of like the movies rated R or NC-17.

There was a window open to the street, though that allowed customers to walk up and get their sack of chili dogs and not set foot in the joint itself. On Saturdays, from mid-morning to late evening, hundreds of chili dogs walked out of The Poolroom.

What made the hot dog at the poolroom so popular? No doubt about it. It was the chili. It was Bobby’s recipe and it was some kind of greasy. I would go in there sometimes to eat my chili dog at the counter and, before he would stir the chili there must have been an inch of thin, brown liquid (also known as grease) that oozed above the ground beef.

Bobby also steamed the buns. That steamed bun and red-skinned dog, covered by greasy chili was some kind of delicious. No one ordered less than two and many doubled that order. There were many beverages to choose from for many, but for me, there was only the ice-cold Coca-Cola to help get the dogs down. Sitting there on that stool, eating that great chili dog, and watching that snooker game on the front table was lots of fun and quite an education!

I can’t really remember the cost of the dog, now, but it was probably 50 cents or maybe even less. I do know that last Saturday I enjoyed my homemade chili and dog, but I would have paid a pretty penny for one of those Poolroom hot dogs from Bobby’s. Too bad some things are gone forever and all that remains are the memories. I guess it could be worse. We might never have known them.