Researching the Lowly Hot Dog by Judy Alter
We all do a lot of research on setting and other things to make our novels accurate. For the Kelly O’Connell series I studied Craftsman design and the Craftsman movement, because Kelly is a real estate agent who specializes in restoring the priceless Craftsman houses in her beloved Fairmount district in Fort Worth, Texas.
But one of the most fun pieces of research I did was for the fourth and most recent Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Danger Comes Home. I decided one of the characters as going to open an upscale hot dog café. Then I began to research the kinds of hot dogs available and the number of restaurants devoted solely or primarily to hot dogs. To my amazement, they are all over the country. The majority are clustered throughout the Midwest, from Wisconsin and Michigan clear down to the South and Texas, with just a smattering on the West Coast and more on the East Coast. You can see an overall map and search by state at http://www.hot-dog.org/ht/d/sp/i/51784/pid/51784. Click on any pin and you can read all about that restaurant, from location to menu. So, reassured that the idea wasn’t bizarre, I proceeded.
Next came the toppings. I remember a walk-up stand in Santa Fe called, I think, The Chicago Dog. So I began there. A Chicago dog is all beef on a poppy seed bun and topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onion, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, and pickled pepper. A colorful mouthful of flavors. The traditional Coney Island dog is again all beef, topped with chili without beans, chopped white onions, and mustard. A plain old chili dog may have chili and cheddar (my preference). Don’t confuse the two and don’t associate the Coney dog with Coney Island—it began in Michigan.
But then there are hot dogs called frank and beans, the dog nestled in a bun with a slice of bacon and topped with warm baked beans (no, you Texans, not pintos but “northern beans”) , diced onion, and mustard (in hot dog lingo mustard is always yellow salad mustard, not the fancy stuff like whole grain or Dijon). And then there’s the Reuben dog—you guessed it! Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a Thousand Island-type dressing (I make my own Thousand Island and it’s so good—also easy). Somewhere I read about a Banh mi dog, with a topping of brown sugar dissolved in white vinegar with shredded carrots that have marinated in the mixture. Top the dog with mayo, thinly sliced cucumber and jalapeno, the carrots, and cilantro.
Want to give your hot dog a Mexican flair? Char some corn in a skillet, add vegetable oil and thinly sliced scallions (white part only), season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile mix mayonnaise with lime juice. Top the dog with the corn mixture, the lime mayonnaise, crumbled feta, and the sliced scallion greens Sprinkle with chili power. A Hawaiian dog has grilled pineapple wedges and red onion rounds, chopped and seasoned with sugar, salt and cayenne. What to call my café? I ran a contest, and some wonderful names were suggested: Hot Diggety Dog, Dogs of Distinction, Frankly Wienerful, Decadent Dog, Haute Dogs, The Finer Frank, and Hot Dog Heaven, among others. The winner, chosen by my daughter, is Bun Appetit!
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Judy Alter’s newest Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Danger Comes Home, launched July 22 in e-book form with print to follow. Others in the series are Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, and Trouble in a Big Box. Her second mystery series, Blue Plate Café Mysteries, launched in February with Murder at the Blue Plate Café.
In Danger Comes Home, Kelly O’Connell can’t sit idly by while her world is shattering. Daughter Maggie is hiding a runaway classmate; protégé Joe Mendez seems to be hanging out again with his former gang friends and ignoring his lovely wife, Theresa; drug dealers have moved into her beloved Fairmount neighborhood. And amidst all this, reclusive former diva Lorna McDavid expects Kelly to do her grocery shopping. In spite of Mike’s warnings, Kelly is determined to save the runaway girl and her abused mother and find out what’s troubling Joe, even when those things lead back to the drug dealers. Before all the tangles in the neighborhood are untangled, Kelly finds herself wondering who to trust, facing drug dealers, and seeing more of death than she wants. But she also tests upscale hot dog recipes and finds a soft side to the imperious recluse, Lorna McDavid. It’s a wild ride, but she manages, always, to protect her daughters and keep Mike from worrying about her—at least not too much.
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An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of four books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, and Danger Comes Home. She is also the author Murder at the Blue Plate Café, first in a new series.
Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.
Judy is retired as director of TCU Press and the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog live in Fort Worth, Texas.