It was a perfect storm of desire. First, our own unsatisfied urges, so cruelly aroused and doused by Spoc's. Then, the by now familiar e-mail missive from FG2: "Should we defy gravity and go for another place? Downtown for Wurstkuche?" And, as a climax, FG3's report of tantalizing tater tots and Jonathan Gold's list of 99 Things to Eat in LA Before You Die, sporting this description of Fab Hot Dog's Street dog:
Disease free and loaded? It was too much to resist. We needed a big fat sausage. And we needed it now.
Episode 12: Doubling down on the dogs
The momentum was all Fab's. We had a quorum of FG's, primed and ready for action. Yet the siren call of the downtown sausages pulled. It pulled hard. Hungrily, greedily, we abandoned the niceties and our base instincts took over. We would do both places. And we would not wait a proper interval. Oh no! We would do them back to back. We would be...
...hot dog harlots*.
But not strictly for our own pleasure! This would be an orgy of eating for the greater good. Only by virtue of intimate comparisons between the contenders could we possibly know which of these sly dogs would ultimately win our FG hearts.
Bachelor #1: Wurstkuche
After being detoured off our planned route by a street closure, we found ourselves driving through parts of LA that most people only see when an entire block of abandoned warehouses is being blown up in a Jackie Chan movie. We turned left past a line of people and their rusted grocery carts** waiting outside social services, down an alley, and found an open parking space on the street. It was broad daylight, and things seemed quiet enough, so we got out of the car and headed for the brick building on the corner. Ducking through the oversized wooden door, we found ourselves in a cavernous, cool (as in very industrial-hip) room, with sunlight streaming through narrow windows and skylights, a gleaming bar with what seemed like a hundred shiny beer taps emerging from the walls, long communal chunky wooden tables and a set up in the corner for a DJ. A youthful, good looking guy in a fitted gray t-shirt approached us, smiling.
Him: Can I help you?
FG2: Is this the hot dog place?
His smile gets tight around the edges.
FG2: Oh, so sorry.
Him: (a bit frostily) You order around the corner.
Sirens wailed. Through the open doorway, we could see paramedics, police and fire engines were surrounding a derelict hotel across the street. An EMT rolled an empty stretcher down the sidewalk. Someone said something about a stabbing. But then it was our turn at the register.
After ordering six dogs (excuse me, sausages!) for the four of us, fries and drinks, we found a place to perch in the back room, amid a group of businessmen in suits and a scattering of hipster couples. The artisan sodas were both cunningly bottled and highly refreshing. The food? Fantastic. The sausages, one and all, delivered that indescribably satsifying crisp snap and burst of hot, meaty flavor with every mouthful. They were grilled to perfection.
The duck and bacon was rich, earthy and warm. The bratwurst was light, almost lemony, and practically sang with the sauerkraut and country mustard on top. The Austin Blues tasted like Texas, full of smoke in a really good way. The Santa Fe seamlessly blended turkey, jack cheese and peppers into a whole new food group. The only slight disappointment was the kielbasa, but FG13 pointed out that it may have suffered only by comparison to its more exotic brethren. The buns, admittedly only an accessory to the main event, I found a bit dry and almost stale, but this did not seem to bother the others.
Perhaps the real signs of success were these: FG2 and FG13 left the building with bulging brown bags of sausages to cook at home for dinner that night. And, when we emerged into the sun, all trace of the medical emergency was gone. The coast was clear, the trees were in bloom, our stomachs were groaning with happiness, and all was well with the world.
Bachelor #2 - Fab Hot Dogs
The very next day, we convened at a tiny storefront on dilapidated block in the flats of the San Fernando Valley. It's about 25 miles away from Wurstkuche in distance, and about a million miles away in everything else.
To wit: If you ordered a "sausage" here I'm sure they'd look at you funny if they had the time to spare. The entire menu is an homage to iconic hot dogs from all over the US. Chicago Dogs, Kansas City Dogs, Coney Islanders and Sonora Dogs. They have something called "the Ripper", a deep fried monster with a blistered casing in a bun. They have burgers on the menu, but we didn't see a single one cross the counter. A harried lady in a baseball cap and sweatshirt recommends the tater tots, scribbles your order down and passes it less than a foot to the cook hovering over the griddle behind her. Not one thing is Belgian. The sodas are in paper cups from a fountain that is barely squeezed into a nook behind the fridge. The mustard is yellow, the ketchup is Heinz, and the relish is bright green or dark green, your choice. If you want a DJ to go with your meal, turn on the radio and eat in the car.
Atmosphere be damned. The price tag here was easily half of what it was downtown***. We had a table (Formica, natch!), a sunny day, and lots to talk about. We eat and gab and eat and gab some more. Refill our Diet Cokes and keep talking. Before we know it, the afternoon has gotten away from us and I have to pull our thoughts back to the food.
But what the dogs lack is more than made up for in the potato department. Fab's knows fries! They make near-perfect shoestrings, crunchy on the outside, dusted with seasoned salt and, in some cases buried beneath a glistening pile of delicious, lightly grilled chopped garlic. The recommended tater tots are, if possible, even better. Done to an almost caramelized golden crunch, they burst with salty flavor in every bite. De-lish!
After giving ourselves over to dogs all around town, was our desire sated? Yes, indeed. At least for a week or two. But we'll be back on the prowl again soon.
FG final verdict? Bachelor #1, come on down! But Bachelor #2, you made us happy, too. Both places are ON the list!
Pricing info: WK - Dogs $6 to 8, fries $4.50 to 6; Fabs - Dogs $3-5, sides $1.50
Value rating: WK - Fair deal, Fabs - A steal!
* OK, a confession. I, FG1, am the only actual hot dog slut. The rest of the FG's remain relatively chaste in this department. FG2, FG3, and our newest addition, FG13, joined me at Wurstkuche, while FG6, FG7, and FG10 were in the Fab's foursome. I alone, apparently, have no shame.
** Hey, maybe this was the right place? See Jonathan Gold quote, above.
*** Even with our 15% KCRW fringe benefits discount, the WK lunch was not cheap.
*** This may be a situation where the hot dogs get better in volume. At the table next to us, two guys had 8 completely loaded dogs between them, with fries and tater tots. They were blissfully happy with their meal.