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Hot dog sales remain Top: The menu at Charlie Graingers. Bottom: Max Hildreth serves up hot dogs from the concession stand at Buck Hardee Field. strong, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says, with more than $2.5 billion in retail sales last year. But with an increased emphasis on healthy living in America, hot dog makers have been forced to reformu-late their recipes to reduce levels of fat and sodium. Now, nitrate-free, all beef, high-protein, and even organic, gluten-free and vegetarian options can make hot dogs a relatively nutritious choice. “People are looking for a fast, fresh value,” says Nista, who is preparing for a massive Charlie Graingers fran-chise expansion. The restaurant, which opened its first store in Wilmington a few years ago, will soon grow to more than 50 locations across the East Coast. “Honestly, we don’t think there are any trends in what we do. We’re just serving classic American food the way it’s always been served in the South.” The simplicity and popularity of the good ol’ hot dog also allowed Wrightsville Beach staple the Trolly Stop to grow. Rick Coombs, the third owner of the restaurant that was born in 1976 as Station 1 because it was located on the first stop on the old beach car line in Wrightsville Beach, added locations in Wilmington, Southport, Chapel Hill and Boone. What goes on the hot dog has always been just as important as the dog itself. Since the time when German immigrants first sold them with sauerkraut, people from every region have taken the hot dog and put their own twist on it. It started out as a way to stay ahead of the competition. Vendors from differ-ent cities would create new and inventive topping combinations to make their dogs stand out and attract customers. In Detroit they dressed their sausages with a chili-like Coney Sauce, and in Chicago, dogs were basically crafted with a salad on top. These days there is no limit to what a topping can be, or how many can be crammed into the bun alongside the sausage. At Charlie Graingers, they top their Trail’s End dog with the usual mustard, chili and coleslaw, but then they build it up even higher with their signature beef brisket and barbecue sauce. They finish it off with a few pickles and an okra spear. The result is messy, with brisket and chili spilling from the bun, but undeniably delicious. 92 WBM july 2016 Lanes Ferry Dock & Grill in Rocky Point offers the River Dog, which comes with onions, chili and slaw, and the Famous (or infamous) Mac Attack, which is wrapped in bacon and dropped into the fryer. “I put it in the deep fryer and get the bacon nice and crispy,” says owner and chief cook Larry “Big Mac” McManus. Lanes Ferry tends to serve a few more of the River Dogs. “A lot of people see the bacon on the Mac Attack and think it’s a heart attack on a bun,” McManus says with a laugh. At the Trolly Stop, they serve up their popular Wrightsville Beach dog a little simpler, filling the buns with deli mus-tard, chopped onions, tomatoes and a signature chili-based sauce that’s a closely held secret. “Our secret recipe chili is tangy and has some horseradish in it,” Coombs says. “I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you.” At Sam’s Hot Dog Stand in Wilmington, they dial up the heat with their Atomic Dog, which combines a spicy version of their secret chili with mustard, ketchup, onions, cheese and cracked pepper. They top it all off with a row of jalapeños. It’s a fiery take on the classic. “Hot dogs are all about personal taste,” Hissam says. “Our most popular ones are probably the Straight-Up and All-The-Way dogs, which are topped with mustard, fresh cut onions, coleslaw and chili. We let our customers build their own dogs, but once they try Sam’s secret chili, they usually stick with it on future orders.” Buck Hardee Field AT LEGION STADIUM savor


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