I posted this before, in the previous version of this blog, which was inadvertently erased by yours truly in a pre-senior moment of .blogspot confusion.
I don’t like to repeat, but the requests have poured in — all right, one guy who liked it at the office asked me to put it back up — and I repost it here, especially in light (pun intended) of the recent voter victory on Bill Bevins’s show on Lite 98 of this, truly, the best hot dog place in Richmond.
The publication I work for has been sitting on this article for more than three months. The editor told me it was over the top, and needed to be rewritten. The alternative weekly wasn’t interested. Nevertheless, my result was the same as that of the populace at large.
I am vindicated.
I am the Dogman.
I’m a Dogman.
It was born in me. I’m tireless on the hunt, walking the mean streets, the back alleys, driving miles down back roads, wherever I am, in search of dogs.
It’s hereditary. I got it from my father, the finest Dogman I’ve ever known. Growing up in Hampton, every now and then he’d come into my room, jingling the change in his pocket, and say, “Let’s go for a ride.”
I knew what he was doing; but I never knew where he would go. The last time he found a great dog, while I was in high school, we were halfway through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, listening to Freddy Fender on the tape deck, and he said to me, “Ocean View. Doug’s Dogs.”
I said, “Okay.”
We sat at the counter. An old, gray-haired guy with a paper cap cocked sideways smeared mustard, spooned onions, and poured chili on our dogs. All the way.
I took one taste and knew.
Slightly spicy chili. Snappy skins casing the meat. Steam-soft buns. Pioneered by some guy named Tony, downtown, back in the thirties.
Nothing like them.
Dad would drive me and Mom to Richmond four or five times a year. Christmas parade, shopping trips — when downtown was still alive. Always, he’d take us to Angelo’s for hot dogs.
No — for THE hot dog, the only hot dog in Richmond.
Now here I am, almost forty years later. I’ve worked in Richmond for nine years, and every week I’ve asked myself, “Self, where is Richmond’s best hot dog?”
Can’t get it through fast food or off the children’s menu.
A real hot dog is a Dogman’s meal. Hard to find; easy to swallow.
I’m happy to tell Self that I have found it.
It wasn’t heredity — it was desperation.
And the Internet.
I finally Googled “best hot dog in Richmond.”
A few hundred links.
Three names kept popping up like prairie dogs.
Melito’s, a family restaurant in business for more than twenty six years. Joey’s, a new player since October, parked inside an Exxon station on Ridgefield Parkway. The Boardwalk, a hole-in-the-wall tucked away off Broad Street.
Everybody has their own, individual rules to live by. Ways of life. Personal commandments.
Mine are simple. There are only five.
Never tickle a dog in heat.
Never taunt anything with teeth.
Never run naked into a door knob.
Never eat at a strip club.
Never eat anything cooked at a gas station.
I scratched Joey’s off my short list. Sorry. There are some lines a guy can’t cross. Gas and chili dogs just don’t mix, and you’ve got some Tums handy.
Melito’s. A popular locals’ place. The dogs were either boiled — a sin, as far as Dogmen are concerned — or kept warm in the New York street-style bath called “dirty water.” The dog was too soft and spongy, and the chili was dull. No personality at all. Not bad, but nothing special. A 2.5 on a 5-star scale.
The Boardwalk, hidden behind Auto Sound on Broad. Nice guys, a lot of NASCAR photos on the wall. But the dog wasn’t speedy at all, and the chili, at best, was a six-cylinder import racing against American muscle cars. A 3 at best.
I gave up. I had only one recourse. Unthinkable. Against the rules. Against my religion.
A gas station? I may as well pour myself a double shot of 10W-40.
I threw in the kitchen towel.
That’s right. I’m a Dogman.
And a Dogman don’t need no stinkin’ rules.
I parked at the Exxon on Ridgefield.
The suspect stood behind the retro-’50s soda fountain counter. Joey. Even had on a paper hat.
I sat down on a red stool and ordered three of ’em. You know how.
One bite later — one single, tiny, all the way bite later —
I had found a little sidewalk of Hot Dog Heaven right here in River City.
It’s Joey — as in the Mirabile family. The Godfathers. The Dogmen of Norfolk.
His father was Tony. The Tony.
His Dad opened Tony’s in downtown Norfolk in the late 1930s. A ton of other copycat dog joints followed, including a nice place run by his brother. But Joey moved here, found a corporate gig for a while, and a decade later gave it all up and found salvation — all in the name of the dog.
Joey’s. The dog is grilled — the way it should be, not boiled. The flavor stays intact, and the snappy skin makes the taste explode in your mouth like fireworks.
Get it all the way: mustard, traditional yellow; onions, sweet, kept in a metal bowl floating on a bed of ice water to maintain the taste; and the chili, compact, finely ground beef, slightly spicy, oozing a little red grease that’s packed with flavor.
My lips tingled for half an hour after I finished the dogs.
Chili — sparkling like the taste of a woman’s lips.
Nothing like it.
Joey’s dad would be proud.
I’m down to only four rules, now.
As far as I’m concerned, the fewer, the better. The less baggage, the faster I move. Light speed.
I follow the chili spoor wherever it wafts, no matter the price I have to pay. I’m the judge, and the jury.
Ain’t much of a life, but it’s my life.
Look for me at Joey’s. I’ll be at the counter.
Three dogs, all the way.
I’m a Dogman.