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Hot Dogs at Top Dog.

March 12, 2007

Pitchers and catchers reported to camp a few weeks ago, the cherries, magnolias and gladiolas are in bloom, and spring is in the air. That means one thing…Hot Dogs! Alright, maybe not, but it was a good excuse for hot dogs anyway. Speaking of excuses, I apologize for the low picture quality. I didn’t have my camera today and these are snaps from the Treo.

I was working from home today and decided that my run to the bank would entail a stop at Berkeley’s Top Dog on Hearst Avenue on the northside of Cal campus. It’s an interesting little dive with some tasty vittles.

dogs in the sun

You can read all about them here but the gist is that Top Dog grew out of a boy’s love of sausage, to paraphrase their version of it. They’ve been around since the sixties, and have 6 locations in the Bay Area. A few in Berkeley, and a couple in San Jose. Fortunately for my coterie of preferred lunch spots, San Francisco real estate was always expensive, forcing the business owner to start in the East Bay right near me. Though it’s for more than just lunch. The location on Center Street in downtown Berkeley happens to be right down the hill from one of my favorite Berkeley watering holes, the Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse, so it makes a nice post-drinking snack, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’ll get back to the Triple Rock brews in another post. Basically, what you have at Top Dog is a simple selection of franks and sausages served on grilled French rolls with the opportunity to doll them up with a variety of uncomplicated accoutrements.

Before you get all watered up thinking that the accoutrements include bacon and avocadoes like our friends in Sonora, hold on. These guys play it basic and straightforward, which considering the quality of the franks is just fine by me. What you get with your order is a frank on a griddled bun. That’s it. Simple. Beautiful. Delicious.

They have this ancient Wolf griddle that’s seen so many sausages in its time, the surface is noticeably grooved from where the franks line up all day.
dogs on griddle

Here’s the finished product with some of the aforementioned uncomplicated accoutrements. On the left is the Linguica with kraut, relish and classic yellow mustard, while on the right is the highly delicious calabrese sausage with spicy Russian mustard. A truly worthwhile match if ever there was one.

dolled up dogs

The Menu:

menu items

The great thing about Top Dog that really makes them what they are is that the franks are griddled the way they should be. They do not get behind the idea of a watered down, steamy soft, ball park dog covered in condiments to disguise the fact that the frank itself is made from crap. They use top-notch sausages and then cook them till they are nice and crsip, a little charred on the outside with a satisfying snap to the natural casings. It may take longer than the 7-Eleven, but every one I’ve eaten has been tender and juicy on the inside. With dogs like this…who needs fancy toppings?

About the toppings, they’ve all got a rack with a few varieties of mustard including deli, classic yellow and spicy russian, along with relish, chopped onions and a steaming warmer of hot kraut.

See them here…

mustards

The French roll buns may sound odd, but having been warmed on the griddle and just slicked with sausage grease, they stand up to the strong fennel of the calabrese, the heat of the spicy hot link and the vinegar in the linguica. They’re just crisped on the edges making all in all for a very worthwhile endeavor.

I find that a place like this exudes interest because of its seeming contradiction. It’s Berkeley right? So how can a hot dog place be busy, what with all the vegetarians? Top Dog makes eating hot dogs an act of rebellion, and rebellion is always popular in these parts. It’s also a political statement,or so the owners would have you think, and I’m all for it. The places are decked out with political propaganda from the ages. I haven’t seen enough to be able to characterize the agenda as anything but quirky. Take a look…

politik

But what they’ve really got as the not-so-secret-secret-of-their-success is that they simply and consistently put out a quality product that’s head and shoulders above what you’d expect. And at only $2.75 per dog, it’s a bargain even students can dig.

Top Dog also does what they call a six pack, which is perfect for a little grilling at home. Six franks, any kind, and six buns for $7.50. You grill ’em yourself. You can also buy the franks in bulk which is great because most of the manufacturers of these bad boys don’t sell to groceries.

Next time you’re hankering for a hot dog, give Top Dog a try…

Top Dog
2503 Hearst Ave. (and others…see website)
Berkeley, CA 94704
510.843.1241

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