Rootin’ for the Dogs
By Nancy Powell
Way back in January, Every Day with Rachael Ray boldly predicted that hot dogs would be the next lowbrow fare to hit the gourmet bandwagon, nipping at the heels of the recent $10 gourmet burger and pie explosion. True to the Joker’s word, it was right around January when The Hot Dog Shoppe, Corona’s primordial ode to intestinal gourmands, plopped onto the landscape and changed wiener history for the better.
The Corona outfit is the brainchild of Justin Reed who, once upon a time, hit the road and availed himself of the best wieners the nation had to offer—Coney Island, Chicago, Wisconsin (the brat) and Dodger Dogs, to name a few. He first invested in his brother Chris’ fledgling empire out in the Temecula Valley before quitting his grown-up job and living out his hangover dream; a one-room sports bar-like dining room with a spattering of video game consoles, flat screen TVs and recognizable red-and-white logo hovering at the northeastern edge of town. Justin’s menu, nearly wall-length in size, features over 100 permutations of America’s favorite ball park sensation, including L.A.’s Dirk Diggler-sized Dodger Dog. Some even eclipse wienerdom’s legend to the north, Pink’s Hot Dogs.
Justin starts me off with a large basket of sweet potato fries, crispy and with a noticeably salty bite that contrasts sharply with the tender sweetness underneath. It’s a departure from the usual parmesan-crusted taters I’ve been come to admire. This is followed by the Wonder Tiger, Justin’s personal favorite even though another bacon-wrapped frank drowned in chili (“The Justin”) has his name stamped all over it. It’s plump, juicy Cajun sausage topped off by tangy mustard, grilled onions and gobs of shredded cheddar. A five-pepper mix and squirt of spicy sauce adds another dimension of heat . . . a nice start.
Next comes the Blue German and artery-clogging Angry Dave, a meat-eater’s dream and the heftiest so far to the touch. The bacon-wrapped Portuguese sausage is topped off by grilled onions and melted cheddar and Swiss cheeses. Angry Dave’s high salt content leaves me a little light-headed and in desperate need of thirst-quenching. I am pleasantly surprised by the “lighter” Blue German; thin slices of pastrami impart the mild-tasting brat with caloric depth, which is then offset by a creamy and sweet coleslaw topping. This one settles my stomach and rouses me from my increasingly carb-induced stupor.
Our tasting ends in the guise of the shop’s sole vegetarian frank, the Garden of Eden. The first bite deceives most customers into thinking that the fleshy, Oscar Meyer-colored frank is the real-deal. Justin describes a story in which a customer screams bloody murder upon her discovery of the “meat” layer in the “dog.” I believe him after the first bite, but upon closer inspection, I find that the texture and consistency is off base from its protein brethren. The toppings include grilled red peppers and onions, mushrooms, freshly diced tomatoes and muffaletta, a green olive spread with a pronounced flavor cuts through the cloyingly heavy coleslaw layer.
On weekends, the restaurant overflows and workers shout above the din in order to be heard. Even with the commotion, one grasps warm and fuzzy feelings, a genuine sense of family and community over ice cold beers (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and brats. While I’m eating my way through baskets, youngsters assault my table and rave about Justin and the freebies they finagle out of him. I’m impressed.
This is one wiener that’s here to stay.
The Hot Dog Shoppe, 510 Hidden Valley Pkwy., Corona, (951) 898-8702; thehotdogshoppe-corona.com. Mon-Thurs 10:30AM-9PM, Fri-Sun 10:30AM-10PM. AE, MC, V.