Monday, February 10, 2014

Nom City, No. 2: The Hot Dog Shoppe

Straight up, I get down with some poor-people food. Not even some of it. All of it. Cupboards at Carlton Place will confirm that I've an apparently endless appetite for the staples of destitute diet. When I was a youngblud, my fam was subsisting of some single-parent income, so you know I'm well-acquainted with all that noise. Your Hungry Man, your Kraft Mac, your Tuna Helper (classic Creamy Pasta only!) and basically every variation of its Hamburger-themed other-half. Fish sticks (no homo) and tater tots was on the plate like three times a week, minimum. It ain't possible that I was the only one raised like this, right? I mean places like Baja Taco been flourishing for two decades strong presumably due to the fact that there a lot of parents like mine that're try'na feed a family of four for a Hamilton. 

I ain't e'en mad about it, though. I gotta believe I'm a better person for my boxed-dinner upbringing. I (obviously) ain't any more humble or nothing like that. What I mean is that, unlike a lot of my college compadres, I was largely unfazed by the adjustments of independent bachelor living, namely its shell-shocking of the pampered adolescent-male digestive system. I was prepared, yo. I got a cast iron stomach. Shit's lined with impermeable layers of sadnessfaction. You know when was the last time I got a belly ache because I consumed comida from a highly-questionable establishment? Fuckin' not never, and it never gon' happen, neither. A lot of people online be trying their best to usher in a new age of food consciousness. They trying to start a movement, trying to cover the faces of Toucan Sam and The Cap'n with bigger, bolder nutritional labels like the shit ain't already available on the small side of the box. They're going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about how it's too expensive to eat healthy and how it's some grave injustice that kids in the ghetto can't eat organic. 


I really need y'all to know that. America needs a Trader Joe's on every corner like The World needs America in each of its own. You know what I'm saying? Like there's already an overabundance of soft motherfuckers being sent forth into the big, wide ocean of the Real World with their almond milk and warm kale sandwiches. They parading around with they noses all upturnt at the very thought of having leftovers for lunch or dinner. (Ay yo, for serious, I might snap if I hear one more dude speak sour on using one of man's greatest inventions to reheat and reuse some shit that's barely a day old and has been kept consumable by another of man's greatest inventions. No joke, backhand pimp slaps for everyone adhering to that mindset.) You cannot convince me that is a trend we should be fostering.

All this being said, two classics were always noticeably absent from the rotation at the Delaney family dinner table. One was Rice-O-Roni, that San Francisco treat, and that was only because my dad ate enough of it when he was a kid to hate it for the rest of his life. The other is a little harder to understand and tougher to believe. I'm talmbout our most nationally beloved foodstuff, y'all: hot dogs. Franks. Wieners. Tube steak. So, so seldom was I served hot dogs in my youth that I made it all the way to early adulthood without developing a taste for them. Most I can tell it pertains to the persistent, cross-generational efforts of poor people to differentiate themselves from the poorest people. And, yo, if you're eating hot dogs on the reg, you're not only straight scroungin', you're alright with letting other people know about it. Honest to God(?), my parents probably would have served me cooked wet cat food before they allowed me to eat a hot dog back in the day. Just to maintain appearances and all. At the very least we weren't fuckin' around wit' an Oscar Meyer, nahmsayin'? When, on occasion, we'd have hot dogs socially forced upon us at a back yard barbecue for America's birthday or whatever, my old man would be damned if we'd be consuming anything less than a Hebrew National (or "Heebs" as he'd call them). Still, them days was few and far between. 

Times changed real quick-like once I'd moved out and assumed responsibility for feeding myself on a nightly basis, once I was tasked with making my own shopping lists and navigating an empty vessel through the overawing expanse of a supermarket unsupervised. T'was but a matter of weeks 'til I found myself subjected to the easy, end-aisle pull of sausages and such. T'was 'til my first autonomous bite that I'd maintained there was some abstract barrier separating franks from other kinds of cash-strapped cuisine and making them unfit for the self-respecting crowd (to which I once belonged, believe it or not). Oh, how wrong I was. I immediately accepted I was no more able to distinguish between hot dogs and their ilk than a great white can between the disparate contents of its chum, no more so than my dog between his food and cat shit. I'd had that taste, and despite the best efforts of all those who'd purported to love me in my youth, I was hooked on them slumdogs right away. 

Turns out I fucking love the shit out of hot dogs. Not just the top-shelf joints, neither. All hot dogs, all the time. If I'm feeling desperate, I'll roll up a couple pieces of bologna and pretend it's a hot dog, even. Pan-fried, grilled, boiled or nuked, ya boy cares not. Ya know what I'm saying? I'm a fuckin' fiend, fam.

JETS. Cap on the brew because I'm fit'na get rowdy.
City workers ain't good for much besides their almost universal ineptitude in terms of form and function. One thing's for sure, though: they always know 'bout the best places to throw down around lunch hour. Lax job requirements, cush bennies, a sixty-minute break and union representation? Yeah, you bet. You walk through any city office anytime in the AM and you can just tell the only thing stuck on the mental is where them faces are getting stuffed come high noon. I'd be pretty pissed about it if I was ever relying on these kinds of people for much of anything. Instead, I'm just trying to put forth passable work for another thirty years before I retire and place additional strain on the financial resources of the Golden State, so their piggishness is an invaluable resource in my book.

Taking this into consideration, I'm sure you can imagine my intrigue when I stumbled upon the following menu stuck to the refrigerator at the CoC headquarters as I was in the middle of illicitly swooping on a case of bottled water for me and mine.

Yo. G'dayum. For serious??

Now, honestly, I don't normally fucks with extravagant toppings on my dogs. I kind of think the very nature of a hot dog speaks against it. Hot dogs are about the most unpretentious, working-class meal on the planet. I mean, no one really even knows what they're made of. The people that eat them know this and don't really give a damn, often joking about it as they're halfway through eating like six in a sitting. To dress up a dog with some gourmet shit, to use pastrami or muffuletta as condiments, smacks of bougie overindulgence no matter how well-intentioned it may be in theory. That's why I keep it simple. Even after having had like half that menu in my body, were I to make a hot dog right now, I'd add mustard and call it good. When available, I might add onion or sauerkraut. That's it. You do not disrespect the dog. You do not add ketchup. 

However, nowadays we're living in a gastronomic universe. Every culinary school dropout is opening his or her own place with his or her daddy's money and trying to reinvent the hamburger or hot dog or whatever. Many of these establishments be catering to the kale sandwich crowd, too. But I accept that ya gotta adapt at least to some extent, and at the end of the day I always let the product speak for itself, anyway. So, I chose to give the Hot Dog Shoppe a fair shake. I chose rightly.

The Hot Dog Shoppe sits right on the border between Corona and Norco. What's noteworthy or worthwhile in Corona-Norco, you ask? I'll let you know when I figure that out, I tell you. There's a Bob's Big Boy with a cowboy hat, and that's about it. Very wisely, this benevolent peddler of storefront street meat steers clear of local allegiance and the vapid culture vacuum it involves. Aside from the stacks of plaques furnished by hot dog funded youth sports teams, you'll find nothing denoting this place's presence in the Inland Empire or California in general. Instead, The Hot Dog Shoppe stays Windy City-centric. That Chicago pride is in full effect once you cross the front door threshold. There's an old Cubbies logo proudly painted above the company's own, some White Sox stuff hanging on the adjoining wall. All the table tops are adorned with Chicago sports teams' insignia. I was aiight with it at first visit, but I became downright appreciative after I'd pillaged my own path through the North Side earlier this year. There're also sports on flat-screens, because how the hell could there not be.

Check it, though. Y'all has scrolled down this far for a reason. Let's get to it. 

Daunting shit.

If you thought that paper-fold menu was extensive, you probs just ain't ready. Because that shit is more-or-less replicated on a newly-updated menu board next to the register, and there's all-but-guaranteed to be some new creations hand-written and taped to the wall beside the thing. Yes, sons and daughters. There are more options. I've probably taken down but a tenth of the menu, conservatively guesstimating, which I feel is admirable enough to offer some favorites. Proceed.

As shown, The most popular dawg on the menu is The Corporal. It's not tough to see why. Quarter-pound dog, bacon-wrapped, with pastrami, chopped onion rings and swiss cheese. That, right there, is good enough to get them salivary glands goin' HAM. The kicker, though, is the Thousand Island (or "secret sauce" for you man-children out there that can't accept they're the same thing). I don't know why it's even called Thousand Island or how it's original function is to make lettuce taste better by making it awful for you. That's all lost on me. I use Thousand Island for one reason, for its only true purpose: to dress up and augment the awful deliciousness of the greasiest, fattiest, friedest foods. Pastrami, bacon, onion rings?? Check, check and check. My heart quivers, but my stomach yearns. This one is popular for a reason, y'all.

If you're sweatin' because you really want to take down The Corporal but know you got a family at home that can't have the head of house hold cashin' out at forty, the Norco is probably for you. The second most popular offering keeps the bacon jacket and onion rings, but subs the rest for barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese. What you're left with is a dog very reminiscent of your typical western-style burger, which is reasonable considering it's named after self-proclaimed Horse Town, USA. However, instead of getting some flabby, microwave-meat filler, you're getting a frank with actual flavor. It's a bit straightforward for my taste, but guaranteed there are plenty of you unimaginative fucks out there that would enjoy the hell out of this.

MMM. Look at this dog. To be honest I don't even know what this one is called. Maybe I just ordered a weiner with a gang of grilled onions and some swiss. That sounds like some shit I'd do. By any name, I'm positive it was damn delicious. (You don't like onions?? The fuck out of here with that child's play.)

Alright. Yo. I gotta postpone this rundown for just a second. I don't mean to blue-ball them bellies, but there's something important I've thus far neglected to mention. Upon entering The Hot Dog Shoppe - right at heaven's gate - you'll be confronted with a simple, stand-up chalk board denoting the Dog of the Week. Do not overlook this sign or presume it unimportant in your hurried pursuit of satiation. Always off-the-menu, often off-the-wall and almost never repeated, dogs featured on this board tend to be especially inspired. I recommend going this route any time you're in for a two- to three-dog night and aren't immediately repulsed by or allergic to any of the featured toppings. Many of these ingredients are absent on any other part of the menu. Sometimes they're composed of those you would never combine or mess with in general. But, then again, you don't do this for a living... and you're on this site (probs) taking my advice... so just stfu and get that dotw. Fret not if you reeeally like one of 'em. So long as they have the proper adornments in house, prepped and ready to go, you may order one of the current or former dogs of the week. Sound it out if you can't remember it by name. They'll know what you're talking about. 

Anyway, several of these transitory creations have earned their way into my heart and onto my list of all-time faves. So I'ma hit you with 'em right quick.

Reckon we might as well start with the one on the board above, the Aussie. Now, I don't know about you, but I get down with garlic and herb anything. Just as is the case with bacon and onions, there isn't much that ain't drastically improved through the addition of garlic. The aroma, the taste. G'damn it's the bomb. If garlic soap were a thing, I'd bubblebathe in that mess all day. I'd pop garlic breath mints persistently if doing so didn't have a deleterious effect on my ability to mack on honeys henceforth. Anyway, that's what you're getting here: garlic "smashed" potato atop sauteed onions and savory herb gravy. All of it defiant in its monochromatic accompaniment of a juicy brat. I mean, there's not even a slight variance in color here. A nutritionist's nightmare. A real man's wet dream. This dog is probably my newest favorite. I've caught myself fantasizing about it on a couple of occasions, for sure. That's partly because The Aussie's  greatest strength doubles as its unfortunate flaw. That gravy is so, so bomb, y'all, but it's so inconsistently at the ready. I can't honestly say you can walk in to the Shoppe right now and get one, but I can say you'd be foolish not to try. Always ask about it just in case.

This joint right here? This joint right here is called the Amish Mafia, named after but otherwise nothing like Amish Mafia the miserable, pile-of-shit TV show (seriously, if you watch and enjoy that garbage, you're long overdue for a reevaluation of your purpose on this planet). My lawd, y'all. You're looking at this, and you probably already know. You know that's a fried egg crowning this ark of edible awe. You know what's 'bout to happen when you bite into it, too. Yolk's goin' errywhere. All on your face, all down your hands and forearms. On the table. Maybe into the basket if you're a grown man accustomed to eating neatly. Shit's gon' glaze the beef and soak into the bun. My, oh my. Yo, adding eggs to burgers is all the rage nowadays, so this is just the logical extension of that trend. Throw in the grilled onions and 5-pepper mix (spiciness ranges from day to day) and you've got yourself an absolute must-have. (Sidenote: They used to serve the Amish Mafia with TWO eggs on top. Shit was all but unmanageable. They've mercifully scaled it back since.) Fucks with this dog, guys.Wash up afterward.

Alright... I'ma be real wit' you. There are obviously A LOT more options in that general, artery-blocking vein. I could continue in that direction, but I'd rather issue overtures on some more offbeat offerings. So, shit's about to get a bit cray. Some of y'all 'bout to be unsettled. Keep an open mind, though. Know that ya boy would never steer you wrong.

BAH-DOW!! I present to you a dog of clusterfucked proportions, smothered in a(n) (un?)holy trinity of peanut butter, Nutella, and that marshmallow spread nonsense you always see on discount at Staters but never buy because why the fuck would you? What's it even made of? Probably plastic. Regardless, it's here, loud and proud. Aiight tho, I won't delay the discussion any longer, because let's be honest you're just staring at that picture all flummoxed-like. Look, we're all adults here. We know what this looks like. I'm not even saying we shouldn't snicker or outright laugh about it. This ain't eighth grade lit and we're not reading about Anne Frank admiring her V or nothing. For Christ's sake, it's called the Fluffer Nutter! Naivety es nada. By all means, if you know someone who orders this thing, let 'em have it. Just know you're kind of missing out... because it's pretty good. Somehow, it works. Though, when I ate the one shown above, I did find it lacking something. It was a little dense. You know what I mean? Like in the same way you wouldn't want to take down a peanut-butter sammich without a glass of milk or somethin' somethin'. This piece is normally served with bacon and I was simply skimped somehow. Whatever, though. Small grievance. Give this one a shot if only so your palate and preconceived notions may grapple for supremacy. Taste buds FTW.

Bow down. People of the void, this shit right here is my all-time favorite, bar none. It's called the Nutty Professor. You'll find it on the big board listed as the menu's tenth most popular option. You know why it's tenth all-time? Because me. I order this mess damn near every time I hit up the Hot Dog Shoppe. I sing its graces just about any time I get the chance. It's so bizarre. It's so fucking delicious. Check it. Though it may not seem so upon first glance, this dog is a more thoughtful and systematically composed version of that above. It's what the Fluffer Nutter wishes it were when it wakes up in the morning and brushes its English mouth. When it sings Hall & Oates in the shower and shows up to its shitty job five minutes late. When it comes home to its dilapidated wife and misbehaving brood. Sorry, I got off track. Anyway.. Beneath the bed of BBQ potato chips and shredded ched is a bacon-wrapped, beef frank and, get this, fucking PB & J! Peanut butter and marmalade, guys. Yo, I'm with you. What business do those ingredients have dressing a dog? What business they got commingling with barbecue chips and cheese on anything?? Yo... every business, that's which. The only reason I ever tried this in the first place is because it was given to me for free after I saw it advertised as the Dog of the Week and proceeded to talk mad shit on it to its constructor. Now, though, post-enlightenment... yo, now the prof is my JAM (ha).

The salty, fatty greatness of the bacon consorting so naturally with the nuttiness of the peanut butter (Skippy, as it should be). All of it contrasted by the mellow, citrusy sweetness of the jelly. There's a slight, mesquite tang from the chips that's quickly cut by the queso. This dog's got a lot going on. It'll probably take you a couple bites to grasp it all, but by that point you'll most likely already have ordered another. Creativity points aside, piece is worth handling at least once, but you'll probably do so regularly thereafter.

I'm telling you right now you're going to be overwhelmed on first visit. You just are. So many dogs, such a short time to the front of the line. You're going to stare up at the menu desperately hoping the hand of God(?) will reach down and select your lunch or dinner for you. Fortunately for me, that's how it went down when I popped my HDS cherry with the Lasorda (ranch, wing sauce, cheddar, pickle -- solid). I mean it was called the Lasorda. That's just divine happenstance. To this day, though, I still get caught at the cash register stammering all over myself trying to search out the best dog I've never tried. Should this happen to you, the owner or till attendant (often one in the same) will offer to pick for you.  They do it partially out of expediency -- this place gets straight popping in intervals throughout the day -- but also because they genuinely enjoy what they do. If you're game, they'll try to direct you off the beaten path toward something different. That's how you end up eating a Frankfurterstein like the Crazy Corn (shown above), a bacon-wrapped corn-dog (!!!) cut open, stuffed with chili, put on a bun and topped with mac & cheese & cheddar. Wild shit, I know. 

You've caught the drift, I'm sure. That the dogs are bomb has been documented sufficiently by my measure. But y'all know me. That ain't enough. Ya boy ain't so simply swayed, and you can't just win a dude over by waving some phallic franks in his face. At least not this dude. I sweats the small stuff; I make note of minutiae. And, in this instance, the particulars are what keep me coming back to The Hot Dog Shoppe probably every other time I eat in Norco. (It'd be closer to every time if I gave exactly zero fucks about my general outward appearance. But, alas.. women and whatnot.) Let's discuss some of that.

As is with about all else, The Hot Dog Shoppe doesn't venture too far beyond them Windy City limits for the cerveza selection, neither. You've got your choice between three Goose Island brews (a Belgian pale known as Matilda, an ESB called Honker's Ale and the filtered hef, 312 Urban Wheat). You've also got ye' old faithful, Pabst Blue Ribbon. Those are standards of the Central United States, especially up 'round them Great Lakes. Though few in comparison to the number of beers available at an otherwise substandard joint like Ddog's in Riverside, the four kegged offerings at The Hot Dog Shoppe more or less run the gamut in about every possible component of style. You'll find something you like, so long as you ain't no snob. Furthermore, what is lacked in depth of selection is more than made up in the execution of quality control. Every mug o' suds is served at optimum temp in a glass that's chilled but not frigid to the touch. Nothing is over- or under-carbonated. Shits are cold and crisp. No joke, the the most refreshing, best-tasting PBR in Southern California is served right here. Yo, and the best part? YOU DON'T HAVE TO DRINK IT IN THE PRESENCE OF HIPSTERS! That's a win.
How about another oft-overlooked component of a quality hot dog: that bun. Believe me when I tell you them buns is served soft and supple. (And I of all people would know some soft and supple buns when I sees 'em, amirite?). Highlighting the bread vessel on a hot dog might initially sound as ludicrous as commending a salad bar at a steakhouse, but 'tis not so, yo. In realness, ain't nothing kill that vienna sausage vibe like a lackluster or (Lord, have mercy!) stale hot dog bun. They provide obstructive, overly bready resistence. They break apart under simple stress. Bad buns are fit for chickens or mangy, homeless dogs, only. And, even then, I feel sorry for them motherfuckers. Thankfully, every bun on every dog at the Hot Dog Shoppe is properly steamed. Lord knows you'd know if they weren't, because there's just no way they'd successfully support the teeming heft they're tasked with accommodating. Get a tactful grip on the bottom backside of the bun and -- with practice -- you'll prove largely successful in keeping the various constituents contained within.

Lastly, it'd be almost criminal if a place like this didn't offer some sort of stuff-your-face challenge. They do. It's called the Homewrecker Challenge. You knock it out, you get your own dog gracing that monolithic menu near the register. That's tempting 'til you learn it involves eating about seven pounds of food (three MASSIVE dogs slathered in chili, cheese and habanero salsa). Oh, and you have to do it in fucking half-an-hour. If you feel like wasting thirty dollars, probably failing early on and surely combating brutal gastrointestinal upset, I say go for it. Otherwise I'd recommend you go the conventional route and add an additional Pabst to the tab. You ain't Joey Chestnut, bro.

Justin, owner. (Also pictured: your downfall)

Springtime is here (or maybe never left). Baseball is back. Get down to The Hot Dog Shoppe and get down to business, y'all.

510 Hidden Valley Pkwy
Corona, CA 92879

(Final notes: A simple Google search will confirm there are indeed multiple Hot Dog Shoppe locations, though you should take note that most of the others are more of a bar-type atmosphere. The Corona-Norco location is more open and bright. The dogs also taste better, like they're made with love and passion and all that noise.)