Among their myriad gifts to civilization, ancient Romans are given credit for such things as aqueducts, domed ceilings, indoor plumbing and concrete, but nary do the texts mention that they conceptualized the first "hot dog."
Bear with Munchus Minimus -- who would've been close buddies with ol' Bacchus -- on this convoluted leap of logic. According to astronomical and linguistic lore (and Wikipedia), we credit the Romans for describing the uncomfortably warm, late summer days as the "dog days" of summer -- a reference to Sirius, the "dog star."
The 1813 publication Brady's Clavis Calendarium states the dog days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies" (oddly, the same happens here after every Pirates game, but that's another story). The Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the dog days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.
Call that poor furball the first "hot dog."
And while this introduction reads like Ron Burgundy's history of San Diego, it is indisputable that we Americans mastered what is now known as the hot dog, and annually "sacrifice" millions to appease the rage of our stomachs during the hottest months of summer.
So, if you are going to engage in said summer sacrifice, go no farther than Dormont (Latin for "too many red lights on West Liberty Avenue") to the excellent Dormont Dogs, the brainchild of gourmet chef Captain Barnes, he of Sonoma Grill fame, and his wife Rachel.
It's fitting that the man's culinary chops are in American fusion and the Barneses certainly add fusion to their Sabrett frankfurters via memorable concoctions christened for the borough's state-named streets, and with slight homage paid to the states themselves.
For instance, the Wisconsin Ave. Dog is a four-cheese monster covered with Swiss, pepperjack, cheddar and provolone; the Louisiana Ave. Dog is made with Louisiana Hot Sauce and Cajun coleslaw; naturally the Texas Ave. Dog is slathered in chili, cheddar, sour cream and Fritos; and the Illinois Ave. Dog nods at a Chicago-style dog with the requisite tomato, pickle, sport peppers, onions, brown mustard, celery salt and poppy seeds.
None of the 17 hot dogs on the menu costs more than $3.25, and in good "eat local" fashion, all of the buns are baked fresh daily at nearby Kribel's Bakery in Brookline. The unassuming little side street shop harkens to those great little community lunch counters and soda fountains that every neighborhood used to have. But the neighborhood is not only reflected in the establishment's name and menu, but its denizens literally line the walls at Dormont Dogs. Some places have autographed photos of celebrities who have graced the establishment. Dormont Dogs instead has autographed pictures of its regular customers.
Munch, with Little Brother of Munch (LBOM) in tow, inhaled the Tennessee Ave. Dog, a spicy sweet number made with BBQ sauce, pepperjack and onion rings, then met his wiener waterloo via the Parking Ticket: a mastodonically massive dog assembled with bacon, chili, banana peppers, BBQ sauce, and pepperjack.
Munch became light-headed. Munch got the meat sweats. Munch floated above the brown-bagged body for a moment. It was religious. It was that good. That intense. Like a Kennywood ride, it is not meant for small children, pregnant women, the elderly, those with heart, back or neck conditions or those shorter than Jeeters. Tagamet sold separately.
Meanwhile LBOM, beefing up for a season as the starting nose tackle for the Carrick Raiders, did yeoman's work on the Pizza Dog (marinara, pepperoni, mozzarella) and the Arkansas Ave. Dog (bacon, cheddar, horseradish sauce and scallions) along with a fresh-squeezed lemonade ($1.75). Based on his gratified gaze and gorged gullet, City League centers are going to have to push a few more pounds around this fall.
Not content to merely maim the blood sugar level, Munch sucked down a delicious chocolate shake for dessert ($3) while LBOM looked on in awe that one human could eat so much.
Some day, kid, some day.
Dormont Dogs is at 2911 Glenmore Ave., Dormont; 412-343-0234.