Hot dogs aren’t exactly seasonal, but something about the arrival of warmer weather just cries out for frankfurters. Maybe it’s the sound of baseball on the radio, the smell of cookouts in the air, or the memories those sensory experiences can conjure.
That nostalgic hot-dog craving is one plenty of us share. Sure, Mitt Romney was roundly mocked a few weeks ago when he divulged that his favorite meat is “hot dog,” but we’re willing to bet many of his fellow Americans secretly — or unabashedly — feel the same. Sacramentans sure do, if the recent beefing up of our local hot-dog joints is anything to go by.
Next time you’re hit with a hot dog hankering, know that Sacramento has a frankfurter for every taste, whether your yen is for the old-fashioned classics, outrageous newfangled creations or even an upmarket dog.
Purists should head to one of two old-school spots: the venerable Wiener Works in the heart of the suburbs (5207 Madison Ave., 916-334-8711) or East Sacramento’s recently revived The Wienery (715 56th St., 916-455-0497).
Wiener Works décor — a mishmash of sports artifacts, graffiti by local customers, and local memorabilia — reveals a proud history. The restaurant beer steams its all-beef natural-casing dogs, made to custom-spiced specifications. Those with oversized appetites can opt for the 14-inch Wonder Dog (which comes on a loaf of bread), but the regular-sized dogs offer plenty of sustenance.
Toppings at Wiener Works are on the traditional side; a lineup of bagel dogs is about as wild as it gets. Chili dogs and a classic mustard-relish-onion-tomato toppings are all popular options, but check out the made-in-house sweet and sour red cabbage for a change of pace. It complements the savory sausage nicely. If you’re with a group, the majestically sized chili cheese fries are a good bet too, as are pitchers of beer for a mere eight bucks.
Until this year, The Wienery had a similar old-school vibe. After it closed in December, a new ownership group of loyal neighborhood fans jumped in to save it. Prominent East Sacramento Realtor Rich Cazneaux — with buddies Gabe Tierney, a medical-device salesperson, and commercial broker Dusty Haeling — had the place reopened by February, with a spruced-up look featuring neighborhood memorabilia. The new owners also expanded hours and added a few new menu items, including burgers, said Cazneaux, who couldn’t bear to let the classic spot close down.
“The Wienery has been around for almost 50 years, and I’ve been a customer for 20-plus,” Cazneaux said. “When it closed, I was like, ‘Oh, man, this can’t go away.’ It’s an iconic place for East Sacramento. We didn’t want to get in too much over our heads though, so we’re sharing responsibilities so none of us is overpowered.”
Members of the ownership group often can be found behind the counter. “We’re having a blast,” said Cazneaux, who emphasizes that his primary business is still real estate. “We get back there and pour beer for our buddies, and it’s a lot of fun, having repeat customers and being part of the community.”
The new owners have kept the classic steamed frankfurters — Casper Dogs purchased from local distributor Reed’s Meats — as well as some other menu items that are popular with customers, like the navy bean soup and housemade potato salad. They have added, however, a new focus on beer. (Previously, The Wienery offered beer only in cans.) The tap list includes local breweries such as Solid Ground and Knee Deep, as well as standard bearer Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Hot dog topping options emphasize the time-honored (various mustards, kraut, chili), plus an ultra-popular, grilled-to-order bacon-wrapped dog. The menu also branches into flourishes like the Joey Dog, with sloppy-joe-style topping, or the Nacho Dog with nacho cheese, bacon bits and jalapenos.
Creative as they may be, such options at The Wienery can’t hold a candle to the freewheeling combos at Umai Savory Hot Dogs, a small regional chain with locations in Roseville (1132 Galleria Blvd., #120; 916-774-0707) and Arden Arcade (1310 Howe Ave. #D, 916-246-9443). Started by Loi Tran, who emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam with his family in 1977, the shops started with a hot-dog cart in San Jose that combined sushi toppings with the all-American dog.
These days, the menu has expanded to include a dizzying array of toppings and world cuisines in mindblowing, and often spicy, combos such as the Kyoto Fire (a hot link with fried onions, creamy habanero, teriyaki and jalapeno), the Saigon Hustle (pickled daikon and carrots, sweet chili sauce, cilantro, teriyaki, hoisin, jalapeno, peanuts), the Sonoran Swag (wrapped in bacon and topped with jalapeno relish and mayo) and even a truffle dog. American regional flavors get nods with a "Nashville Brisket”-topped dog, a Buffalo Banger with ranch and the Houston Honcho with chili, beans, bacon and BBQ sauce. There’s even a sweet waffle dog.
After a visit to Umai, purists doing a hot-dog tour may wish to reset their taste buds with one of the town’s artisan dogs. Pick up excellent grill-your-own links at Morant’s Old-Fashioned Sausage Kitchen (5001 Franklin Blvd., 916-731-4377) or V. Miller Meats (4801 Folsom Blvd., 916-400-4127), which uses a bit of pork fat in its mostly beef blend that's stuffed in natural lamb casings. Owner Eric Veldman Miller said the popular franks, which sell out quickly, “are the most labor-intensive thing we make.”
There are some hot-dog fans, however, for whom only one style will do.
The intense partisanship of Chicago-dog fans is legendary, and woe betide if you suggest ketchup around them. For these extreme loyalists, we have a suggestion: Head up the hill to an upscale wine bar in Auburn.
Cue the record-scratch noise. But yes, really, at Carpe Vino (1568 Lincoln Way, 530-823-0320), which focuses for most of the week on elevated fine dining, they’re slinging authentic Windy City hot dogs on Wiener Wednesdays for a mere $7.
The tradition arose years ago, thanks to two owners who hail from Chicago and are rabid Cubs fans. (Something about Chicago institutions seems to inspire that kind of loyalty; let’s not even talk about the pizza.)
To satisfy their craving — and expand it to this small Gold Country town — executive chef Eric Alexander has sought out the same ingredients used in Chicago: Vienna Beef franks; neon-green relish from Chipico (which stands for Chicago Pickle Company); zingy little “sport peppers"; yellow mustard; sliced tomato; diced onion; celery salt; all on a steamed poppy-seed bun.
No ketchup — though, if guests ask for it, “we’ll give it to them, but with just a little humiliation," Alexander said with a laugh.
The result is a zesty, savory, brightly flavored hand-held meal that over the years has become such a hit, the restaurant has moved from doing it once a year during baseball season (and when the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016), and occasionally at festivals and street fairs, to weekly.
At first, Alexander said, he made some elements from scratch, including dosing ordinary relish with food coloring for that neon look and sprinkling regular buns, brushed with egg white, with poppy seeds, but “it wasn’t really right." So he found distributors for the Chicago classics.
“We don’t try to make homemade this or homemade that,” he said. “We tried to keep it authentic for people who have a craving and miss that flavor. We wanted to replicate the real thing.”
As Alexander pointed out, hot dogs can satisfy diners’ appetites —for nostalgia and the flavors they love — just as much as a more elevated meal.
“Why you get into cooking in the first place is making people happy,” he said. “You can achieve that with a special meal, but when we serve the Chicago dog we get that same happiness as a piece of seared foie gras. The enjoyment is the same.”
Email Kate Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @washingtonkate