By Phil LaMancusa
Man Bites Dog: A guide to fun on a bun
“Do you know what’s in that thing?” My daughter asked.
With all the control I could muster I delayed that first bite, my mouth filling with saliva, the dog poised, hovering inches from my incisors, canines and molars; fully loaded. “You mean nitrates?” I inquire
“No” she said, “Piggy toenails.”
I was ready to campaign for this pup like a southern diplomat; turning the dog sideways and presenting it like the model of a great sailing schooner, I said proudly: “You see before you, representatives of all the major food groups!”
A sympathetic hand on my sleeve was attached to a patient: “Papa, I hate to tell you, but there are food groups in that thing that we haven’t begun to suspect exist.”
“This”, I replied undaunted, “is a Chancy Dog. And it says right there: A New Orleans Creation Since 1938.”
“THAT one may have been around that long. Why would you want to put that thing (she said “that thing” as If referring to a real canine appendage) in your mouth?”
“Research” I bravely announced, taking off the first three inches in a single bite, chopped onions flying, cheese product on my shirtfront, chili oozing from the corners of my mouth, and the rest of the bun falling apart; leaving me with two hands full of ingredients, and an impotent, soggy, six inch square of wax paper.
“Ah,” I thought brightly, “A two fisted!"-- I made a mental note: "use Italian Death Grip” (a hold usually reserved for one of Elizabeth’s famous Potato and Gravy Po-boys).
My daughter and I had searched half the world looking for the perfect “dog”. We had eaten bowsers in baguettes in Paris, Mongrel con Mayonaisa in Mexico, Jodi Maroni’s Haute Dog in Venice, Ca. and Sabrett’s on the streets of the Big Apple.
We’ve had them made out of turkey, beef, chicken, pork; alone and in combinations, even tofu. Fully loaded (dressed is a term for sandwiches not pups) and Spartan.
We checked them out in Airports, Train Stations, Circle K’s, K marts, and high falutin’ restaurants in San Francisco. We even once went to a baseball game (but, that's another story).
This is some of what we’ve found out:
The Dog. The dog is a total experience, beginning with the seller. We learned to turn away from a stand solely because of the demeanor of the dealer. They have to enjoy what they do or it can throw the taste off. No kidding. The best ones will remind you of the Dickens’ character Fagin, if you get my drift. This MAY be what drove my daughter to become vegan.
Loading the dog: the seller, not the self, should load the dog; this in itself is an art. Too much or too little of any one of the condiments can ruin the balance and is best left to the professional. Feel free to observe technique before you commit to a purchase.
The condiments: are best put on with wooden implements, (this practice is largely lost,) the onions fresh chopped and uniform in size or nicely stewed, the relish not liquidy, the sauerkraut not soupy, the chili thick and viscous, the cheese product loose and fluffy. Choice of mustard is nice, but always pick the brightest color. Catsup only from a non-refillable squeeze bottle and optional. Putting the catsup and mustard on the bun instead of the meat is always a nice touch. You should be able (except, we found in Chicago and San Francisco’s windy wharf area) to almost sniff out the individual ingredients as well as the accoutrements. Temperature should be “HOT”
The bread should be soft enough to give easy access to components yet strong enough to contain them. We find the more “economical” types that need a bit of tearing open to be the best. In other words cheap, white buns. They should last all the way to the end of the pup, neither running out too soon nor being leftover. Steamed or grilled or not at all. Never toasted.
The meat; (first of all: sausage is for a sandwich and should not be considered of the same philosophy as pups.) What we’re looking for is bits and pieces and parts of farm animals, ground very fine and mixed with all of those unpronounceable ingredients that will build up our immunity to nuclear fallout, stuffed to bursting in casings preferably of natural origin. Either seared crisp or stewed in juices for days. When bitten into they should “pop” and the meat (?) and juices should fill the receptors of both oral and olfactory senses. The experience should be transcendental the closer you get to the perfect dog. Needless to say, we haven’t found it. Yet.
“I approach each new test as a quest for a Guru at a sacred shrine.,,,,,,,,” I continue.
“I ain’t eating nothin’ made from mechanically separated animals” is the response I receive. Where did I go wrong?
The dog’s not bad, it bears further testing. I return to the shrine. “Please” I ask, “make me one with everything”.