For a few weeks in 2004, I had a brief little obsession with hot dog joints. Since Atlanta is a burger town, and not a dog one, this didn’t last very long. Just about everywhere I went was exactly the same: a half-hearted sigh of a business with identical $5 Polish sausages and various photos of Chicago on the walls, trying to kid the locals into thinking that businessmen and Cubs fans in the Windy City enjoyed these. I’ve never been to Chicago, but after trying four or five of these joints, I’m convinced that there’s just no possible way that anybody in Illinois would think these to be the real thing.
Well, it’s not like that was the worst mistake I made in 2004. That was something of a stupid year.
The problem, of course, was that I was trying to experience something that, if it exists in Atlanta at all, can’t be found all over the place. If I wanted proper hot dogs in this region, I needed something that’s nothing like what they serve in Chicago. Local dogs have much more in common with The Varsity, about which, I’m certain, more another day, than any pretend Windy City concoction.
That said, I do cherish a memory of Marie trying to eat a Chicago dog at a ballpark in Nashville two years ago and getting ketchup all over her nose, and spending a spectacularly funny beat in paralyzed mortification as she had both hands full and no way to clean up until I rescued her. I’ll thank Chicago for that until the day I die.
But I digress. What I should have been doing in 2004, of course, was eating at Brandi’s. This is the real thing. A few years ago, the Marietta Daily Journal, in one of their rare moments of lucidity, named her chili dogs among the Seven Wonders of Cobb County. You’ve probably never, ever had chili dogs this good, and, unless you’re in the area during a criminally small weekday lunchtime window, you might not get the chance.
Brandi’s opened in 1979 as Betty’s, in a teeny little building near Kennestone Hospital on the Church Street Extension, right next to the railroad track. It was an immediate success. In 2002, Betty Jo Garrett retired and sold the business and the recipes to Brandi. Locals – they are legion, mostly older folk – swear it has not changed a smidgen, save for the opening of a second location thirty miles up the road in Cartersville.
As you might expect from a restaurant built into a very old service station, this is a cramped little place full of color and energy. There’s a menu above the register, but it’s not particularly extensive, so you needn’t waste anybody’s time making up your mind. There’s no time to waste here; Brandi’s is open Monday through Friday from 10-3, and the lunch window of 11.30 to about 1.30 is completely packed. I’m sure you’ll want to linger over the taste of this chili, but lingering over a book is a breach of etiquette.
This chili is something else. I’ve had a lot of good hot dog chili before, but never is it anywhere near as spicy as this. Brandi’s gives you an incredibly satisfying mouth-burn, and it gives it to you pretty cheaply. I had two dogs and an order of rings for under six bucks. Both of my kids are in town – my son’s currently residing in Kentucky with his mom and is here for spring break – and we’re going to lunch here Tuesday. I wonder how they’ll feel about the chili. It’s very difficult to judge how they feel about spicy food.
Interestingly, the understood default is that dogs here come with chili. Not knowing any different, I ordered one chili dog and one slaw dog, and got two chili dogs, one with slaw atop it. I figured the error was mine and enjoyed them both quite thoroughly.
Shame about Marie, though. Since she’s never in Cobb County between 10 and 3 on a weekday, I’ll just have to eat here without her!
Other blog posts about Brandi’s: