The Festival of Nitrates, 2011

When Marie learned she was pregnant, she did some research and found that nitrates are really bad for carrying babies. So she excised hot dogs and sausages and salami from her diet, and suffered silently without some of her favorite foods. She consoled herself with hamburgers when we visited America’s Top Dog, and when we were in Nashville in November of last year, we did not make the requisite stop by Noshville for a big salami to pack for the ride home.

Now that the baby’s with us, I took her out for a little splurging. Over three days, we had hot dogs at what I would argue are the three best hot dog places in the city, and we picked up some salami to make some terrific sandwiches for dinner. We’ve been to all three of these places before and love them all. First up, on Thursday, just as soon as she was discharged and we kissed byes to the baby (who stayed in the hospital for 24 more hours), was a lunchtime trip to Brandi’s World Famous Hot Dogs.

As ever, there was a mob here, and the topic of conversation around the counter was why in the world Guy Fieri had not featured this place on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives yet. Heaven knows it qualifies. Marie had two dogs, one with slaw and one with chili. The chili here is really finely ground beef in a devilishly hot sauce. I prefer to eat them with chili and slaw together. The slaw cools the burn of this firey concoction somewhat.

On Friday, the baby now safely home and he and Marie napping peacefully, my older son and I ran out to get some meat. We drove over to Austell’s Patak-Bohemia, an incredibly popular meat market located in the middle of nowhere, down past some industrial blight. Sort of an all-purpose European-styled butcher shop, guests can order more than a dozen varieties of salami here, along with everything from kielbasa to bacon, and fill their basket with imported treats and sodas like hazelnut Kit Kat bars and fizzy lemonade.

We went home with three bags of salami, enough for several sandwiches. I had enjoyed their house version the last time we came here, but they didn’t have any on this visit, offering the tourist salami instead. I felt faintly disappointed by the name. My son enjoyed the Hungarian salami the most, while I liked the spicy Durango salami. A small stack of that on a bakery bun with mustard, horseradish sauce and a slice of Havarti cheese was quite excellent, and we used not even a third of what we purchased that evening, leaving us plenty of salami for the next week.

On Saturday, we took our baby out for his first visit to a restaurant. Marie suggested that we go to America’s Top Dog first, as she was already familiar with our other destination. We arrived just as they were opening and had a short wait as the grill warmed up.

We each had a half-smoke, and I’m glad to say that my hype of this remarkable little beef and pork sausage didn’t overwhelm the reality. Marie agreed that this was completely amazing. I top mine with brown mustard, Cincinnati chili and a small pile of cheddar cheese. It’s just unmissably good. I also had an original top dog with Texas chili and giardiniera relish and it was also as wonderful as I hoped. The fries were just a little bland this time out; they seem to have been sitting for a few seconds longer than they should have been, but with dogs this great, we weren’t all that interested in the fries anyway. Besides, the onion rings are even better.

For our final stop on the tour, we came back to I-75 and Windy Hill for the wonderfully good Barker’s Red Hots.

Barker’s is another of our favorite places to visit, although we haven’t gone very often lately, in part because they are no longer open for dinner and in part because I’ve been enjoying their beef on weck sandwich even more than their dogs. Oh, and Marie being pregnant. The staff greeted us like old friends and asked where we’d been, and you’ve just got to love service like that. ATD might have the best dog in town with their half-smoke and topping bar, and Brandi’s might win on chili and charm, but really, for overall quality, Barker’s is indeed something special. Asking me which of the three is my favorite will net you a different answer any day of the week.

Marie and I each ordered lightly grilled red hots. They cook over charcoal here and the results are never less than excellent. She had hers with slaw and I had mine with mustard, thick hot sauce, onions and pickles. Since we had the fries at ATD, we went with onion rings here. Marie and I differ on this point; I think we flat out got them backwards. Barker’s fries are so darn delicious it’s sinful, but their onion rings, while excellent, are not quite as good as ATD’s. Marie loves the sweet crisp to Barker’s rings, and prefers them to the fries. Whichever, a meal here is a genuine treat, and we wouldn’t think of eating here without a cup of loganberry punch.

The baby seemed to enjoy the day out and his first real look at this weird world of ours. He didn’t enjoy being changed in the teeny restroom at ATD, and one day down the line, he’ll probably give me an earful for not sharing any chili with him. Kid’s got plenty of time for chili, though, and we’ve got a lot more of it to eat.

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