Wednesday, August 27, 2014

All American Hotdogs

All American HotDogs

When I lived in Santa Cruz I occasionally worked up in the hills and would pass this rustic dog stand. It seemed simple enough but for some reason I kept driving by without stopping. Little did I know how much this place would change by street meat life. When I finally did stop by I was struck by the contrast of what seems to a good-ole-boy redneck hot dog stand mixed with a zen garden and a gift shop of wooden trinkets. The food, however, has placed this hidden little treasure in my list of favorite dog spots that I will go out of my way to visit.

The Dog: 5/5
No amount of sauerkraut will bury this huge sucker
I don't know if I've ever seen a dog like this one, it has an uncommon plumpness that I haven't seen before. The first time I laid eyes on their sausages I remember thinking, this is truly a dog from the great nation of 'murica. The thing was about as obscene as a hot dog can get. It had a thick succulent look, swollen, flecked with spice, and tasty as sin. It's not for the faint of heart or easily intimidated, and once you've had it there is no going back.

An appropriate spread of extras
Accouterment: 4/5
For being a little hotdog stand in the mountains, this place actually has a decent spread of toppings, plus a few nice extras like jalepenos, a couple different kinds of hot sauce, BBQ sauce, and celery salt (not sure what that's about, or even how you make salt from celery....?) Nothing fancy, but everything you'll need to enjoy this plump tube of goodness to the fullest.

See that half finished dog? That's how far I got before realizing
I'd made a mistake ordering two.
Value: 5/5
Much like Jack Black's special kind of push-ups, one is all you need. I've made the poor choice of letting my eyes order for me, but eating more than one is decidedly an unwise move. A polish or hot polish dog will run you $5 (the most expensive item on the menu), and it's certainly a meal. If you're looking to splurge go for two smaller dogs, or get one with chili & cheese and top it off with a snow cone. 

Plenty of outdoor seating, especially because no one is ever here
Other: 4/5
This is a tough category as part of what makes the place so great is also what makes it a bit of a pain: it's in the middle of nowhere. Not nowhere, exactly, but on a rural stretch of highway 9 north of Santa Cruz before you get to Ben Lomond (it'll be on the right when you're going north, it comes quick so don't miss it!). The bonus is that you get a beautiful redwood forest as your backdrop. They have a little garden and the strangest curiosity shop of rustic doodads. What more could you ask for?

Overall: 5/5
An easy recommendation after eating these delicious dogs
This is one of those rare places I can't wait to take people to, but I rarely have the chance because it's so remote. I've even conspired to take a detour through Santa Cruz when traveling in California just for the chance to grab one of these dogs. It's worth a special trip and an absolute must if you are within 50 miles of Monterey Bay.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Unpretentious and delicious. That's how I'd describe this place. I've been hearing about BARK Hot Dogs for a while, but a general lack of hype around it, which is odd for anything in Park Slope, the area in which hype seems most prevalent. Instead, when people talk about Bark it's like they are referring to the solid neighborhood staple, an obvious place you would go for a classic and delicious dog without all the fancy trappings of a hipper establishment. And they're absolutely right. The first day I went into Bark I got two dogs, and I went right back the next day to get two more. Here's how they were:

The dog: 5/5
Nice and plumpy, just like mama used to make
The Bark dog is all about rustic quality. If Nathan's is your beach bum surfer cousin then Bark is that eccentric but lovable and wholesome uncle who moved out to the country with his beard and overalls to start a farm. I can only barely describe the pure beefy quality of these meat tubes. At first they look like a plumper version of your standard Coney Island fair, but once you take a bite, the combination of strong and subtle flavors, the delicate snap of the dog, and tasteful pinkish coloring, all come together in a marvelous experience. 

A good place to hang out a while
Value: 3/5
Here's the thing, they claim to be an updated and higher quality version of the fast-food model, but that can be a deception and lead one to believe they'll also deliver fast-food prices. It's not the case, but it's also not terribly expensive. The dogs are in the $4-$5 dollar range, and you can get a reasonable meal package for about $10. If this were a food cart, I'd be more upset, but this is a sit down establishment with plenty of seating, and a more extensive menu that In 'n' Out or Shake Shack (actually, it's sort of on par with Shake Shack, but is way better). This is more of a restaurant experience then your typical fast food.

A tray full of meaty happiness
Accouterment: 4/5
As a said before, this isn't one of those over the top trendy spots that offers cream cheese relish and crystalized beer sprinkles, it's just a solid hot dog joint. They've got all the condiments you want, plus a couple of great extras like their Habañero hot sauce, which burns oh so good. They also have some quality sauerkraut, bacon, and chili options, and a cucumber relish (their nod to trendiness) that looks pretty enticing.

Other: 5/5
BARK wouldn't be a Brooklyn establishment if it didn't specialize in local and sustainable foods. Nearly all their food (except a few condiments and drinks) is made locally or in house, and they will tell you exactly which farms they get their food from. Check out a full list here. The staff is super friendly and helpful, and they cultivate a welcoming atmosphere with big tables and free-wifi so you can hang out as long as you like.

Mmmm, just line up that goodness
Overall: 4/5
BARK is the kind of place that is better for getting a 4 out of 5 rating. It's not necessarily the spot I'd take my friends visiting from out of town to show off New York, and that's what I like most about it. It's the perfect example of what a hot dog stand should be like, and stands in contrast to the Papaya Dogs of the world. Instead, we see that you don't have to be high-end and fancy to have quality and sustainable food. This place is going to be one of my new go-to spots, and it should be yours too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


If you're looking for a hole in the wall, you can't get any more literal than the Taco Box. This spot is nothing more than an ordering window with a counter and barstools lined up outside, making it nearly impossible to visit during the coldest winter months, which, in a way, is part of the charm. Taco Box typifies the best of the New York taco, it's high end, with modern or fusion twists and prices to match. It's places like this that are teaching me New York doesn't make bad tacos (all the time), but your choices are the fancy taco or something dry and flavorless, suspiciously made along side a plate of general tso's chicken. The Taco Box is the former option, and provides a comparable list of quality meats with some modern twists like short rib and sautéed rock shrimp accompanied with fancy sauces. I tried just about everything they had to offer, here's how it breaks down:

They are as tasty as they look
Taco: 5/5 The meats are, across the board, pretty darn excellent. The ones to try especially are the Pollo, Al Pastor, and Chorizo. The pollo in particular was some of the best grilled chicken taco I've had in NY, tender, flavor, and melts in the mouth. The chorizo is wisely cut with egg in an appropriate balance of spicy, greasy, and delicious. The al pastor was crispy and sweet, with a number of distinct flavors of pineapple and smokey BBQ, definitely worth getting. Honorable mention goes to the short rib, which was tender and dripping with sauce and juice, a much better alternative to the bistec, which I found lacking flavor and a little gamey. 

A pricey taco for a place with no roof
Value: 1/5 Perhaps I should change the name of this blog to "the over priced taco blog". I get it, rent is expensive, and food prices inflate to match, but when you don't actually have a restaurant, but rather a literal hole in the wall, you'd think the cost per taco would reduce dramatically. Isn't there some sort of rule out there for the price of a taco in a place where I can get rained on?What really killed me was the $3.50 vegetarian taco, which is WAY too much for beans, veggies, and guacamole. The tacos themselves seem large, but I ate six of them, so either they are not filling, or they were super delicious and I was starving. Either way, this taco outing cost me about $20.

Sriracha I can go with, but Tabasco?
Accoutrement: 4/5 They provide two homemade salsas, a red and green, which are both quite good, and then an assortment of bottled sauces, which didn't at all match the quality of the other offerings (Tabasco? Really?). But the clincher is that each taco is provided with its own special toppings that were an excellent fit to the offered meat. Nopales, avocado-lime mayo, chili habanero, and crunchy chicharrones all show up and add an extra kick to make the taco that much better.

Forgot to take a pictures before biting in. I'm not even sorry.
Other: 3/5 I give them an extra point for the outdoor seating, but that is about all they have in terms of 'extras'. There are too few stools, and the slanted bar make it a little awkward to eat at.  Excellently panfried tortillas though. And they get one more point for their provocative name, about which I have tried to go this entire post without making an innuendo, and have now failed.

Overall: 4/5 Taco Box is definitely worth a visit, but the cost makes it prohibitive as a regular go to joint. It's too bad, since the food is actually quite good as I'd love to drop by the place every time I'm in the area, but I also don't feel like spending $15+ on my taco habit. Still, if you've got the itch, it's a good place to scratch it.