Culinary history is in dispute as to the origin of the term “hot dog” to describe frankfurters, a cooked sausage named for the city of Frankfurt, Germany. Some historians mistakenly credit a newspaper cartoonist for coining the term “hot dog” when, according to a popular urban myth, he used it in the caption of a 1906 cartoon depicting barking dachshund sausages nestled warmly in rolls. Not sure how to spell “dachshund” he simply wrote “hot dog!”
My good friend Becky Mercuri blows the lid off that theory in her fabulous tome, The Great American Hot Dog Book. She cites several sources which prove without a doubt that the cartoonist did not coin the phrase “hot dog.” So, just where did the term originate. According to Becky, extraordinary word etymologist Barry Popik “doggedly pored over issues of the Yale Record, and triumphantly found the elusive evidence in the October 19, 1895 issue…describing students who “contentedly munched hot dogs.” Popik’s research is always unimpeachable.
There’s no dispute that hot dogs are as American as apple pie, baseball and well…hot dogs. In the Duke City, there may be no better example of the definitive hot dog than at the Dog House Drive In on historic Route 66. The Dog House’s vintage neon sign, circa the 1950s, celebrates the cultural heritage of Route 66 with an animated neon sign that, when lit up, shows a dachshund wagging its tail merrily as it consumes several sausages strung together.
The Dog House is an absolute institution! Its first location was several blocks east of the current location which was built in the 1960s. The actual restaurant itself is the size of a shoebox, a bona fide hole in the wall with no ambiance of which to speak. With extremely limited seating (about five tables and an old-fashioned counter with stool seating), most diners park their cars (there are no shaded canopies under which to park) and wait for the sole (sometimes harried but seldom hurried) waitress to come take their orders. Mid-summer dining under the blazing New Mexico sun can be a smoldering experience.
Still, there is always a phalanx of parked vehicles with hungry patrons willing to endure the sun’s scorching rays to partake of some of the very best hot dogs in New Mexico, maybe the southwest. The most popular dog is the foot-long chili cheese hot dog (with or without onions). This isn’t the Tex-Mex aberrational “chili” (a pathetic brown sauce with ground beef) we’re talking about. It’s a fiery red hybrid New Mexico style chile (albeit with ground beef) ameliorated with a pinch of cumin (its only flaw).
If, as a fellow Duke City gourmand and I have speculated, you’ve ever wondered about the psychological impulse of the purveyors of “quarter-pound” hot dogs–specifically whether these engorged hot dogs are some sort of “compensatory” machination–fear not. The Dog House wieners aren’t two inches in circumference. In fact, they’re somewhat waifish in comparison, but they’re sliced in half diagonally and are grilled to perfection. The buns are also toasted.
The same chili offered on the chili cheese hot dog is also the star of the Dog House’s Frito pie which holds court with crisp lettuce and at least a bag of Fritos corn chips. It’s one of the very best, albeit least expensive, Frito pies you’ll find in the city all courtesy of that surprisingly addictive chile of medium piquancy.
Ironically not only does the Dog House make a great hot dog, its burgers are better than those served at many burger joints. A double meat and cheese burger is flavorful and chock full of great condiments, including a great sweet relish whose taste jumps out at you. Better still, order a chile cheese burger and treat yourself to the same great red chile that’s served on the chile dogs. Even the most stubborn of green chile cheeseburger aficionados will have to admit red chile does have a place on hamburgers–at least at the Dog House.
As for “American style” hot dogs (mustard, relish, onions), the Dog House doesn’t disappoint. The only Albuquerque hot dog in the same class (until it closed) was the incomparable “Ripper” at Howley’s. The Dog House is also an absolute rarity in that it serves decent French fries. These fries aren’t flaccid and oily like at many other restaurants. They have a crispy texture and are excellent for dipping into the red chile.
Milk shakes and malts are also available. Alas, the chocolate shake has that indistinguishable “generic” shake taste that makes you wonder why they call it chocolate. It’s also cloying, almost tooth-decaying in its sweetness. Still, they’re served cold and can put out the fire in your tongue from that oh-so-good red chile.
Okay, you’ve read my take on the Dog House Drive In. Now let’s get the perspective of Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) with whom I’ve shared Jack Handy level deep thoughts for a few years about the Albuquerque dining scene. Over the past forty years or so Bob has consumed about 400 feet of chili dogs with onions from the Dog House, so you can trust his observations. Bob observes that:
- The dogs are split to be cooked on the flat plate grille which I’m guessing is the original. Going that extra mile of splitting obviously brings out the true essence of hot dog flavor which is obviously also enhanced by the grille being seasoned after so many years.
- Newbies should eat inside till they master not slopping chile all over their fingers and thus, possibly their clothes by eating in a car.
- Ketchup with one’s fries will help cut the heat for newbies.
- Wait till after 1 to avoid the lunch crowd.
- Lastly, a coke to accompany your meal is sooo gauche; besides, its sweetness clashes with the chile. I recommend the orange soda (any year is fine) to really enhance the chile’s flavor ! Muy Sabroso !
When it comes to chili dogs at the Dog House, Bob is E. F. Hutton (remember the commercials touting “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”). Heed his advice.
The Dog House made a “cameo appearance” and was one of the few saving graces of a sophomoric (sophomoronic?) 2004 movie called “Elvis has Left The Building” which was filmed mostly in the Land of Enchantment.
Dog House Drive In
1216 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 7 April 2012
# OF VISITS: 7
BEST BET: Double Meat Cheeseburgers, Chile Dogs, Chile Hamburger, French Fries, Frito Pie