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Mar 12, 2007 06:11 PM

San Rafael - Royal Frankfurter - Get ‘cha German, Polish, Swiss, Kosher, Chinese Lopchong dogs before they are SOON gone

How can you mourn the passing of a business that you just stepped into for the first time?

Like the old Kaspar’s on Telegraph, once the owners retire at the end of April, an important and special part of the Bay Area will just be a fond food memory.

After 35 year the owners are passing the spatula. Hopefully there will be new owners, but … you know … I’d get there to experience a tasty chapter of hot doggy history.

The menu is simple, the condiments are classic. The dogs are served on a sesame seed bun that is more than the usual fluff.

There’s a pot of hot sauerkraut (gratis). There is also cold sauerkraut and chopped onions. There are two kinds of relish – dill (nice & fresh) & the standard sweet relish. There are jars of mayo, catsup and three types of mustard – yellow, hot mustard and Gulden’s spicy brown.

For the New Yorkers there’s a shaker of celery salt, orange whip and kosher franks imported from New York.

Dogs are grilled. Buns are toasted. This is someone who knows how to serve hot dogs.

The menu is simple

- Royal Dog (great) – beef & pork $3.95
- Kosher - All beef shipped directly from New York $3.25
- Portuguese Linquisa – All pork, spicy & hot $4.50
- German Old-Fashioned – 2/3 beef, 1/3 pork $3.95
- Swiss Bockwurst – 1/2 veal, 1/2 pork $3.95
- Chinese Lopchong – All pork dried $3
- Polish Kielbasa – 1/3 beef, 2/3 pork $3.95
- Cheesefurter – beef, pork and cheese inside $3.25
- Louisiana hot sausage – beef, pork and very hot pepper $3.95
- Chicken Frank $4.50

- Calvin’s potato salad (good) $1.65
- Mama’s cheesecake (nice) $1. 65

Standard drinks plus good fresh lemonade, jasmine tea and oolong tea

The Royal dog is good … really good. It is what I remember a hot dog tastes like. There’s a mild snap and nice spicing. Being grilled it is not water-logged like most.

I had to try the Chinese Lopchong and asked what condiments to use. The owner said try a bite plain, but first take a whiff … it has an aroma unlike a regular dog.

The owner said he liked it with a little mayo and chopped onion.

So I whiffed (nice), bit (good) and then pumped a little mayo along the dog and sprinkled on a few chopped white onions. This really brought the sandwich to life ... very satisfying indeed.

The lemonade is lovely with a good balance of sweet to tart.

The potato salad is quite tasty, somewhere between a German and American version … mayo-based but with a little vinegary tang. What was nice was the balance … grated carrot & chopped parsley with maybe some pickle juice (?) … there was a dill seed pop. But it was all done lightly so it added to the whole flavor and nothing dominated.

Mama’s cheese cake is a nice small homemade slice with a solid layer of sour cream on top of a cream cheese base with little pieces of cream cheese in it … it wasn’t whipped to death. The crust was graham cracker. Not overly sweet. I enjoyed it.

Maybe some might fault the bun which is large in relations to the dogs ... about sub-sized. But they are good buns and I enjoyed the toastiness. It didn’t seem like too much bread.

The owners are really wonderful. Locals drop by and chat briefly about what is happening … one talked gardening, another about how business was … on and on. Everyone knew everyone’s name.

There are old pictures of trains and farms and ships on one wall. Sepia photos of the owner’s grandfather, father, cousins and Aunt Betty are on the other wall. The owner joked that they watch him at the grill to make sure he is doing a good job.

I asked how he decided on selling hot dogs 35 years ago. He said it was easy since you didn’t need to be a chef.

It’s not so easy. No other hot dog joint does this as well. Sometimes simple goodness is the most elusive thing to achieve.

Like Kasper's, the owner is taking the secret of the brands of sausages with him. "Miller's?" I asked? Swartz, Saags ...."

"No, no", he replied. I decided to stop dogging him about it and enjoy the frank.

He didn’t have a definite answer yet about the future of the shop. I recommend stopping by before you miss something rare and special … and above all tasty.

Then go over to La Fayette bakery and buy some real donuts. The bakery closes its doors in April when that owner retires.

Then you can reminisce fondly about how much tastier things were in the ‘old days’ ... 2007.

Royal Frankfurter

811 4th Street
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 456-5485

Hours: Uh, I was charmed by the place and forgot. I just know that during the week they close at five … and be careful, because there is no parking on 4th from 4-6 pm.

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  1. Glad to hear we've got another month and a half to enjoy the double kosher (2 dogs in one bun) which kinda evens out the meat/bread proportion. No parking only on street market days, right -- or is some new weird Marin parking edict in effect?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Sarah

      Don't know ... the owner just mentioned as I was leaving not to forget that there was no parking on the street after 4 pm ... so if I planned to do more shopping I shouldn't leave the car on 4th or it might get towed ... dang, is that where the farmers market is?

      1. re: rworange

        The SR Downtown FM was/is held on Thursdays -- don't know when you were visiting RF.

    2. Thanks for the review. I did go in there once and could not get a feel as to whether this place was kind of a "cult classic" or a run down has-been. It is a bit dirty but the dogs were good.

      From your review I could not tell whether when they are retire they plan on closing the doors or handing it over to someone (hopefully to someone who will continue the tradition without changing the character).

      3 Replies
      1. re: MSK

        If they get someone to take it over, it will no longer be family. They are hoping any new owners will keep the place as is ... I asked if they'd pass along the recipe for mama's cheesecake or calvin's potato salad and he kind of smiled and to humor me, I think, said yes.

        I hope it will be someone with the same attention to the quality of the sausages. When you started talking to the guy, he really warmed up and started talking about the sausages and it was really cool. He was into the quality and how they can be best enjoyed. He cared about those dogs and was proud of them. A lot of times that doesn't translate into taste, but it did here.

        I just had a chi-chi Fatted Calf frank ($10) at the sparkling T-Rex. It wasn't half as good taste-wise. If that is the future of franks, I despair. That frank wasn't even in the same class as the dear departed Kaspars.

        I would say after 35 years where the shop probably has probably never changed ... the description would be worn rather than dirty. It was no more dirty than the old Kaspar's. Mama was out there cleaning the counters and tables. The condiment shelf had no spills. Maybe you caught the place when mama was taking a break and things backed up.

        Maybe that is the thing a new owner, if any, could do ... spiff-up the decor ... but still ... the ancestors won't be on the wall watching over the grill.

        1. re: rworange

          I'll agree with "worn rather than dirty" are just better with words than I.

          1. re: MSK

            Made me laugh ... quantity does not equal quality ... as places like Claim Jumper prove.

            Anyway, I do too much dive dining, so it takes a lot to catch my attention. I did wonder about the menu sign which seemed yellow with age, but then they added on a little hanging 'chicken frank' sign ... a more recent thing I am guessing and it was the same yellow color.

      2. Thanks for the heads up. I didn't know it was closing.

        I first started going there 20+ yrs ago when I lived in San Anselmo. Use to go a couple of times a month for lunch when I worked at ILM. I'm in Berkeley now but still go over to SR for the barber I've also been going to for 20+ yrs! I usually stop by Royal or S.J. Taq afterwards for a bite. I was just thinking that I needed a cut. Will be sure to drop by.

        I try to make hot dogs the same way at home. On the griddle for a bit, slash of water, then cover. Of course it's never quite as good. Wrong dog? Wrong bun? Wrong technique?

        Problem w/ getting older, all those things that you get use to and kinda take for granted are also getting older and slowly fading away. Hope a new owner who likes Royal as it is can be found.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Bookmark

          Once the place changes owners, I hope you'll report back if you stop by on the status of the dogs.

          Probably the biggest factor here it duplicating the Royal Frank itself is the dog. The spicing was interesting. Maybe before the change of ownership you can coax the name of the brand from the current owner.

        2. Mayonnaise on la chang? I think that out-grossses ketchup on a hot dog.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Gary Soup

            Try it you'll like it. See, an innocent who has never knowingly tried it before experiences new culinary delights that someone seeking authentic might by tragically turn their noses up at ... although I like ketchup on a hot dog on occasion.

            He did explain how it is more traditionally served ... but also said they are great on a campling trip, cooked over a fire.

          2. Went to Royal yesterday and am sad to report that they have already stopped serving their Kosher dogs. Due to the timing of their closing, it wasn't possible to place another order, since the minimum was (I think) 700lbs. On the bright side, the German Old-Fashioned was quite good, as was the Polish. We also got a plain Lopchong for old-times sake, and a couple slices of cheesecake. I had a $10 bill and a bag of change I grabbed from the car, which the owner helped me count while we waited for her husband to finish the dogs. ($11, including pennies!). She refused a tip for helping, and gave me back 4 of the quarters to keep in my car for parking meters. I'm really going to miss this place.