I haven’t eaten a hot dog since my martial arts instructor put his knee on my chest and told me “My students DO NOT EAT HOT DOGS!” He meant it as a joke, but it’s amazing how a knee on your sternum will assist with your willpower. In fact, on New Year’s Eve when you make your resolution, if you had someone throw you to the floor, plant their knee in your gut and tell you to quit smoking, I bet you’d see results. Probably because your abdomen would hurt so much that you wouldn’t be able to inhale for a while. But try it, and get back to me. It’s certainly worked with hot dogs. I used to love me a nice hot tube steak slathered with toppings, and preferably wrapped in bacon. Now all I can think of is Phil’s face, hovering above me like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. It’s like the Ludovico technique in A Clockwork Orange, for food. (See, it’s still a movie blog- I just mentioned two Stanley Kubrick films.) It also doesn’t help that I’ve been getting into the Slow Food movement and trying to eat less processed foods. This Easter, I ordered a ham from Newman Farm, which humanely raises heritage Berkshire pork. I honestly believe that their bacon could create peace in the Middle East, if only Jews and Muslims could be convinced that God is now cool with swine. It’s that good.
The last hot dog I reviewed and loved was Hillbilly Hot Dogs in West Virginia, last May. I had sausages at DBGB’s this winter, but those are house-made and less likely to contain floor scraps and anuses. In fact, they are some of the best I’ve ever had, and they do make a frankfurter, so I’m bound to try it someday. A few places make their own hot dogs, but it’s a dying art. The modern equivalent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is watching movies like Fast Food Nation (starring Lou Taylor Pucci, plug plug) and last year’s Oscar nominee Food, Inc., which give us a picture of how “farming” and “ranching” have become more akin to the automotive assembly line than anything in our imagination. Creatures that never see the light of day, penned in cages where they can’t turn around, often bred to be so disproportionate that they can barely stand. Compare that to the legendary Wagyu cattle of Japan, prized for their stress-free lives that lead to the tenderest, most marbled meat ever tasted, and you can see that even if you don’t care how animals are treated before slaughter, the factory farm creates tasteless widgets of meat.
Some of the best burgers I’ve had lately came from my own kitchen, made with organic 85/15 beef from Costco. They were certainly better than the Island Burgers patty I had the other night, which was drowned in toppings for good reason. Elevation Burger and even Five Guys do better than that. Elevation uses grass-fed organic beef, and manages to cost about the same as folks who don’t. I recommend them highly. When I compare the heritage pork I had for Easter with the hickory smoked ham steaks I get at the market, they taste like two different animals. Happy pigs make happy carnivores. The organic chicken I roasted to Jacques Pepin’s recipe earlier this month was fantastic, especially compared to the conventional chicken breasts I had for lunch this week. I don’t know what they tasted like, but it wasn’t chicken. Maybe tofu? When even chicken doesn’t taste like chicken anymore, something is wrong.
So, I’ll have a hot dog again when I find one that’s worth eating. I’d certainly eat another Crif Dog, but right now my only wiener craving is to try DBGB’s again, or perhaps pick up some made at The Meat Hook butcher in Brooklyn. Or if you’re in Portland, Oregon, Otto’s Sausage Kitchen still makes home-made hot dogs. I always knew what was in hotdogs- lips and assholes- but I didn’t care as much. But after my last hot dog- an atrocity at Sonic- I had to ask myself, is this worth it? Life is too short to eat bad food. Does that mean I’ll never stop by J.R.’s Hot Dog Truck in Nutley, or Rutt’s Hutt? No. But I won’t be sampling dogs at places unless I’ve heard they do something special. Same with burgers- I’ve had too many boring, bland burgers to not be a snob about it. It’s not that hard to make a great burger with fresh ingredients. If I can do it, I expect the restaurant to. If Yesterday’s Bar can make a memorable bar burger for $5, why can’t places that charge $8, $10, $12 do the same? If HB Burger and Shake Shack, Five Guys, Smash Burger and Elevation can kick ass with a $5 burger, why the hell would I go back to 25 Burgers again?
To quote Bruce Willis in Fast Food Nation, “Everybody has to eat a little shit sometime.” I say, life is too short to eat crap.
© 2010 Thomas Pluck.