The Hot Dog Oscars

In honor of the upcoming Academy Awards, let’s see who wins this year’s Best Hot Dog. I ate a lot of hot dogs last year. I gained ten pounds. (It’s disgusting, the things I do for you people).

The nominees for Best Hot Dog of 2008 are:

Gray’s Papaya, for The Curious Case of Coconut Champagne
This old favorite is a standard Oscar-bait dog- a skinny tube steak with good flavor, classic toppings, and they’re open all night. The drinks are amazing, and vhat a bargain!! But we’ve seen this before.

Crif Dog, for Dog/Bacon
Hot Dogs and Bacon- two things that go great together, fried to crispy perfection. Others have done it, but no one wraps bacon around the dog like Crif does, and their toppings selections keep getting better. The one to beat.

Big Daddy’s Diner, for Hotdog Millionaire
Size does matter! But so does flavor. Big Daddy’s diner of decadence makes the best foot long we had this year, a spicy frank smothered in cheese and bacon. But the bacon lacked flavor and more toppings would have been nice.

Puka Dog, for The ‘Furter

Let’s go Hawaiian! You’ve got to go to Honolulu for this one, but it’s worth the flight. The dog is a bit bland and mushy but well-seared. What makes this one amazing is the perfect bun- with a hole seared in the middle to stick the juicy dog, and tons of fruity, spicy and mayonnaise-y toppings!

Ben’s Chili Bowl, for Half-Smoke
Ben’s is a spicy sausage made of beef and pork, slathered mightily with a kick-ass smoky chili and tangy onions. This one’s a classic and a serious contender to Crif Dog. If you’re in D.C., you simply must go. It’s a neighborhood landmark and makes serious good eats.

And the winners are…

Don’t you hate when the Oscars wastes your time and saves the big ones for last? Get used to it.

The Independent Sausage award goes to The Dover Grill for being the most exciting hot dog joint in North Jersey we found. While it doesn’t beat Crif Dog, they make some amazing flavor combos there.

The Irving Whaleberg Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, for winning the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest once more. This time he ate 59 hot dogs in 12 minutes, tying champ Takera “Tsunami” Kobayashi, and then defeated him in a 5 hot dog eat-off tiebreaker. He is truly a great American and an inspiration to hot dog lovers everywhere.

and the winner of Best Hot Dog 2008 is…


No big surprise here if you know insiders at the Academy! Crif Dog continues to amaze us with their timeless concoctions. They’ve added cream cheese, kimchi, and Taylor Ham to the roster, but the Spicy Redneck- cole slaw, jalapenos, bacon, and chili- still reigns supreme. It’s such a perfect mix of crunchy saltiness, spicy peppers, and cool creamy slaw. The Good Morning Jersey, with Taylor Ham, cheese and a fried egg, is pretty good but needs ketchup added- Taylor Ham and ketchup are the perfect marriage of flavor. The Jon Jon Dragon, with cream cheese, scallions and “everything bagel topping” is good but strange. Cream cheese goes well, but the topping is too salty. We still haven’t conquered their menu, and they keep raising the bar.
Even when Milky can barely lift a Crif dog, he will persevere and conquer. He won’t let any mere hot dog humiliate him. And just look at how fiercely Firecracker protects her plate. She got the Chihuahua, the avocado bacon dog. That’s the one Chihuahua you won’t wanna dropkick.

Thanks to all who participated, and for those overlooked, better luck next year!

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Now, when someone says “chili dog,” I bet you think they are all the same. They might be good on a summer day with a beer, or at a ball game, but they can’t be as amazing as let’s say, a good steak. And I’m going to tell you flat out, that you are mistaken. Unless you’ve had a chili half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street in Washington D.C., you might think a chili dog could be bland, or even gross. But once you’ve tried one, you’ll understand that a chili dog can have nuance of flavor, levels of spiciness and smokiness working together to create the perfect combination of flavors.

Firecracker and I were visiting pals Maggie and Patrick in our nation’s capital, and when they asked what my “must do” things were, I said “we’ve got to go to Ben’s Chili Bowl.” I’d heard such great things, and I’d already seen the museums and memorials more than once. We went to the Spy Museum, which while interesting, isn’t worth the $18 price tag in my opinion. I liked seeing an Enigma machine, and real Cold War spy gadgets. If you love that era of history, it’s a must see. After waiting outside in line on a chilly day, Ben’s Chili Bowl was the obvious choice for lunch that day.
So we hopped on the Metro. Ben’s is right across the street from U Street Station on the Green Line, with a cozy old storefront that speaks to its 50 years of service. It’s practically a neighborhood monument, and everyone goes there, from Joe Senator to Joe Sixpack. We got there just in time, as the line from the counter doubled back. A short while later it was out the door. And it was worth every minute. The wait wasn’t too bad, perhaps 15 minutes from getting off the train to first bite. I was surprised by their extensive menu- if chili dogs ain’t your thing, there’s plenty to choose from. I’d heard great things about the “half smoke,” a kielbasa-sized spicy sausage popular in the D.C. area, so I had to have one. The name is shrouded in mystery for they are not smoked. Waiting in line gives a good feel for the neighborhood. We were all entertained by a sign in back that read “List of Who Eats Free at Ben’s: Bill Cosby. No One Else!”

When a cook took my order- 2 chili dogs, 1 chili half-smoke, chili cheese fries, and a chocolate shake for me & Firecracker to feast on- he said the shake would take a minute, and he delivered it to our table. If you have 6 or more, you can order from the back. We were just three- Pat missed out on this culinary extravaganza, but he had taken us to Old Ebbett’s Grill for fantastic sweet oysters, and terrific American classic entrees, so he deserved some rest. The three of us were all amazed at the depth and flavor of Ben’s chili. There’s a reason it’s called Ben’s Chili Bowl and not “Ben’s half smokes and hot dogs.” The chili is fantastic, rich and spicy in flavor with a deep smokiness that speaks to some serious simmering on the stove.
Saying they slather the dogs and half-smokes with chili is an understatement. They masterfully pool the chili in the hefty bun atop the link, getting as much as physically possible without overflowing. They’ve got it down to a science. It is perfection. This is the best chili dog I have yet tasted, and I defy you to name one better. The Spicy Redneck at Crif Dog may still reign as the best hot dog, but this is the best chili dog. Nothing else I’ve had is even close. How does the rest emasure up? They also know how to make chili cheese fries that are both crisp and soggy at the same time. I don’t know how they did it. Soaked in cheese and chili, some at the bottom were still crisp. And the shake may have been a tad too thick but the flavor was tops.
So if you visit D.C. for business or to visit our nation’s heritage, you owe it to yourself to stop by U street for a chili half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl. You will not regret it. Just remember, unless you are Bill Cosby, you will have to pay. We got 2 dogs, a smoke, a large chili cheese fries and drinks for $21. A bit pricy but these aren’t little Sabrett’s, just look at the photos. And they are worth every cent!

Not sure if he’s visited yet!