Humphrey Bogart once said that, “A hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz.” If I had heard this quote when I was younger, I wouldn’t have understood. I never liked hot dogs as a kid because, like peas, they have that weird sensation of rubbery skin, puncturing to reveal a squishy inside. Now, after changing my associations with hot dogs, Bogart’s sentiments about this great American icon mirror my own exactly.
The reasons I’ve reconsidered hot dogs happened gradually. My first reappraisal came over a year ago when I went to an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas. On the beach, there was a stand with hot dogs, burgers, and chicken tenders. After coming out of the ocean, tired and hungry, those hot dogs, warm and cozy in a fluffy white bun, tasted amazing. Coupled with a beer or tequila and lime, you had a fully rounded flavor event.
My fondness further grew last summer when I started doing more backyard grilling, an event not often experienced in my childhood. Although coupled with various other meats and sides, the surprising highlight for me was usually grilled sausages, turkey dogs, or regular hot dogs laden with mustard, salsa, barbeque sauce, or sauerkraut. After a couple of barbeques, I found myself, for the first time in my life, craving hot dogs.
While visiting Sarasota, two of my memorable food experiences involved hot dogs. The first was at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, which is just outside of Sarasota, to see a Spring Training game between the Orioles and the Pirates. Before the game, I got an Italian sausage with sautéed red peppers, onions, mustard, and relish. Only problem was a temptation dilemma that came when I had to wait the entirety of the national anthem, holding my steaming prize, and unable to enjoy it. The second was at Sarasota Kennel Club which on Friday afternoon has 50₡ admission, 50₡ beer, and 50₡ hot dogs. By normal standards, the thin hot dogs in somewhat dry buns would be nothing to blog about, but somehow, they were awesome. Sitting at the tracks, coming down from the adrenalin of the last race, mulling over the next bet, and drinking a cold AmberBock, all joined for a perfect combination.
Like Bogart says, hot dogs reflect how the taste and fondness for a food grows because of a moment, a place, or a connection. Yes, they do taste great and they do hit a gastronomic yearning of meat, bread, and condiments. But, more than that, they are an icon of grilling with friends, a much needed post-swimming replenishment, and the crowning glory of grandstand pastimes.