I enjoyed talking with Steve McCollum over at a new hot dog place near our house a couple of weeks ago. It’s called Dogfather’s, and it is not related to similarly-named joints in Illinois and Massachusetts. I’m sure you won’t recall (joke) the heat wave at the end of June, and how nobody could stand to be outside for more than a couple of minutes. Marie and the kids and I had gone to lunch at Bub-Ba-Q that Saturday, and drove past some poor boy on the corner of Chastain Meadows and Barrett Parkway waving a sign for this new hot dog place. The sign worked; we were so startled to see anybody jumping up and down and waving at cars in this heat that we actually paid attention to what he was advertising. I sincerely hope that kid got a bonus in his paycheck that week.
Steve said that he grew up in South Carolina’s upstate – his mother worked at Clemson for many years – and so he’s familiar with the Skins chain that dominates that region. What he’s looking for in his place is a restaurant that is more like what Skins used to be many years ago, when Skin Thrasher was still living, before it turned into something less than exciting, boring and corporate. He wouldn’t share where he gets his dogs, only hinting that they’re from someplace local. The interior is spartan and zero-frills, but fortunately, the service at Dogfather’s is so darn good and friendly that guests probably won’t mind. They seem to be set up to do a good deal of their business as carry-out, anyway. That’s what I did, and took away some dogs for Marie and I to enjoy at home.
Every Saturday, the restaurant offers some kind of specialty, and this time it was a “pot roast dog.” That’s what it was, a generous heap of pot roast in a bun. The basic hot dog, priced fabulously at $1.89, is served with chili, mustard and onions. There are a few other toppings available, but not very many. Cheese, sauerkraut and slaw can be had for thirty cents each. They also offer a couple of other meats: all-beef black angus dogs and beer-boiled brats. The goal here seems to be keeping it simple and keeping it friendly and keeping it inexpensive. It’s a far cry from the gigantic menu and incredible topping bar of the dearly-missed America’s Top Dog, but it’s set up to send guests home with a smile and most of their money still in their wallet.
The only thing that I didn’t enjoy about the experience is entirely my own doing. Along with a regular, unadorned option, they offer their fries “boardwalk style” here, with salt and vinegar. I’m not averse to a splash of malt vinegar to taste on my fries every once in a while, and so I gave that a try. I was unprepared for how they actually do it up in New Jersey and Maryland, with the fries completely drenched in vinegar, leaving them limp and smelly and awful. I’ll give them points for authenticity, but heaven only knows how people can eat fries this way. The dogs themselves were just fine, and we’re glad to have this low-priced option so close to home.
I met a fellow in the parking lot on the way back to the car. He asked me whether they were any good. I said that I didn’t know about the food, but the people were terrific. That matters a lot, I’m sure you all know by now. We’ll probably stop back by from time to time, and keep an eye out for their next Saturday special.
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