Courtesy of Up Dog
By Jonas Weir
Add a steam bun and a link of cured meat together, and you’ll have delicious bliss and the simplest form of an American icon: the hot dog. Retracing the steps of this classic culinary piece of Americana reveals that its origins are just as mysterious as the meat that once made up hot dogs.
No one person invented the hot dog, but its roots are deeply intertwined with the story of American immigrants. Some credit the sausage to Vienna, hence the name wiener. Others credit it to Frankfurt, hence the name frankfurter. Its lineage is complex, but it is clear that the hot dog, much like Missouri, has strong ties to Germany but is essentially American.
Undoubtedly, 1904 was a big year for the hot dog. Its most famous topping, French’s yellow mustard, and the hot dog itself were both exposed to the masses at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. New York can claim French’s as its own, but the biggest hot dog purveyor at the fair was a Missourian.
Anton Feuchtwanger, a Bavarian immigrant living in St. Louis, was in charge of selling sausages for two St. Louis sausage makers, John Boepple and William Tamme. The legend says that because the sausages were so hot and greasy, he would lend gloves to his customers. When they didn’t return the gloves, Anton asked his brother, a St. Louis baker, for help. He started serving the sausages between freshly baked buns, topped with mustard, and it was a huge success. Most likely, the glove story is more myth than fact, but it is well documented that the hot dog did receive substantial national and international attention for the first time at the fair.
Missouri is home to another hot dog pioneer outside of the fair. Chris Von der Ahe, also a German immigrant, was not a sausage maker or a chef but a baseball team owner—specifically of the St. Louis Browns. Although it’s disputed, Chris is widely credited for introducing the hot dog as ballpark fare in 1893, a tradition that still holds today.
Nobody knows where or when the hot dog was truly born, and there are many theories, myths, and legends outside of these, but one thing is true: hot dogs are delicious; we’ve done the research to prove it. You can see the evidence for yourself by visiting hot dog stands, carts, trucks, and diners across the state that are serving up gourmet dogs with interesting spins. Whatever toppings you like—traditional mustard or sacrilegious ketchup—there’s a place to get a fantastic frankfurter nearby.
Crazy Dog owners Casey LeBlanc and Brandon Godwin became hooked on running restaurants when they opened a Quiznos in 2010. Quiznos isn’t quite gourmet, so when the couple had an idea to open a gourmet hot dog restaurant, they had to experiment.
“We started using different toppings on hot dogs,” Brandon says. “We even ran them through our Quiznos oven. We got so excited about hot dogs.”
Brandon and Casey rushed to open Crazy Dog. They hadn’t even tested out all the menu items.
“The original menu was just winging it really,” Brandon says.
Since then, the menu has been refined and expanded, and it now offers everything from burgers to wings to fish tacos. The hot dog menu is just as diverse and polished. Each item is unique and scrumptious, from the King Corn Dog to the Pulled Pork Dog, topped with coleslaw, tomatoes, barbecue sauce, mustard, smoked pork, and a pickle spear.
Crazy Dog’s signature bun, a New England-style bun like a lobster roll, is worth the trip alone. Don’t let that stop you from trying the dogs that don’t feature the signature bun, though. All the franks are delicious, from the craziest of Crazy Dogs to the Plain Dog.
Must order: Kansas City Dog. This might be the most ordered hot dog at Crazy Dog, and for good reason. It’s topped with smoky barbecue sauce, bacon, cheddar, and onion straws.
Detroit Coney Mobile Food Truck is the result of two Michigan natives living in a Coney dog desert. Stephanie Tyler and Rob Johnson have made a place for Michigan transplants in Kansas City to get a real Detroit Coney—a difficult undertaking in the barbecue capital.
Despite the name, the famous Coney Island dog was born in Michigan.
The Detroit Coney Food Truck sticks true to the original with a dog that’s topped with all-beef, no-bean chili, yellow mustard, and onions.
Of course, the menu isn’t limited to the Coney. Try the pizza fries, a holy union of two of America’s favorite foods. And for herbivores that want the classic treat, there’s the veggie dog, which was added to the menu after the truck catered an event for the animal shelter Wayside Waifs.
Painting I ♥ DETROIT on the side of a food truck in Kansas City doesn’t seem like a good business model, but these Michigan natives made it work.
“Missouri has really accepted us,” Stephanie says.
Must-order: The Coney, of course. The truck is named after it, for crying out loud. If you’re extra hungry, though, try the pizza fries, too.
When Cory Lawrence found a used hot dog cart for sale, he didn’t know he was about to dive into a national network of hot doggers.
“I found blogs, forums, and a Facebook page with people from the East Coast to the West Coast to the Central states,” Cory says. “There’s hot dog vendor radio, as strange as that sounds. It’s a strange situation that I never knew existed, but it’s just a lot of people willing to help each other out.”
While researching the cart, he decided to build his own instead. By the spring of 2012, he started ordering the components he needed.
Most of the parts came in on a Friday in April, and the following Monday, Cory was laid off from his job at St. James Tool and Die.
“As kind of therapy for me after losing my job, I built a hot dog cart in the month of May,” he says. “In June, we started selling hot dogs.”
Cory and his wife, Susan, grew O’Doggy’s from then on. By winter 2012, it had outgrown the cart that Cory built and moved into an enclosed trailer. This spring, it moved into a storefront. Part of what grew the business is his willingness to experiment. On Fridays, O’Doggy’s started introducing specialty dogs.
“It started with the aPORKalypse,” Cory says. “In the fall of 2012, there was the big pork shortage. I thought, ‘What can we do to poke fun of that?’ ”
The aPORKalypse was an over-the-top hit, a beef dog wrapped in ham and topped with pulled pork and bacon. From then on, O’Doggy’s was an experimental frank incubator. However, another reason O’Doggy’s succeeds is because Cory and Susan care about their customers.
“The whole point of O’Doggy’s is community,” Cory says.
The community focus is what truly keeps people coming back. It’s a friendly place, and all of the tips go to the Friday Backpack Program, a charity that supports food-insecure children in Rolla.
Must order: The aPORKalypse. You have to try the delicacy dog that started it all; it’s now on the regular menu. Don’t forget to tip.
The financial services industry and hot dog sales couldn’t be further apart. But when John Cavanaugh lost his business, he made the switch from the world of finance to the world of frankfurters.
“It’s a heck of a lot more fun,” John says. “Everyone’s always smiling.”
Since opening in September 2012, The Dancin Dogs has been a hit. The company has expanded to two carts and a solar-powered ice cream cart. However, with open air carts, the cold months are tough.
“It’s not like New York where people still walk around,” John says. “People here are pretty reclusive when the weather gets worse and the seasons change.”
It’s true that pedestrian traffic in Springfield isn’t nearly what it is in the Big Apple, but The Dancin Dogs might be better than your typical urban food cart. With creative concoctions like the Boss Hog Dog—an allbeef dog topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, and cheese—and a cornucopia of topping options, including Buffalo Wild Wings Mango Habanero sauce, The Dancin Dogs has something for everyone.
However, one of the cart’s highlights and a true taste of the East Coast isn’t even a hot dog; it’s a traditional lobster roll: lobster meat stuffed in a split top roll with butter garlic sauce.
“We added some Missouri flair to it by using Amish bread,” John says.
The Dancin Dogs is a big city hot dog cart with New England flair that’s one hundred percent Missouri.
Must Order: The Lobster Roll. Yeah, it’s not technically a hot dog, but it’s hot-dog-shaped, delicious, and nearly impossible to find in Missouri.
There’s no need to visit the Windy City for a delicious dog when Woofie’s is around.
When Charlie Eisen visited Chicago and ate at the Northside hot dog joint Wolfy’s, he decided he wanted to bring that flavor to St. Louis.
In 1977, he opened Woofie’s in Overland and started serving hot dogs from Vienna Beef in Chicago. The restaurant looks, smells, and tastes just like a traditional Windy City hot dog stand.
In 1997, Paul Fitzgerald, who used to cut the lawn at Woofie’s, bought the restaurant. And he inherited the three secrets of cooking a hot dog, which he still declines to share.
“It’s just amazing that a hot dog’s got a secret,” Paul says. “I thought you just cooked it.”
Since taking over, Paul has only added two items to the simple yet immaculate menu, respecting the original owner’s hot dog mastery.
For the most part, though, Woofie’s has earned its reputation for sticking to the classics. In fact, the restaurant has earned such prestige that it’s almost impossible to talk about the best hot dogs in St. Louis without mentioning it. Many city publications have ranked it among the best.
Must order: The Woofi e Dog. This is the closest you’ll get to a Chicago dog without crossing the border. Ask for celery salt for a truly authentic Chicago dog.
What’s Up Dog? Well, prestigious lawyers who dabble in business tend to get what they want. So when Ken McClain couldn’t find a Coney like the ones he grew with, he put a team of interns from Graceland University in Iowa on the job.
The interns put together a menu, a restaurant layout, and a logo, and they eventually opened a hot dog cart in 2010. They also shaped the menu just as much as Ken’s desire for a Coney. For example, two of the interns were from Colombia, so they contributed the Colombian Dog, a hot dog topped with sautéed onions, tomatoes, potato chips, mozzarella cheese, and Up Dog’s special sweet and tangy pink sauce.
In July 2011, the store front opened on the Independence Square. Matt Berry, whose brother was an intern, has been the manager ever since. Each month, he creates a special hot dog limited only by his imagination. The
Elvis sandwich morphed into the Hound Dog, which was topped with caramelized bananas, chocolate covered bacon, peanut butter, and crumbled peanuts. Others have incorporated ingredients like ground lamb.
“Usually when I’m thinking of hot dog recipes, I’ll think of one ingredient that I’d like to work with,” Matt says.
With the specials changing each month and the fixed menu being diverse enough on its own, Up Dog is a place worth repeat visits.
Must order: The Missouri Dog. Like our state, it’s not too flashy but plenty flavorful; this dog features bacon, mustard, cheese, and a pickle.
The Urge has toured the world, sold hundreds of thousands of albums, broken up, and reunited again. But if Steve Ewing learned one important lesson as the lead singer, it’s that drunken rock fans love hot dogs.
“The idea was that I wanted to feed people at night after we played our shows,” Steve says. “What I learned, though, is that I really wanted to do lunch.”
In 2008, his dog dream became a restaurant reality when he bought a food cart and started selling franks on the Hill neighborhood of St. Louis. However, the cart had limitations, and Steve wanted more freedom to craft gourmet hot dogs—the freedom only a real kitchen could grant. After a few years, he moved the operation indoors.
“I look at it from a chef’s perspective,” Steve says. “I want to present something that tastes great, looks great, and is a little different. We approach it like fi ne dining almost.”
Now, Steve can serve the most decadent dogs, from a creation that could only come from the Hill—a Salsiccia sausage topped with rotini alfredo, bacon, French’s fried onions, and fresh grated parmesan called the Brad Fann’s Storm Trooper Dog—to an intensely fi ery frank—a hot dog topped with habanero chipotle spread, Sriracha, hot pickle relish, chipotle onions, and jalapenos.
Must order: Gorilla Mac and Cheese Dog. This spin on a childhood favorite is a hot dog topped with bacon, French’s fried onions, and creamy mac and cheese, which Steve’s makes fresh all day long.
If your daughter suggests opening an ice cream shop, you probably wouldn’t take it as a serious business idea. The same can’t be said for Ken Schaffer.
“She just said let’s get into it, so she could eat the ice cream,” Ken says.
In 2000, Ken left the tech industry and went to Penn State University to learn the art of making ice cream. He later opened a storefront ice cream shop, which he named Cirque d’Alex after his daughter; he also wanted the shop to have a circus theme. In 2009, Ken was starting to fi nd that ice cream was a tough sell in the winter, so he started peddling hot dogs.
For research, Ken traveled to New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago to try their top dog spots. He returned as a Coney connoisseur. Since then, Cirque d’Alex has been experimenting with different hot dog creations, as well as offering standard franks. Recently, the restaurant added its spin on New Mexico’s Sonora dog. Cirque d’Alex’s is a bacon-wrapped beef dog with pinto beans, pico de gallo, salsa verde, cotija‑cheese, and chipotle mayo.
Also, the restaurant features a build-your-own hot dog menu with four different sausage options: beef, turkey, veggie, and bratwurst. The build-your-own option is one of the restaurant’s best features, but keep an eye out for the latest creations from Cirque d’Alex.
“Right now, we’re working on a curry wurst,” Ken says. “It’s something they do in Germany. It’s a knackwurst, which is pretty close to our hot dog, cooked in curry sauce.”
Must order: Sonora Dog. It’s all around decadent. However, the build-your-own option is never a bad decision if you’re a picky eater.
When you’re talking about hot dogs in Missouri, you must include Instant Karma. The restaurant is well-deserving of the reputation it has earned, thanks in no small part to Jason Miller, who owns the restaurant with his wife Suzanne.
Since 2010, Jason has been pouring his passion into crafting the restaurant’s unique menu. But he may have never opened the restaurant if it weren’t for a house fire.
In 1999, Jason had just earned a degree in business from Missouri Southern University, and he was living in his hometown, Joplin. When a fire burned his house down one night, he seized the moment, moved in with a friend in New York City, and started attending art school at the Art Students League of New York, where Thomas Hart Benton taught from 1926 to 1935.
“It’s a direction my life took without me even planning it,” Jason says.
In the East Village, Jason found an inspiring restaurant called Crif Dogs. When you compare Instant Karma to Crif Dogs, the influence is obvious. But that inspiration lay dormant for years.
After moving back to Joplin in 2005, Jason married his high school sweetheart, and later, he and Suzanne opened Instant Karma. The couple also owns the Eagle Drive-In in Joplin. Since then, Jason has been hard at work, constantly updating and perfecting the menu and crafting delicious daily specials.
“Our daily specials aren’t like your typical restaurant, where it’s something that they’re trying to get rid of,” Jason says. “We actually bring in special ingredients to do these.”
The specials have ranged from a Duck a l’Orange dog to a breakfast hot dog, with eggs, bacon, and cheese. And the regular menu is outlandish enough on its own, from the Teuben, a hot dog with all the traditional reuben toppings, to the Wiener Cristo, a batter-dipped, golden-fried hot dog topped with powdered sugar and served with strawberry dipping sauce.
“There’s almost nothing we don’t do with hot dogs,” Jason says.
Jason’s passion and creativity stem from his art background that brought him into the world of hot dogs in the first place.
“All of our time is dedicated to our children and our restaurants, so I don’t have time to paint or sculpt anymore,” he says. “I can translate all of those things into hot dogs. I feel like a creative person, and I have to have an outlet. To be honest, a lot of the specials we do probably cost my business money, but I don’t care because that’s what drives me.”
Must order: The Kitchen Sink. It’s really everything but the kitchen sink, featuring jalapenos, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, mayo, mustard, ketchup, and sautéed onions and peppers. Plus, you can wrap any dog in bacon for two bucks, and we recommend you do.