When it comes to writing food reviews my hero is the late, and much missed, AA Gill who wrote for the Sunday Times. He had a wonderful style which influenced the way in which I bang out my rubbish, and a knowledge on the subject to which I could not even begin to aspire. Having nicked his modus operandi I thought that I would plagiarise an observation he made after reviewing a hot dog restaurant in London he found to be pretentiously upmarket and expensive.
The venerable Mr Gill pointed out that hot dogs are working class cheap and cheerful food which should be confined to football games, street vendors and the seaside. On this last point, he mentioned Nathan’s by the Boardwalk on Coney Island, Brooklyn which is also the home of the World Hot Dog Eating Competition. This is held on 4th July each year and the object is to down as many hot dogs, including buns, as possible in the space of 10 minutes. The men’s record was set in 2020 by a chap called Joey Chestnut who managed 75 – yes – 75. I am sure that his table manners were impeccable. The women’s champion also set a new record this year at the rather more sedate pace of 48.5 hot dogs in the allotted 10 minutes.
I have had the experience of sampling a hot dog at Nathan’s on Coney Island and I must say that it was truly awful. No, that is not correct. Strictly speaking something with absolutely no taste at all cannot be described as awful. It is no wonder that they eat them as quickly as possible; they are not to be savoured. Fortunately, Fat Annie’s leaves Nathan’s miles back in its dust.
Let’s face it, the main ingredient of a hot dog is the sausage, it doesn’t matter what you top it with or slather on as a dressing, if the sausage is no good then the whole thing is a waste of time. Fat Annie’s use specially made sausages which are unique to them and contain only prime cuts of pork and beef and are 95% meat, the rest being made up with spices and a little water. There are also vegan versions so don’t feel left out if you are a non-meat eater. Even the casings are natural. When taking so much care with the star of the show, the supporting act, literally, in the bread is also made by their local artisan baker.
Once again I was fortunate enough to have company for lunch and we each had a different item from the menu. She chose The Classic, a straight hot dog with either grilled or crispy onions, whilst I opted for The Annie Mac which is topped with house pickle, American cheese, secret sauce and crispy onions. We shared a portion of fries and I had a Blood Orange San Pellegrino to drink.
The prices are pretty good normally but there is a lunch deal whereby you get a Classic and Fries for £5. My loaded Annie Mac was £6 and worth every penny.
By the way, my regular reader will know how much I like a good pun, or even a bad one, well there is a version with toppings which include sea salt crisps called Seabrooks In Seattle, and another Asian inspired one for Breaking Bad fans with the moniker Seoul Good Man.
The sausages were absolutely amazing and surprisingly easy to eat without dripping the secret sauce down my shirt but we had been brought a plentiful supply of napkins just in case. Although there was a kick of spice in the hot dog it wasn’t overwhelming as that would have been an insult to the meat which wasn’t minced to a paste as with shop bought Frankfurters, but still had some body to it and was chewy without being tough. It was also remarkably juicy which gave a great textural contrast to the crispy onions, the creamy sauce and the soft bread.
The bun was obviously baked specially to be used in making hot dogs as it had a wide, flat base which enabled it to be put down without rolling over as happens with both bridge rolls and baguettes. This meant that the toppings were not unceremoniously dumped onto the paper on which it was served every time you wanted to wipe your mouth or take a drink. I would have added ‘or talk’ but the hot dogs were so delicious we just went ahead and enjoyed them without much conversation. The fries still had their skin on and were, as you would expect, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle with a hit of seasoning for good measure.
Fat Annie’s is in the food hall at the bottom end of Leeds Kirkgate Market but the seating was arranged to cater for social distancing and situated at the back of the stall. You place your order at the front and it is delivered when ready. The chap who brought us our food was called Rick, an extremely efficient and pleasant chap with banter which added to the experience. Should you not be able to make it to the market they do have a presence at various street food events so keep your eyes open for the mobile version. That should please Mr Gill.
Sadly we didn’t get to meet Fat Annie, so we had to make do with Skinny Rick. My theory is that she is practising for next year’s World Hot Dog Competition, and if she is, might I make so bold as to give her a word of advice. Forget it – sorry, that’s two words. You would be far better taking your time savouring the wonderful version which you produce rather than trying to force 49 of Nathan’s tasteless concoctions down your gob in 10 minutes. There are some records that are not worth breaking.
All photographs by Stan Graham