Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gus's Hot Dogs - Birmingham

For as often as I drive through Birmingham, I had no idea it was a hot dog town. It wasn’t until Serious Eats began their search for America’s best hot dog that I realized what a goldmine I was missing. When covering the Southern region of the United States, Serious Eats listed two Birmingham institutions, Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs and Gus’s Hot Dogs. A little more googling revealed the friendly rivalry between the two downtown eateries and, in their usual, fastidious manner, The Southern Foodways Alliance’s interview with the owner of Gus’s Hot Dogs, George Nasiakos. It was painfully obvious, I had a lot of ground to cover on the subject of Birmingham hot dogs.

With this new found information on hot dogs, the last time I passed through Birmingham I was determined to try one or two for myself. It was simply a matter of where to go first. Exiting off I-20, I soon found parking in downtown Birmingham and saw Gus’s Hot Dogs just down the street.

Gus’s isn’t a large building; with little more than an open kitchen and two small sections of counter space, there isn’t much room to spare. It’s a two man operation at Gus’s. The owner and head cook, Goerge Nasiakos mans the grill while a second takes the orders and packs things to go. After a quick introduction to the Gus’s menu and a short wait, I had my order in hand.

As far as I can tell, Gus’s is known for their special sauce and their slaw dog. I decided to save the slaw dog for another time and start with a classic chili cheese dog instead.

With the paper tinged with grease and most of the bun dyed a deep shade of chili red, this was an enticing chili cheese dog.

Starting with a Kent Quality dog from the Evans Meat Company, this frank had been griddled to perfection, saddled with a slice of melted American cheese, mustard onions, and crowned with a smoky chili. On its own, the chili wasn’t anything special but when topping a Gus’s hot dog, it was brilliant.

With each hot dog costing less than two dollars, a second dog was a foregone conclusion. I went with the special for my next dog and it came dressed all the way.
Even though the sauerkraut was most visible difference, the real highlight of this dog was the special sauce topping.


Oddly sweet, it made for an interesting combination with the sauerkraut.

This hot dog with its sauerkraut crunch and tantalizing special sauce had a lot of offer, but it was a definitive second to the chili cheese dog.

Curious about the burger side of the Gus’s menu, I ordered a classic cheeseburger to see what sort of Greek accented spin Gus's put on the American standard.
When Gus’s says “dressed all the way” they mean it. This burger was overflowing with toppings, although the unmelted cheese looked a bit sloppy.

Frankly, I was unimpressed with the burger. It had a fine griddle texture but it was lacking any real beefy flavor. What did catch my eye was the prodigious amount of special sauce.

What had been an odd addition on the special dog was sweet, spicy and well rounded on the burger.

Gus’s Hot Dogs may have a simple menu, one side for hot dogs and one for burgers & sandwiches, but with quality griddle cooked hot dogs and an alluring special sauce, I can see why Gus’s has become a Birmingham landmark. I still have a lot of hot dogs, burgers, and sandwiches to try at Gus’s, not to mention his competitor down the street, but if this one visit was any indication, I’ll have a delicious time eating my way through the menu at Gus’s.

Gus’s Hot Dogs Address & Information

1915 4th Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203 // 205.251.4540

Gus's Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

You really need to get the regular dog with Sauerkraut and beef like the special or Chili Dog. That is the way Birmingham dogs are most often enjoyed, with others as an occasional splurge.

Cynical Cook said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I'll try that combination the next time I stop by Gus's.

Anonymous said...

Having lived in the suburbs of Birmingham for 14 years and the city itself for 9 I'm a bit befuddled that I didn't know of the "dog" culture until about 2 years ago. Now it's become something of an obsession. I was lucky enough to have sampled Pete's Famous before it closed. I must say in its wake Gus's is as close as comes. I have not tried any of the other Greek hot dog joints just yet. Mostly because I find these two to have honed the craft at its best. Something now I'm trying to perfect at home. I have only gotten close. The "special sauce" differs from place to place but seems to have the same signature. It is however the hardest part of the equation to duplicate. I find that the chili sauce is perhaps easier to pull in a "close". It must be noted that the "special" is a one two punch combo. There is a lightly seasoned ground chuck topping additionally topped with a sauce. It's often confused as being an all together mix like the chili but this is wrong. However the combination does make it difficult to figure out the flavors of each part separately. Perhaps I should order dogs with only those select topping to better taste them alone. It's just that they work so well combined. I'll get there. Now the chili. I don't think this review does it justice. It's a beast of its own. It is dense, mostly meat. Differing greatly from any other hot dog chili I've ever had. All others either have beans or are much more sauce and tomato based. This chili is a dark rich meat paste. It doesn't move. It looks like a sloppy dog but fear not, it stays in place. I've never spilled a drop. It works so well with the awkward shape and nature of a hot dog. I can't see ever eating it alone with a spoon because it was never intended for that. It isn't simply chili added to something. It is chili made for something. I must say, it serves it's purpose well. This isn't the gloopy, runny, chili cheese dog with Hormel and cheese sauce. It is equally as simple but constructed properly for the subject at hand. I will continue to try to perfect this at home having learned it's place in Birmingham culture. As much as I want to capture the true flavor of the originals; being a novice chef, I find myself wanting to play with the overall recipe and put my own signature spin on it. Perhaps that's what makes it more fun and alluring. It's a simple yet confounding recipe with some many possibilities. Who knew hot dogs could become such a hobby.

Anonymous said...

Tom's Coneys, Downtown was my favorite. Sneaky Pete's has always been great...who wrote this article without even trying the kraut, sauce, mustard and onion variety that is the core of the Birmingham Hotdog Business? A yankee no doubt.

Cynical Cook said...

You got me, I'm such a yankee I was born wearing pinstripes.