Once a Frederick Favorite the Frank Seeks a Revival
No matter where you grew up in this country there was probably a mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall place that served “the world’s best hot dog.” Franks were undeniably the stellar attraction at these joints and were usually served draped in a thin tomato-and-meat sauce chili, chopped raw onions and a squirt of yellow mustard.
In my hometown of State College, Pa., the place was Pop’s Mexi-Hot, a favorite of college students and families alike, run by three generations—Pop bent over the fryer, his son tending the grill and the youngest ones wiping tables. When I moved to Frederick and craved something similar, I felt right at home with the White Star Lunch-N-Ette and their version that customers affectionately called the “death dog.”
The first of two White Stars opened at 10 N. Market St. in 1911, the links lined up and sizzling on a grill in the front window as a way to entice passersby. In 1970, the second location several blocks north on the corner of Motter Avenue and 7th Street opened with another opportunity to indulge. At around that same time, Frederick also had Scotty’s Bus, a brown-painted former school bus equipped with a propane grill in the back and chairs and counters on either side for those wishing to dine in. There was no need for a sign on the bus—it was that popular. Owner Raymond Scott’s hot dog sauce was the stuff of legend and it was rumored that a Fort Detrick scientist once tested a smear of it in the lab to try and unlock the recipe because Scott refused to give it out.
Even further back, in the 1940s, George Ambush ran a lunch wagon that touted the slogan, “The six wheeled diner, where service is finer.” His hot dogs sold for 10 cents and it was reported that local companies would coordinate their lunch breaks to fit Ambush’s schedule.
With all these sausage sources, Frederick was indeed one fabulous wiener wonderland—until one by one they all closed up shop. The good news is that there are still dogs to be had in Frederick—it just takes a little bit of exploring to find out where they are, although maybe not in the case of Costco where a snack bar is right near the exit. For less than two bucks you can get a dog and a soft drink and, if you park your shopping cart and take a seat, you can re-fill your soda cup. (All of this presupposes that you haven’t already filled up on all the food samples throughout ]the store.)
A restaurant that comes closest to the hot dog palaces of the past is Pretzel & Pizza Creations at 210 N. Market St. The family-owned restaurant has no less than 10 varieties of hot dogs, all wrapped in pretzel dough and baked to golden perfection while you wait. Other places may simply slap a dog on a soft squishy bun, but here the bread is every bit as important as the sausage.
There’s the Greek Dog with spinach, black olives, tomato, feta and balsamic vinegar, as well as the Reuben Dog gussied up with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. The Wisconsin Dog is all cheese all the time, loaded with Swiss, provolone, cheddar and American. The Chili Dog is reminiscent of the offerings of the White Star and Scotty’s, oozing with homemade sauce and onions with a little cheese to boot. Carlo Serio, who helps run the business, says hot dogs are a big seller in the shop that also features hot dogs on a pizza that’s a salute to baseball.
It was rumored that a Fort Detrick scientist once tested a smear of Scotty’s Sauce in the lab to try and unlock the recipe.
What’s more all-American? You can hardly watch a game without a hot dog in hand and the concession stands at Frederick Keys games are the perfect place to get your fix. Historians tell us that Babe Ruth once downed 24 hot dogs (and rumor has it some beer) between games of a doubleheader.
Sometimes, though, you have to think outside the bun, which is exactly the track taken by Café Bueno on East Street. If it’s an ordinary dog you crave, go to the 7-Eleven that’s in the same little shopping center, but otherwise, check out Bueno’s Torta Cubana, a real meat mash-up. In addition to the hot dog that’s hiding in there, the sandwich also contains ham, steak, spicy pork, a fried egg, jalapenos, tomatoes, avocado, queso fresco, onions and mayo, all for eight bucks.
A waiter tells me that it’s very good, he’s eaten his share of them, but these days he’s sticking to meals of just rice and beans. “Otherwise I’ll get too fat, no matter how much running I do in here,” he confides.
A drive north on U.S. 15 will take you to the newly opened Furnace Bar & Grill at 12841 Catoctin Furnace Road in Thurmont, home of the Furnace Dog, a foot-long that’s split open, stuffed with cheese and pickled jalapenos, and, at the risk of gilding the lily, wrapped in bacon before taking a swim in the deep fat fryer. It sounds a little over the top, but this was a great sandwich and not the least bit greasy. The bacon was crisp, the peppers had the right amount of heat and sweet and the star of the bun would have been a delicious dog even without all that drama.
Future Hot Dog King?
Although these places do an admirable job of putting out a decent hot dog, it’s just not the same as back in the White Star and Scotty days, a sentiment shared by Dave Conrad, radio personality at WFRE and a lifelong Frederick resident with a dream of opening a hot dog stand in Downtown. “Or, how about a hot dog cart?” he says. “I could have coffee and bagels for the commuters in the morning then go home and change up with hot dogs at lunch. … I’m also thinking about late at night after the bars close and people are looking for something to eat. I just love hot dogs.”
Conrad sighs. “It’s not an easy thing to do. I understand all the rules and regulations, but by the time you get down to it …” the red tape has you wrapped tighter than a pig in a blanket. Then after you’ve satisfied the health department, there are the requirements from City Hall. “You’ve got to pretty much open up a full-fledged restaurant,” Conrad says.
In his dreams he has allowed himself to give his business a name—perhaps “Dave’s Dogs, Home of the Hot Diggity Dog,” or, when he’s feeling down about not making it happen, “Conrad’s Doghouse Blues.”
Conrad has been keeping his dream alive for about 10 years and says he’s not about to give it up rhapsodizing about the different dogs he’d have on the menu. Maybe, if he’s lucky, Conrad will even get Scotty to spoon up his sauce recipe.