There's no way to look "cool" while ordering five hot dogs for yourself.
Even with, say, hair freshly-greased back, the leatherest of leather jackets on your shoulders, and placing your request whilst sitting in a classroom chair that's been flipped backwards as if you're about to "rap" to the kids like a hip substitute teacher, you do not feel a high level of self-worth while asking for five dogs, all the fixins, a bottle of water to wash 'em down.
But such is the price that comes with hardcore no-holds-barred investigative journalism.
Hot dogs are not meant to be eaten five-at-a-time unless your name is Kobayashi and you're in Coney Island. Yet, that's what I'm trying to accomplish here at Dodger Stadium. It's all part of an ill-advised and second-guessed-as-soon-as-I-pitched-the-idea taste test of the stadium's five new "Extreme Loaded Dogs," a turn of phrase which, honestly, doesn't bring up the most appetizing of sentiments.
For $7.50 a pop, customers get to choose from:
(1) The Heater, a normal Dodger Dog topped with Buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese slaw;
(2) The Frito Pie Dog, topped with chili, cheese and Fritos;
(3) the Big Kid Dog, a mess of Fritos and "gooey" Mac and Cheese;
(4) the Doyer Dog, a vaguely racist-sounding variety with nacho cheese, jalapenos, tomatoes and onions;
(5) the Tailgate Dog, a Frankenstonian monstrosity which buries the hot dog under a pile of beans, BBQ sauce, and potato salad.
The quintet are only currently being sold in one section of the park, the Loge level on the third base side behind section 135. If you're not familiar with the layout of the stadium, this might be an easier way to describe the location: As far away as possible from the All-You-Can-Eat Pavilion in the right field bleachers. This, obviously, cannot be by accident.
It's as if the stadium is encouraging devourers of the Extreme Loaded Dogs to look straight ahead, past the action on the field, with disdain and disgust at those simply eating hot dogs with ketchup, mustard, and maybe a few onions on them. How gauche. How quaint. How undeniably antiquated and obsolete. I'm sorry, person-500-feet-away-from-me. But are you still using your hands to eat a hot dog?
Which brings us to the one piece of food-tech advice I should offer on how to eat the loaded dogs: Do not use your hands. Even if you had the hands of Dave Grohl at the end of the video for "Everlong," it would be a misstep. This is strictly fork-and-knife fare.
The trick to eating them is as follows: With your utensils, cut off a slice of the hot dog and place it on the tip of your fork. (Think: Steve Martin's cork at the end of his fork, so as not to poke out his other eye, in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.") This obstruction -- which I dub the "carne a-stopper" -- will give you a spoon-like area on which to scoop the dog's other toppings, allowing you to take in all flavors at once, the way these must be eaten.
But enough about instructions for how to eat a hot dog. The question everyone's come for is, are they any good?
As I was eating them, an internal ranking quickly organized: At the top, surprisingly, was the Tailgate Dog, an entrée that lives or dies by the power of the potato salad. Either it was a great day for the chef, or they're actually spending money on legit ingredients, but this was the prize of the competition. Second place went to the Fritos and chili-cheese topped option which, in reality, is just a chili-cheese dog with some extra crunch to them -- no surprises here. Third and fourth place were a toss-up, depending on how you enjoy your spice. I, myself, am man enough to admit that I am not man enough to enjoy fancifully-spiced foods, so the Doyer Dog's hot pepper mix went lower in my book than the disgustingly-named, but pretty delightful, The Heater.
Dead last, by far, was the "Big Kid" mac and cheese mess.
"All of them are selling well," said the concession worker we ordered from. "Well, except for the Big Kid Dog. People don't like that." If Darwinian forces have their way, then, this will be the first hot dog abandoned. Its loss will be grieved by none.
After eating half of each dog -- a caloric intake generally reserved for my bi-annual trips back home to Chicago -- I set them down to digest, collect my thoughts, mentally create a will, and catch some of the game.
It was a sparsely-attended affair between the Dodgers and perennially-lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. But, beyond that, I don't remember a single moment of the game -- it's kind of tough to focus on baseball when so many of your body's systems are focused on the single task of figuring out exactly what to do with the mess you just put inside of it. While my eyes were glazed over in mid-food coma, a foul ball hooked off a Dodger player's bat and rocketed towards the third base side, a few sections away.
Now, in most cases, there'd be some kind of instinctual reaction to this. While it was out of reach, there's a subconscious understanding that one needs to be ready in case an odd carom sends the ball off a seat/railing/spectator/foam finger and into your direction. As such, the short amount of time that the ball is in flight, is spent in erratic organization, finding cup-holders for beer or sturdy-seeming seats on which to balance food.
But this time, instead of worrying about any foul ball-catching procedure, I subconsciously forked at the plate to get a few more bites. This had less to do with my general loathing at food going wasted (which is more "being cheap" than "being green") and just because, well, the hot dogs tasted pretty good.
Which, I guess, is the most telling of all taste-tests: I was still eating when I didn't have to anymore.
[Photos by Ryan Kellman.]