Not Your Ordinary Hot Dog
There is no live music at Grey’s Tavern.
There is no dance floor, no house drink, no cigar menu and no anthropomorphic mascot. No original art hangs on the walls, and they do not sell T-shirts. They don’t have a waterfall, a brewmaster or any singing waitstaff.
It is, as advertised, a neighborhood tavern in the classic style – the only one of its kind in downtown Greensboro.
Grey and Charlie Davis spent much of last year refurbishing the family art store on Elm Street. In the process they uncovered decades’ worth of wallpaper on the old plaster with solid brick walls beneath. They uncovered bricked-over window openings and a sealed doorway between the room and what is now the Green Bean. They cleaned up the tin ceiling and put some real nice TVs on the walls. They built a peninsula-shaped bar from dark-stained wood. And in that short time, they created a bar that looks like it’s been here 25 years.
A friend who works there makes claims that they have the best bar food in town, and he cites to me several examples: the jalapeno hush puppies; the slider menu, with 10 varieties of tiny hamburger; a special dip every day; that burger with the fried egg on it.
And this is well and good, but there is only one thing I am interested in ordering on my first visit to the tavern: the bacon cheddar dog.
It is more complex than its name implies: a half-pound hot dog sliced lengthwise and stuffed with cheddar, then wrapped with bacon, deep fried in batter and then placed into a sub roll.
It’s enough to make Homer Simpson kick in a window.
Occasionally for this job I am required to perform “stunt eating,” like trying every item at a buffet or sampling rare, sometimes disquieting, ingredients or, in this case, consuming a ridiculous menu item.
I’ll take mine with mustard and onions.
It comes out in short order, and it doesn’t look so tough. I pull it out of its foil wrapper and weigh it in my hands. It’s heavy. It is surrounded by a pile of French fries, hand cut.
A word about fries: Hand-cut, fresh potatoes generally work best, but only if they are prepared properly. Unless they hit real hot oil, they will be sad, soggy things that won’t hold up to a decent dollop of ketchup. These fries are perfect.
And the hot dog….
It’s big enough for two hands, and not the kind of hot dog that can be knocked out in a few quick bites; it must be pieced off in odd, sideways nibbles.
It is indeed batter fried, with the distinct crunch of bacon and its luscious, lingering smoky flavor. The cheddar adds an element of sharp creaminess and the texture of melted goo. Mustard and onions are appropriate condiments, but this thing could really benefit from a nice stone-ground mustard.
About three-quarters of the way through, I begin to doubt if I can finish it. This is astounding: I haven’t been stymied by a sandwich in a long, long time.
I also sample the spicy hush puppies, which have a strong presence of fresh jalapeño and a hint of cheddar. And I’ll be honest: I don’t really like hush puppies, even when they’re stuffed with barbecue.
These were a fine interpretation, I guess, and went surprisingly well with a sweet and spicy ginger sauce that appeared to be made in house.
Back to the hot dog.
I did finish the whole thing, though it took me at lot longer to eat lunch than it usually does. I put a decent dent in the fries, too. And, I’m kind of ashamed to admit, I picked through the fallen bits of fried batter looking for stray chunks of bacon. I ate all of those, too.
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.