THE TIME IS RIGHT FOR A HOT DOG PARTY!

The hot dog is one of my “hall-of-fame” foods. By now, you’re probably aware that the foods that excite me the most are those “everyday classics,” just made with quality ingredients and done at an exceptionally high level.

Hot dogs fall into this category. And, with summer here, the time is right for throwing a hot dog party! So will be taking a close look – in three parts – at these seasonal icons. With the Fourth of July fast approaching, I’ll share some dog tidbits and history that fascinate me. Also I’ll take a quick look at the local hot dog scene. Then, next week, we’ll dive in to all the amazing combinations possible out there. After that, we’ll go in another direction with European-style brats – the grandaddy of the hot dog – and other encased meats!

Let your imagination run wild with hot dogs.

Great burgers and pizza are difficult to do at home, but not impossible. Sourcing great beef and buns has become easier, especially since we opened Gateway Market. Quality ingredients like our signature George’s Grind and South Union Bakery buns are simply going to taste better than run of the mill stuff. And I’ve posted a lot about making great burgers at home.

As for pizza – I have always said that I wanted Gateway Market to be like a crack house for pizza addicts. With all of the prepared dough, assortment of flours and topping inspirations throughout the store, we’re accomplishing that mission. But sometimes special grills and stoves are required for designer burgers and pizza. That gets us to the tubed meats!

Hot dogs are made for home experimentation. They can be basic, or the can be a show-stopper if you give in to creative impulses. No matter what, you can make a killer dog in the comfort of your own home (or deck). When we opened Zombie Burger + Drink Lab we placed some special dogs on the menu. We’ve always intended to go back to revisit them, but I’m happy to report that there are some other great places here in Des Moines for a sausage fix, including longtime favorites Ted’s Coney Island and Jim’s Coney Island, the recently-opened Hotshots, Capitol Pub & Hot Dog Co., and a German sausage stand at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market.

Here are some of my favorite books that tell great hot dog stories.

A LITTLE HISTORY

All hot dogs are descended from sausages; it’s kind of the way all dogs are descended from wolves. Sausages have been around for centuries, but the earliest use of the term “hot dog” is in the Sept. 28, 1893 edition of the Knoxville Journal. Previous terms used for our beloved dog were “frankfurter” and “red hot.” Meanwhile, in Europe, the Viennese referred to them as “wieners.” The cartoonist T.A . Dorgan of the New York Journal is said to have immortalized the name “hot dog” in a 1906 cartoon – there is little evidence that this is true, but this legend has been a long time favorite of ours.

Since I am a bread guy, I was fascinated by a detail about the bun that I came across recently. One recipe for buns in a 1907 baking book refers to them as “Columbia Rolls” because they were sold in very large quantities at the Columbian Exposition during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. If you’re interested in food history, as I am, I’d recommend checking out the book “The Great American Hot Dog Book: Recipes and Side Dishes from Across America.” by Becky Mercuri.

A BIT OF CRAZINESS

Ok , so I geek out on some pretty crazy shit, I recently was in search of slang terms for food and came across a 1942 copy of The American Thesaurus of Slang, quite possibly the most entertaining-in need of cheering up, no-brainier read EVER!

After giggling my way through slang terms for various bodily parts and functions (including my favorite, a petting party – an association of the sexes where the exchange of caresses is the chief amusement), I turned to the section that actually drove me to buy the book in the first place – food slang. (Of course, had I known of this chief amusement thing earlier, I would have purchased this sooner!)

So now here we are at hot dogs, which are also known as barkers, beagles, bow-wows, Coney Island blood hounds, dogs, frankfritters, franks, German Dogs, ground hogs, hot pups, puppies, hounds, links, picnic specials, purps, weenies, winners, dachshunds, long frankfurters, tubbies, short frankfurters, bulldogs, husky dogs, pups, Scottie dogs, teeny-wienies, chili dogs, Coney Island red hots, Coney Islands and red hots.

Throw some chili on them for hounds on an island, sub in sauerkraut for chili for dogs in the hay or dogs in manure, Fido and Shep and bale of hay, strings and pig, or wienies and kraut. Frankfurter sandwiches were barkers, beagles, bow-wows, wiener sands, clowns, dogs between sheets, dogs-on-it, growls, or zeppelins in a hanger.

And my addition to the book, a hot dog party, an association of the sexes where eating and enjoying of hot dogs is the chief amusement!

Gateway Market has an impressive variety of fresh brats this summer.

SO MANY DOGGONE CHOICES

We proudly give dogs and sausages a lot of love at our places. Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, Django and Gateway Market offer a variety of options. The legendary New Jersey Rippers at Zombie Burgers have been a hit since we opened. The Django Dog is a grilled house-made sausage, in a griddled challah roll with caramelized onion on Dijon mustard that I really like. Meanwhile, Gateway Market has some new hand-made sausages at the meat counter that are going to taste fresher and better than most sausages shipped in. For example, Gateway is proud to be the exclusive retailer for new, locally-made brats from the folks at Mo’ Rub.

That said, I would like to give some shout outs to other aforementioned places to go in Des Moines for hot dog or sausage fixes. Two venerable institutions, Jim’s Coney Island and Ted’s Coney Island, both have loyal followings for good reasons.  These locally-owned spots both honor tradition by focusing on the basics and doing it well, day-in and day out.

Hot Shots is the new kid on the block in Des Moines. At 1220 Locust St., James Bruton and Tony Lemmo’s recently-opened lunch spot is a good place to see just how creative you can get with hot dogs. “Gourmet dogs worth relishing,” is how The Des Moines Register described the sandwiches served there and that seems right. I had a great-tasting sausage dog that was a riff on the Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich with pickled onions, carrots, cilantro and mayo. Their Cincinnati chili is especially tasty and there are choices that let you go a little more guilt-free if you like.

Capitol Pub & Hot Dog Company opened a couple of years ago at 400 SE 6th St., which at the southern edge of the East Village. A popular place for sports fans, Capitol Pub offers more than a dozen hot dog choices. Again, they gave in to their creative impulses. Oh you can “go naked” there, but they also came up with dogs that are tempura battered or bathed in Buffalo wing sauce, or slathered with nacho cheese and, this being Iowa, of course there is a dog that is wrapped in bacon, crisped in the deep fryer and served with cream cheese.

Another place I like to get my sausage fix is at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market. Located at the western edge of the market on Court Avenue, Michael Leo’s Strudl Haus has long been known for serving outstanding pastries and great Dutch Letters. A few years ago, he introduced different types of European-style sausages. Leo has weiss wurst (pork with parsley), nuerenburger (pork and veal), knack wurst (mild pork and beef sausage) and Vienna sausage (pork and beef sausage), just to name a few. These are more in the tradition of German bratwursts than hot dogs. But what you might like about these is they will give you a great-tasting sense of how and why we started our  all-American love of hot dog parties!

NEXT UP: Start your own hot dog party with some inspiration from Zombie Burger Chef Tom McKern and me!

NOW IS THE TIME TO BUY LOCAL

New pennants went up recently on the lamp poles at Gateway Market. One of the pennants displays the words, “We Cater to Local.” If timing really is everything, then this particular message was perfectly placed. Finally, we have arrived at the dawn of Iowa’s farm-to-table season. I know I have blogged about local before, but this is something I believe in. Buying ingredients when they’re in season gives you a huge advantage in the kitchen. You can create the simplest, yet best tasting of recipes with ease.

A sign of the times at Gateway Market.

Growing up, I knew that summer had arrived when my dad’s garden would come into maturity. We celebrated with the season’s first Italian tomato salad – most Italian-Americans know this one. A simple recipe of tomato wedges, sliced onions, peppers, chopped garlic, fresh basil, a pinch of dried oregano, salt, pepper and oil. We usually left out olive oil because it would harden when it gets cold, but we have changed that part of the recipe. And we would devour a whole loaf of bread tearing it piece by piece and dipping the bread in the juice that naturally occurs in this salad. It always amazed me that the longer the salad sat, the more sauce seemed to appear!

You can get all those ingredients (and some great bread for dipping) at Gateway Market. The Gateway team works hard to provide customers with high quality local produce and products. Not everything, of course, is all local all the time. But Gateway is proud to be a Des Moines-area leader in buying and promoting local. The reasons for this are twofold: First, fresh, local produce simply tastes better. Second, buying from Iowa farmers helps the local economy.

Chefs and serious home cooks know there’s a link between the quality of ingredients used in a dish and the flavor profile of that dish. It’s pretty simple math. As soon as a vegetable comes out of the ground it starts to deteriorate. It is as if the flavors begin jumping ship instantly.

Local asparagus is great for simple recipes.

Something as simple as a grilled asparagus panini with cheese and herbs is great! Here’s an instance where less can be more. The same idea works with the other local vegetables. Slice them up lengthwise and toss them with a little olive oil, salt, seasoning, garlic, thyme, basil, or whatever, and pop them on the grill right next to the steak.

Squash blossoms are one of my favorite things in the garden. A simple recipe is to wash them in water, dredge them in seasoned flour, then into beaten egg, followed by grated Parmesan cheese. Shallow fried in oil until crispy, squash blossoms can be magical.

This is a also a happy time for our restaurants. We are committed to local products whenever we can get our hands on them – we buy more sustainably raised pork then any restaurant group in the state, and contract with local farmers to raise goats and lambs specifically for our restaurants. At Centro, Chef Derek Eidson is currently using raspberries grown by Khanh and Neil Hamilton at Waukee’s at Sunstead Farm.

“These early raspberries are perfect. Not too sweet, not too tart,” Chef Derek says. “I puree them with Lindemann’s framboise to make sabayon filled tarts.”

Derek’s also looking forward to baby leeks, fennel and beets. “Their sweetness is great this time of year, before they get too big.”

Chef Derek’s favorite: Red Tropea onions from Cleverley Farms in Mingo. “Their sweetness, flavor and appearance is unmatched. They are perfect for pizzas, pastas and salads,” Chef Derek says. “They are also great salt-baked and finished with a nice olive oil.”

Iowa sweet corn will soon be here.

Corn, corn, corn! Our Iowa sweet corn is a few weeks away now. But once the season begins, some people will eat corn on the cob several times a week. No need to get fancy with fresh Iowa sweet corn – it’s too good to mess with!

Also, salads should be in the same “keep-it-simple” mode during the farm-to-table months. Get some local lettuces or greens and dress them with a fine olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, shallots, your best vinegar and spoon of Dijon mustard. Pair this salad with some bread from South Union Bakery and you have the perfect warm weather snack.

Mozzarella made by hand at Gateway goes perfectly with basil and tomatoes grown here in Iowa.

A lot of Iowans grow tomatoes. So do local farmers. Whether from a backyard garden or a farm, these tomatoes will make a huge difference in sandwiches. BLT, or just T with mayo. Here’s an idea worth repeating: Toasted South Union Bakery bread, Ceverley Farms or Sunstead Farms arugula, Niman Ranch bacon, mayo and tomatoes (local tomatoes straight from the vine will taste so much better; pretty soon they’ll be everywhere and you gotta use them).

As the summer transitions to fall, the taste of the season changes and you’re in prime vegetable-roasting and soup season. More on that later. Right now, I’m just happy we’ve reached the time of year when we can finally “cater to local!”

THE DAY THE MUSIC STOPPED

I romanticize many things in my life. Hopelessly in love with food culture and history, I can can get caught up in the song and dance of nostalgia and sentimentality. I enjoy eating on vintage plates and cooking on antique cookware. I love restaurants in historic buildings and collecting old cook books (the more dog-eared, the better).

Lori Dowie Reeser passed away Monday. Her leaving hit me hard. Executive chef at the Iowa Culinary Institute – DMACC since the 1980s, she was so much more than simply one of my cooking school instructors.

I will always know her as “Chef Dowie,” a friend and mentor to whom I owe so much. “Chef” is a term I don’t use lightly; in fact, I insist that no one call me that, perhaps because I have such great respect for those I still call “chef.” Chef Dowie holds that status for me; if there was ever anyone that was bigger than the game, it was Chef Dowie.

Chef Dowie used to remind us that what we in our business call a “line,” the French call a “piano.” It was such a romantic notion for me; anyone one who loves this business can understand why. Cooking is truly is like making music. If you know me, you know that I love being on the “piano” – the melodies are sweet and satisfying. It’s almost like its not even work to me.

When I got the news about Chef Dowie, I was unable to play the song I’ve played for the past 25 years or so. For me, the melodies went quiet and the music stopped. I needed some time to regroup. But after one day, Chef Dowie got in my ear. “Get your ass back in there!” She brought me pack to the piano, of course.

A picture I snapped from another photo published in the Des Moines Register back in Nov. 11, 1987. Chef Dowie’s in the middle; I’m the bearded guy on the right.

In my professional career, I feel I owe a debt to those who believed in me when I found it hard to believe in myself. Those are the people who were with me through thick and thin. I work everyday to make sure I never let them down. Chef Dowie is chief among them.

When she first arrived on the scene at DMACC, she was tough! Her personality was more like what you would encounter in a real restaurant – not the traditional classroom setting. She was confident and knowledgeable, like a walking, talking food dictionary. She always had very high standards and expected us to do things the right way. She was hard on me – I know now it was because she could see the potential in people before they could see it in themselves.

I’ll always remember an important lesson I learned in one of her labs. I wouldn’t always follow the exact procedure in our recipes; this would result in her docking points from my overall lab score. This specific lab, I was making some pasta dish under a tight deadline. I didn’t have a pot to boil the pasta in, so I used what we call a six-inch hotel pan to get it done (incidentally, I would do the same thing today if need be). She saw it, made me stand in front of the class and said “George – what did you learn today?”

“Don’t GET CAUGHT cooking in hotel pans.” I said. She made me repeat my statement for the class – she knew I wasn’t going to change the way I said it (with the emphasis on “GET CAUGHT”)!

She could be a stickler. But she also allowed us to “color outside the lines” and not follow a recipe to the exact specifications… so long as the technique was followed and the recipe tasted great. That encouraged me to challenge recipes and understand the difference between a good one and a bad one. She pushed us hard, knowing who was going to be in the industry for the long haul and who was not. We had a great class; some of them are not in the business any longer, but I sure would like to get the band back together again for one last gig!

When I was at DMACC, I was juggling a full time job, raising a family and going to school. It was the start of an extremely hard road for me, but I always felt she was looking out for me in the early stages of my career.

Then, over time, things came full circle, as they sometimes due in life. For me, one of those full circle moments came when my son Anthony Formaro was accepted to the Iowa Culinary Institute. I was especially pleased to know Chef Dowie was one of his favorites, and I felt that she was looking out for him too, just like she did for me.

A few years back Anthony was accepted for an internship in France and I decided to go along; I was hoping Chef was going to go, too, but she was unable to make it. Had she gone along, I can just imagine all the things we could have seen and done in France.We often talked about the great French chef and culinary writer Auguste Escoffier, who many regard as the father of modern French cooking.

Even though Chef Dowie couldn’t make the trip, I wanted to give back to those students the way the ICI and she had given to me.,. so I made sure that we dragged our asses out of bed early to visit all the bakeries and markets we could get to. I think we squeezed two trips in one!

When I was in school, there was no internet or Food Network; you learned the most by learning directly from other people. Chef Dowie helped take my love for classical cooking and food history to another level, and I am still inspired by her work and dedication.

This week, in the quiet, I’ve been caught up in all my fond memories of Chef Dowie. She will never really be gone to me. Although she won’t be around to look out for any more long-haired, bearded, loud-mouth kids like me, I’ll do my best to carry on her habit of recognizing and cultivating the potential in people… even if they don’t know it’s there.

We used to talk about how cool it would be to meet Escoffier… put in a good word for me, Chef!

GUEST POST: SAVING CLEVERLEY FARMS

Today, I wanted to share this guest post from my sister-in-law Rachel Formaro addressing a local news story that came to light in the last week or so. Larry is a great friend – not only is he a big supplier of locally-grown produce to Orchestrate restaurants, but he is also a supporter and patron of our properties.

SAVING CLEVERLEY FARMS (Guest post by Rachel Formaro)

Upon moving to Iowa, it didn’t take me long to become what I’ll lovingly call a “Farm Geek.” Yes, there is the famous Downtown Farmers’ Market. But I attribute much of the passion I’ve developed for understanding farming and local organic foods to farmer Larry Cleverley of  Cleverley Farms and his wife Beth.

I first met Larry many years ago, when he, my brother-in-law George, and George’s business partner Paul came to visit San Francisco on a food, market and restaurant reconnaissance trip. Tom and I met up with George, Larry and Paul a couple of evenings for dinner in the city – Delfina and The Slanted Door (put them on your list if you ever visit).

When we moved to Iowa a couple of years ago, we reconnected with Larry and met his wife Beth. When Larry introduced a flexible CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, we were among the first to sign-up. We have also attended their Spring Garlicpalooza for the last two years, despite the rather miserable weather for the event this past Memorial Day weekend.

Larry and Beth are incredibly welcoming at their farm. They want their customers (most of whom become friends, as we did) to see and know where their food comes from. I’m happy to say that my daughter’s first tastes of spinach, salad greens, rapini, cantaloupe, and yes, nettles, all came from Cleverley Farms.

So, it struck me all that closer to the heart when we found out last week that the Iowa Department of Transportation has proposed highway re-design plans that would result in Larry losing his home and half of the acreage (including all the acreage they have been growing their produce on for the last 17 years). There are two proposals the DOT is considering. As reported by the Des Moines Register one plan would take all three houses on the land—Larry’s house, his father’s house and his sister’s house.

The DOT’s proposed plans hope to reduce the number of fatalities and accidents in the area—apparently largely resulting from a poor highway design in the first place. When I spoke with Larry though, his point was that there are other alternatives to consider first, such as a reduced speed area with a stoplight.  It seems reasonable to start with a solution that doesn’t wipe out a farm that has contributed to the well-being of so many, and destroy the home and history of a family that has been there for 85 years. Not to mention the comparative cost to taxpayers.

What can we do about it? Sure, the mighty DOT has eminent domain rights, but we all have a voice we can use. If you want to help support Larry and his family and their efforts to continue providing the community with certified naturally-grown food, I invite you to do two things:

  1. Provide a public comment to the DOT on the proposals
  2. Keep up to date by visiting the Cleverley Farms’ Facebook page where they expect to have an online petition activated soon

I’m looking forward to many more Spring Garlicpaloozas, seeing my daughter walk those fields every year and pointing out to her where she first took a nap near the spinach.

(Also published at Des Moines is NOT Boring)