Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

July 1, 2013

BUSINESS: TOP DOG: Celebrating the goodness of the frankfurter

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Mickey Mouse liked them; Dirty Harry Callahan hated ketchup on his.

They're a ballpark standard, and often can be found as part of the menu at outdoor cookouts.

They are the meaty bits of goodness, often held together by a cellulose casing, known as the hot dog/weenie/frankfurter, and in a few days, they'll be celebrated as part of July's National Hot Dog Month.

According to factmonster.com, the term "hot dog" is credited to Tad Dorgan, a sports cartoonist covering a 1901 baseball game in New York.

"Venders (were) selling hot dachsund sausages in rolls. From the press box, Dorgan could hear (them) yelling, 'Get your dachsund sausages while they're red hot!'" Inspired by the scene, he sketched out a cartoon, "but wasn't sure how to spell 'dachshund' so he called them simply 'hot dogs,'" the site said, adding, "and the rest is history."

The Hot Dog and Sausage Council considers the makings of a frankfurter as "specially selected meat trimmings” that today are much leaner than their predecessors.

By law, a hot dog can contain up to 3.5 percent of “non-meat ingredients” – often a type or milk or soy product used to add to the nutritional value, factmonster reports, making many hot dogs “relatively high in fat and sodium (and) a good source of protein, iron, and other necessary vitamins.”

The council estimates that more than seven billion – yes, billion – franks will be consumed by Americans during the 14-week period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

During the biggest hot-dog holiday of the year, Independence Day, the council estimates 155 million of these treats will be consumed.

"Every year, Americans eat an average of 60 hot dogs each," according to factmonster, which doesn't surprise David Ford, co-owner of Jacksonville's Dog & Spud.

“You see them everywhere,” he said. “I think it's because they're tasty and just about everybody likes them.”

He and wife Kay opened their 804 E. Rusk stand just over a year ago, and operate it with family friend Virginia Moore.

“We ran a concession stand before, traveling across the state to festivals, but we got tired of that,” he said, adding that because “there weren't any hot dog stands in our area, we decided to do them here.”

Ford estimates that 40 percent of their sales are hot dogs alone, although smoked sausage and hot links are also on the menu.

The hot dogs – served grilled – are a beef-pork combination “made just for commercial kitchens” and special-ordered from a Tyler supplier.

“We went through five or six different brands of hot dogs, but everybody likes these best,” Ford said. “We've been serving these a little over a year.”

Consumers top their treats with a variety of condiments and foods, ranging from simple ketchup or mustard with onions or relish to more elaborate concoctions featuring sauerkraut, taco meat or chili and cheese.

It's the chili-cheese dogs that are the most popular choice among Dog & Spud customers.

“Everybody loves his chili,” Moore said. “I'll bet we sell 20 or 30 a day of his chili cheese dogs.”

“It's my award-winning chili” recipe, tweaked a bit as so to be pleasing to all palates, he explained. “I've made lots of chili, and developed my own recipe (for Dog & Spud).”

It's what Reklaw resident Shirley Chapman ordered for a recent dinner.

After dealing with a headache earlier in the day, she drove into Jacksonville specifically with hot dogs on her mind.

“My husband said, 'Go get us dinner, you don't have to cook,'” she said, she said, adding that while it was her first visit to the stand, it wasn't her first taste of the local treat.

“My husband stopped by the other day and brought some back,” and she wanted a second round of chili cheese dogs, she said.

“I like the Fritos chili dog, but I didn't want my Fritos to get all soggy by the time I got home, so I just got a chili dog. But I also like sauerkraut dogs, and I like the ones with horseradish … I like all that stuff!” Chapman laughed, adding that although she really doesn't prepare them at home, she “will go out and get one.”

That seems to pretty much be the consensus of other diners, Moore said.

“We get them driving in from New Summerfield, even Palestine and Nacogdoches – they say, 'Oh, we heard about you,' and once they find out about us, they come back,” she said.

And then there are the customers who visit regularly, wanting to sample every kind of dog on the menu.

“We have some who say, 'Well, I had a No. 3  (BBQ dog) yesterday, I want a 4 (slaw dog) today, and work their way down the menu,'” Moore laughed.

The most unusual request, she said, was a sauerkraut-coleslaw combination, but mostly, “people are particular about their hot dogs.

“'Not too much mustard,' 'No, I want more mustard,' things like that,” Moore said.

A popular – if slightly unusual – treat on their menu is the Angel Dog, topped with Miracle Whip, sour cream and tomatoes.

“It's kind of messy. But most of the hot dogs are so big, with so much meat and cheese on them, you have to eat them with a fork,” she said.

Demon dogs – the Number 9 menu item, served with hot relish, horseradish sauce, mustard, Jack cheese, grilled onions and jalapeños – are also a top seller, they said.

“Folks around here really like them,” Moore said.

Since opening shop 18 months ago, the Dog & Spud menu has changed five times to include new combinations dreamed up by Ford and by their customers.

And despite the early trials and errors – “our saurkraut was too watery, it made the buns wet,” Ford said – Jacksonville residents have done their best to help support national statistics of this being a hot dog-loving nation.

“The people of Jacksonville have been good to us – they keep coming back,” Moore said.