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a brief Slaw Dogs story

Now that the article is out, I can tell a brief and possibly amusing story about the level of my Slaw Dogs devotion.

I managed to show up with to Slaw Dogs the first time... uh, about a month ago? The very day of the Official Grand Opening. It was crowded as hell, and they were serving free wine, and there were balloons everywhere. I was with a tough-minded New York chick, who grew up in her family deli and sternly warned me that she was *very particular* about her hot dogs, and occasionally gave me menacing eyebrow motions suggesting that if Slaw Dogs disappointed her, that was going to be it for our friendship.

The first dogs I ever had there were the original (chili + slaw) and the thai cole slaw. I think when the first bite of the Original went into my mouth I sort of went into AutoSlaveringMonster mode and took down four-fifths of the hot dog in a few sort of insane, wolfman like bites, and by the time consciousness returned, I only had a single bite of chili dog left, and I'd taken no notes.

This turned out to be an excellent justification for ordering a second chili dog.

Anyway, I rushed home, and with still-greasy fingers, tapped out an e-mail to my editor, begging to be allowed to write about this place, quickly negotiated a deadline, and figured out that I had four days to eat through the entire menu.

So I did it. I managed about six more meals there in four days, often taking down two dogs at a time. This is a familiar process by now, and often by the time I've eaten most of the way through an entire menu in a compressed period of time, I'm a little sick of the place, the cuisine, the whole process of eating, etc., and want nothing except salads and smoothies for a month.

So I filed the story on a Sunday, I think, went to sleep thinking about salads and steamed broccoli, and I woke up on Monday morning, and the only thought in my head was: MUST GO BACK FOR ANOTHER CHILI DOG.

Let me reiterate: I ate their 7 times in 5 days, often having two dogs at once, and once I discharged my obligation, all I wanted to do was DRIVE BACK AND HAVE ANOTHER CHILI DOG.

So I did.

In the month since, approximately every other day, I wake up and my first thought is, I WANT TO GO BACK TO SLAW DOGS AND HAVE ANOTHER CHILI DOG. Or maybe a chili dog followed by a caesar salad dog and maybe a market dog.

But that slightly tangy, slightly sticky, deep-layers-of-meat-sliding-on-top-of-each-other, that crystal clear *ring* of chili on sausage, that burning ultra-meat-tang - it calls to me, I can hear it from the back of my brain. The desire is unrelenting.

Crazy, huh?

(P.S. The New Yorker's comment was that she wanted to "hug Ray for making a hot dog with his whole soul.")

-thi

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    1. Thought:

      Slaw Dogs is to hot dogs as Scoops is to ice cream.

      The brave new experimentors, using a familiar form as a comforting platform to reach for the new.

      1. 7 times in 5 days, good God man. That is impressive. I will definitely find my way over there. The fact that you kept going back AFTER you finished the story is what truly speaks of this place. Hmmm, I wonder how those dogs would be followed by some Bulgarini gelato; I mean, if I'm going to be in that neck of the woods.

        4 Replies
        1. re: sku

          For some weird reason, I'd say Bulgarini first. Bulgarini is delicate, ethereal. Slaw Dogs is gut-punching, gun-slingin' power.

          Just a gut-call.

          1. re: Thi N.

            So when your order comes up I take it you begin to "slawber" something fierce... ;-D>

            1. re: Thi N.

              Please tell me when the post LAT rush dies down.

              I MUST try this.

            2. re: sku

              Also: this particular area is some weird Lane of Quality Chow. Weird magic. Something in the water. Positive voodoo chants. Must investigate further.

            3. I love that Chili... it's what Tommy's Chili would be if the cooks gave a damn...

              --Dommy!

              4 Replies
              1. re: Dommy

                Yup, my thoughts exactly. Because Tommy's understands something... unlike Pink's, which I despise with the force of a thousand angry wasps. Even though Tommy's is gross, and careless, and cheap, and sort of disgusting, they get the *texture* that chili should be when it goes on a dog... subtly sticky. The same texture recurs in kibbeh nayeh made right. Jay's Jayburger, in the old days, did it better, but still sticky. But THESE SLAW DOGS GET IT.

                My favorite thing: pretty girls making fun of me. My second favorite thing: pure simple food done with undying care and devotion.

                1. re: Thi N.

                  Wow! You are good at this... that is EXACTLY what I meant. :)

                  1. re: Thi N.

                    "unlike Pink's, which I despise with the force of a thousand angry wasps"... Thi, you've finally put into words how I feel about Pink's. Great review on slaw dogs!! My first visit there was with great apprehension and I walked out very pleased... quality ingredients, great service, and they truly care about what they're serving. Keep up the great work and congrats on the Times gig.

                    1. re: mrshankly

                      speaking of which how does one get a Times gig and how much do you get paid for it? is it a very minimal compensation? kind of like a freelancer?

                      to keep this chowish, anyone tried any new specials at Slaw Dogs recently?

                      -----
                      The Slaw Dogs
                      720 N Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91104

                2. Thi, why do you have to do this to me? I'm supposed to be eating healthy now, and before you and other hounds starting posting on it, I thought I took care of all the hot dog joints but now..... aaaah.... and now that Fab's may be offering those awesome turkey dogs too. it's just too...

                  On a side note, how you get the gig of writing reviews, great chowish reviews for the Times? It's great so see you in print in the mainstream press.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: kevin

                    Healthy: they have good veggie dogs. Veggie caesar salad dog. Can't be that bad for you. Also: their chili, actually not that greasy. Remind me to write something sometime about how I lost 50 pounds while continuing to chowhound, *because* I chowhounded.

                    Job: the usual. Sacrifices to dark lords, burning live chickens, prayers to ancestors, promises of the firstborn.

                    But thanks for the kind words. This was actually the first review that I sat back after I wrote it and was like, "Yes Thi, today you're not actually a dumb***t. Have a cookie."

                    1. re: Thi N.

                      Wasn't going to chime in, since who wants to hear a vegetarian / near-vegan's opinion on a hot dog place, right? But since you mention the veggie dogs specifically, I'll throw in my $0.02. I tried their veggie dogs the other day (and vegans should note that the owner seemed interested / willing to adding vegan mayo to the menu). Apparently the buns are vegan (though they are just your average crappy hotdog bun). The veg dogs themselves are standard veggie dogs, probably Yyves or something. Not great, not bad... I think they would get better results if they boiled or steamed it before grilling. Also, they should also get some higher quality veggie dogs / sausages, like the Field Roast or Tofurky brand ones. I'd pay a premium for a better quality veg-dog... preferably not one made primarily out of industrial soy-junk.

                      I was not impressed overall with the quality of their sides. Despite making a big deal of the house-pickled daikon and carrots on the Vancouver dog they were serving the day I visited (not sour or pungent enough, IMHO), their standard pickles are standard-issue. I would bet the same is true of their relish. I asked the guy about it, and he started talking about how he wanted to make pickled beans and other stuff in-house... but seriously, why not start with the basics. If you're not going to make your pickles in-house, at least get high-quality ones. Buns -- same thing. Spend some time and find a bakery that makes good buns - buns that will stand up to the kind of textures and flavors they're featuring. Grilled onions were a little raw for my taste. I'd prefer something with either more char or more carmelization or both.

                      Didn't try the sweet potato fries, but the Belgian fries were... well they're crispy, but I'm almost certain they're frozen, and probably have some modified food starch or are doctored somehow to make them crispy. Taste good, but again, nothing special. I think they should undersell rather than oversell, and just call them fries rather than "Belgian" fries.

                      To be fair, it's a new place, the prices aren't super high, but it's clear that they're going for an upscale / "gourmet" hot dog vibe; I think they should focus first on high-quality *basics* before getting all crazy and conceptual.

                      On the plus side, the staff was friendly and (mostly) helpful, and the owner seemed personable and willing to listen to suggestions / criticism. Questions about food ingredients were answered quickly and with a minimum of eyebrow-raising. I work nearby, so I'll definitely be back to see how they're progressing, and whether their veg*n selections are expanding.

                      1. re: will47

                        The bun is an interesting issue. I sort of feel that a lot of buns out west are *too* hard - they don't get the same wonderful soft-bun-then-snappy-dog feel that the Manhattan dogs do. Back East seems to understand, with dogs, hoagies, and cheesesteaks, the use of a really *soft* bun. I'm sort of sure that Ray is *aiming* for that particular texture - he talked for a while about testing all sorts of buns to get the balance right.

                        But then - and it's an interesting point you raise - once you start doing the Slaw Dog-style lots-of-toppings weirdness, the bun starts to fall apart.

                        I wouldn't say that the soft bun is a poor-quality issue. I think it's a very conscious textural decision. But it does present a physical challenge for the innovator who wants to push the soft-bun-snappy-dog thing in the direction of tons-of-toppings.

                        1. re: Thi N.

                          I'd be happy if they didn't fall apart after the first bite.

                          1. re: Thi N.

                            Yeah - if I were getting a NY street-vendor hot dog or a Dodger Dog, I'd expect a "traditional" soft, wonder-bread type bun. But here, it didn't seem to fit as much (for me).

                            Even if a totally soft bun is what he's going for, I think you could find (or have made) a bun that had a similar texture but is still a higher quality product, and hopefully something that would hold up a little better too. Maybe it was a conscious choice, but if so, I have to respectfully disagree with the owner on his choice of buns. The bun tastes exactly like what you'd get if you went to Ralphs and bought a bag of hot dog buns.

                            Now if we're talking sub / hoagie rolls, in my opinion there should still be some crackle and density on the crust, along with the softness and lightness inside. Light, not too dense, but not so porous that it soaks up everything. Otherwise, it's just a soggy mess with no texture. Generally speaking, it's the west coast that gets this part wrong more often than the east coast - the sub rolls here are squishier than the ones back east, though these days, with people raised on Wonder Bread etc., the trend in everything (bagels, sub rolls, etc.) seems to be towards softer and softer.

                            You can argue that cheesesteak rolls should be softer than sub rolls - I don't claim to be an expert. I would bet that they used to be firmer than they are now, but I could be wrong on that. I would also bet that a fresh Amoroso roll in Philly has a different texture than one that's been frozen and spent some time inside a plastic bag.

                            1. re: Thi N.

                              Thi, did you ever try Weiner Factory when it was still alive? It was all about the "wonderful soft-bun-then-snappy-dog feel" thing.

                              As a matter of fact, it was one of the main reasons their dogs kicked royal ass.

                              1. re: GK in SO

                                I was about to say those WF buns, eggy buns, were damn great but even better are those turkey dogs.

                                1. re: kevin

                                  Alas, my fellow hound Kevin, was the REAL bomb in my book...turkey dog, eggy, soft steamed bun, chili, mustard, onions, or "Tom MCO" in WF speak.

                                  I can't wait for Fab's to get the turkey dogs, but feel I may be dissapointed on the bun.

                          2. re: Thi N.

                            Thi, I'll consider a sacrifice to the Dark Lord of your choice if you tell us how you lost weight while chowhounding.