But we're not just talking about convenience food. In recent years, Charleston has started to get serious about its dogs. No longer exiled to the kid's menu, frankfurters are becoming the stars of the show at an increasing number of places around town.
There's a reason why the hotdog is an All-American classic. In the proper hands, the sausage and bun serve as a canvas on which dog artists create a culinary masterpiece, blending precise combinations of sweet and savory flavors with textures ranging from chewy to crispy. Here's a rundown of our favorite local hotdogs.
119 W. Doty Ave.
If Perfectly Frank's small town Summerville setting lulls you into thinking the place is merely a gussied up facsimile of a down-home dog joint, then the 1 o'clock train shaking the foundations of the small brick façade as it careens past your outdoor table will erase all doubts. Frank's is for real, with creative dogs (all named for "Famous Franks," of course) that stretch the concept of the hotdog altogether.
Delicious, one-of-a-kind creations, like the "Frank Cuda" (chili, cheese, blue cheese slaw, bacon, crispy onions) and the "Frankie Valli" (fried spinach, Caesar dressing, bacon, crispy onions) make other hotdog outfits seem downright tame, but outstanding creative fare, such as the "Frank Legare" — essentially a Beaufort stew on a bun, overflowing with a split sausage, grilled shrimp, corn relish, and cocktail sauce — makes Perfectly Frank's worth a long drive from town.
Skoogie's Chicago Style Deli
840 Coleman Blvd.
Chicagoans are fanatical about their hotdogs, and to see why, drop by Skoogies, which brings a taste of the Windy City to the Holy City. They start with genuine Vienna Beef wieners — the foundation of a true Chicago dog — and pile on onions, mustard, tomatoes, and "sport peppers," and top it all off with a kosher pickle strip and a dash of celery salt. It may seem like an odd combination to the uninitiated, but one bite will make you a convert.
Jack's Cosmic Dogs
2805 Hwy. 17 N.
Jack's is a monument to roadside nostalgia, a bright yellow cinder block building in a gravel parking lot at the edge of Highway 17 in the northern reaches of Mt. Pleasant. You order at a stainless steel-fronted counter, pull glass bottles of Sundrop and RC Cola from an ice-filled bin, and eat at 1960s-style tables with mismatched metal and vinyl chairs.
The signature Cosmic Dog has blue cheese slaw and housemade sweet potato mustard. Riskier concoctions include the Neutron Dog (with mango-pepper ketchup and jalapeño slaw). But this is a throwback joint, and the best bet is to stick with one of the classics, like the Atomic Dog (chili, onion, spicy mustard). The dogs are heated on a flat-top griddle and served on a big seeded roll, while the thin, fresh-cut fries are the ideal accompaniment for a classic roadside dog experience.
1117 Magnolia Road
Even if the cavernous innards of the Tin Roof make it hard to see exactly what you're scarfing down, the huge dogs served up here rarely disappoint. Combine them with a decent beer selection and the solid musical lineup that flows across the stage, and you have a promising recipe for success. True Southerners might opt for "Susy's Wiener Dog," piled high with pimiento cheese, chili, and raw onions, but then there's always the "Hot Mess" with chili, cheese, and jalapeños. Don't forget the old standby, the "Chicago," overflowing with mustard, sliced tomato, pickle relish, onions, and banana peppers. But then again, some weirdos don't eat hotdogs, which must be why Tin Roof invented the "Cleveland Steamer" — grilled cheese with bacon and a fried potato cake. Yum.
883 Ben Sawyer Blvd.
If you're out and about in Mt. Pleasant and need a quick hotdog fix, Johnny's should hit the spot. It's a husband-and-wife business operating out of a small walk-up window adjoining the Royall Hardware store on Coleman Boulevard. Johnny's is all about variety: there are over 30 toppings to choose from, ranging from old standards like chili and onions to more uncommon options like blue cheese, cherry peppers, and chow chow. You can load as many toppings as you want on a plump, all-beef dog for just $1.75. The hard part is making up your mind.
Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park
360 Fishburne St.
The Joe is a hotdog lovers' paradise. Most ballparks sell just wieners and buns wrapped in paper-lined foil, and, if you're lucky, you can squeeze on some mustard or relish from little plastic packs. But that's not how we do it in Charleston. The "Dog World" concession behind the first base stands offers a rainbow of variety. Pre-designed topping combinations include The Dixie Dog (pimiento cheese, slaw, and chili), the Tijuana Tornado (guacamole, pico de gallo, and jalapeño cheese), and the cultural fusion of the Sweet and Sour Dog (sauerkraut and Jamaican relish). If these aren't edgy enough for you, build your own from a choice of 22 toppings. This year Dog World added a chorizo dog to the lineup just for good measure, but their pièce de résistance remains the legendary Homewrecker, a half-pound, foot-long monster topped with chili, cheese, and jalapeños. Adam Richman, star of the Travel Channel's Man v. Food, even tried it while he was in town. So you know it's hard-core.
For my money, the best dog in the park is the RiverDog, which is sold at the big Dog House concession stand. It's a masterpiece of textures and flavors that you could find only in South Carolina: a hotdog with coleslaw, mustard-based BBQ sauce, and a crisp piece of pickled okra laid down the middle. Two of these beauties paired with a cold beer in the shady part of the first-base stands make for a splendid summer evening. As an added bonus, they usually have a live baseball game going on to provide a little entertainment while you eat.