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Dogged Pursuits

Taking a Stand for Hot Dog Culture
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Sharon Stone, July/Aug 2004

(continued from page 3)

Given all the history and all the seriousness with which New York and Chicago take their hot dog culture, many would be surprised to learn that the cities ranked second and fourth, respectively, among the "Top Ten Hot Dog Eating American Cities" in 2003. The rankings are based on the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council's figures of supermarket sales by pounds. New York ate 35,214,010 pounds last year, with Chicago chowing down 19,593,140. The number one city in hot dog consumption, not counting those sold at stands, is Los Angeles, with 44,723,360 pounds. Mild weather year-round and the love of grilling out might explain L.A.'s lead. (The Dallas/Ft. Worth metropolitan area placed third on the 2003 list, with 21,452,530 pounds consumed.)

If Nathan's at Coney Island is the traditional Mecca of hot dog lovers, and if Chicago's stands form the epicenter of modern hot dog culture in the United States, then Pink's in L.A. is the hot dog stand made for the mass media.

Typical of the immigrant experience, Paul Pink's parents, Isidore and Anna Pinkowitz, came through Ellis Island in 1908 from Romania. The family settled in L.A., and in 1939 Paul rented a piece of land near the corner of what is now Melrose and La Brea for $15 a month. That's where he sold hot dogs for 10 cents apiece from a pushcart among the "weeds, rolling hills and open spaces" before the streets were put in, says Richard Pink, Paul's son, whose wife Gloria now runs the stand. Paul had to run an extension cord into an adjacent drugstore to power the cart the first two years.

"The landlord raised the rent in 1941 to $25," remembers Richard Pink, who co-owns the business with his sister, Beverly Pink Wolfe. "My mother [Betty] said, 'There's no way I'm gonna pay $25 a month in rent. That's highway robbery.' She went to the bank and raised the money to buy the property." It cost $3,500. Don't even ask what it's worth now.

"The cart turned into the little building next door and then we outgrew that building," Richard says. The current building was constructed in 1946. Because of later health ordinances, few over-the-counter food establishments are left in L.A. But because Pink's is a landmark, the stand stands.

Bobby Flay featured Pink's on the Food Network (to be fair, many other hot doggeries have appeared on that cable channel as well), and on any given day, you might stand in line during the lunch hour and see a Korean, Japanese, Mexican or other TV crew interviewing the owners and the customers. The line at Pink's has 30 people in it at noon and it doesn't get smaller quickly. At lunch, they are mostly workers from the film studios in the neighborhood. At night—Pink's is open until 2 a.m. during the week and 3 a.m. on the weekends—the crowd is from the clubs all around Hollywood. At any hour, celebrities come by. Martha Stewart's been there and now has a dog named after her (it's a 10-inch "stretch dog": mustard, relish, onions, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut and sour cream); the honor came after Pink got mentioned on Stewart's TV segment. Bill Cosby is a regular and Cuba Gooding Jr. went for his birthday. Comedienne Ruth Buzzi drove by one day and got on a PBS hot dog-umentary, and head shots of stars and wannabes cover the wall of Pink's seating area.

Pink's is more in the tradition of the Chicago stands in that the toppings for the hot dog are many and the combinations make it hard to get your mouth, not to mention your mind, around some of the special dogs. The Lord of the Rings dog, for example, is a 10-inch stretch dog, with sweet barbecue sauce, laced through five deep-fried onion rings. Pink's also has a Baja Veggie Dog topped with guacamole, chopped tomatoes and raw onions, and a turkey dog. Hey, it's L.A. The Matrix Reloaded, once known as the Lakers Three-Peat dog, is three hot dogs wrapped in a giant tortilla with three slices of cheese and three slices of bacon, with chili and onions.

If Kobe Bryant and his team are out of luck on this score, Kobe beef is picking up the slack at the Old Homestead Steak House in New York City's meat-packing district. The 136-year-old restaurant now serves an 11-ounce, nearly foot-long "hot dog" made of 100 percent American Kobe beef. Marc Sherry, the owner of the Old Homestead, will not reveal the spices in the dog, though the flavor is in the range of a beefier-tasting New York dog. (Nathan, the bartender, recommends having it with a glass of Cabernet.) Sherry will not tell which ranch in Texas makes the $19 Kobe dog for the restaurant to its specifications, snap and all.

"The response is absolutely overwhelming," Sherry says, two months after he began selling the dish "We sold 1,200 in the first month. What I like about the hot dog is that I get a clean taste to it. Since I know exactly what goes into it, I feel good about eating it." The dog is served on a bun with chopped onions and red peppers, a truffle-infused Dijon mustard and house-made Kobe chili, with Cheshire cheddar cheese sauce on the side. Alongside are tater tots.

Kraig has enjoyed the Old Homestead's Kobe dog and says it's really a frankfurter because the meat inside the natural casing is "finely chopped, not emulsified." But that's not Sherry's point.


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