New breeds and old populate the latest pack of dogs roaming the Lowcountry this spring.
No, these aren’t dogs that bite. We bite them instead, sinking our teeth into a celebrated piece of Americana. Because what would baseball be without hot dogs? Or life in general, for that matter?
Charleston’s RiverDogs organization takes hot dogs very seriously but in its own wacky way, thanks to food trailblazer John Schumacher.
Every year, Schumacher comes up with an unusual take on dogs served at The Joe, and probably nobody in stadium food is more imaginative.
Coincidentally, we were alerted to the reincarnation of an old breed with a loyal following. More on that later.
But first, what’s new for the RiverDogs is wild, as in venison, alligator and duck sausage dogs.
We asked Schumacher if the new dogs were aimed at the foodie or the hunter type.
“I think it’s probably a combination,” he says, with
the duck leaning a bit more to the gourmet palate.
What’s different about all of them is the focus on the meat itself, he says.
“The last five years we’ve been concentrating on the toppings. I don’t think we’ve exhausted our ideas, but we decided to go a different route. We have a chorizo that we offer, but we don’t have anything out there as far as what we call ‘alternative tubular meat.’ ”
Schumacher and his staff even considered ostrich but ended up with more familiar but still unusual fare. They turned to a boutique butcher in Atlanta, Fossil Farms, for the venison and duck dogs. The gator dogs are coming from Crescent City Meat Co. in New Orleans.
“We think the gator will be the most popular,” Schumacher predicts. “It’s a great product. It’s not spicy but has a little Cajun seasoning, and really goes well with the remoulade sauce.”
Special sauces such as the remoulade were developed to go with each dog: a plum sauce for the duck and a citrus chipotle barbecue sauce for the venison, aka “Byrdog.”
“I’m sure there’s gonna be some baseball purists that will go to the condiment stand and put mustard on them, but we’ll give people the option,” Schumacher says.
Last year’s sensation was a bacon-wrapped corn dog, which was more successful than even Schumacher thought was possible. He is optimistic about the new trio.
“I think the people in Charleston are very adventurous as food goes. Because of the different hot dogs we’ve have success with, I think they will be up for the challenge.”
A tale is wagging the revival of a dog on James Island.
Chef and caterer Barry Waldrop of Stono Cafe in Riverland Terrace has brought back a popular chili dog once served at Eddie’s and later the Ram Room.
In this case, it is all about the topping: a chili sauce well-known to those raised in the Upstate.
Waldrop, who grew up in the neighborhood, was working in Boston when he returned in the early 1990s to open the Stono Cafe. He inherited the chili recipe as well as a hot dog machine from Ram Room owner Betty Browder.
It was long forgotten until Waldrop was rummaging around his attic not long ago. “There’s that dad-gum hot dog machine,” Waldrop thought when he came across it. “I wish I could find that chili recipe.”
Then he did. The chili is “ridiculous,” says Waldrop, in a good way. It takes two days of cooking, seasoning and tasting until Waldrop feels the sauce has reached exactly the right taste and texture.
The result is a meaty, mildly seasoned sauce that’s smooth, almost fluffy. The absence of grease is conspicuous.
“This is the chili we were nursed on in the Upstate,” says Realtor Bryan Thompson, as he sat at the counter and took a big bite last week.
In Spartanburg, where Thompson grew up, that means the style of chili served at iconic eateries such as the Beacon, Ike’s and Boots and Sonny’s. Where the chili begat its own language: a “chili dog” means a bun filled with chili but no dog. Meat included is a “hot dog with chili.”
Thompson says the key to the chili is in the cooking. The meat is boiled instead of fried.
“My mother was a hot dog aficionado,” Thompson says. “Mama always used to say that the best hot dog is the cheapest weenie and the water always should have a tinge of pink. And she would mean it.”
Waldrop’s neighbors, one of which hails from Easley, regularly used to bring him gallons of chili from Joe’s restaurant there. In turn, Waldrop would distribute the chili to friends, including Upstate ex-pats.
But after Waldrop started making Browder’s recipe, he took the chili, some hot dogs and a bag of buns and left them at his neighbor’s back door one afternoon. He also left a note, “Tell me if this is like Joe’s.”
The next day Waldrop saw the neighbors in the yard. “You have nailed it,” came the chorus.
And that just might have some old-timers licking their lips.
Teresa Taylor is the food editor. Reach her at 937-4886.