When you order a hot dog at Stuggy's, a new restaurant on South Broadway in Fells Point, you have to ponder many options.
First there is the matter of preferred size. There are big dogs, quarter-pound, all-beef numbers, and there are smaller dogs, each a sixth of a pound and all-beef. Plus, there are bison sausage and Italian sausage options.
Next, you can declare your geographic preference.
For instance, if a boy wants to dine Baltimore-style, he tells the counterman to top his hot dog with a slice of fried bologna ($4.89).
Or if a Southern girl has a hankering for taste of Carolina, then her dog comes slathered with coleslaw ($5.29).
And if a burly guy with broad shoulders wolfs down a dog topped with corn relish, diced raw onion, tomato, grilled peppers, celery salt and a dill pickle spear ($5.99), chances are he is reliving his dog days in Chicago.
Hot dog toppings can function as edible global positioning systems.
There are myriad mustards at Stuggy's. Your choices are yellow mustard, deli mustard, spicy brown mustard, Dijon mustard, horseradish mustard and honey mustard. Who knew?
Any hot dog joint worth its buns has chili, and Stuggy's has a good one, $2.89 in a bowl, 99 cents when added to a dog. It also has its own special sauce, a mixture of Dijon mustard, horseradish and mayo that can be applied to the dog for an extra 69 cents.
It has killer fries ($1.89 for a small order), thick slices of potato with the skin on. They are dusted with corn starch, fried in soybean oil and seasoned with Old Bay and coarse salt. A good dog with hot fries makes for a good day.
On one day I was there, co-owner Ryan Perlberg and his young crew were working hard to keep up with the lunch rush. They did a pretty good job. One staffer was grilling the dogs on a flat top; others were fetching the toppings, splitting open the large potato rolls, making change for customers to feed the ravenous Fells Point parking meters, and all the while keeping up a friendly conversational patter.
"How's your day going?" Perlberg asked customers. "You guys work nearby?" he asked a trio of men. "You got the day off?" he said to another, adding, "You're a lucky fella."
As befits a quick, counter-service operation, the space is set up for speed, not lounging. The menu is written on a chalkboard. There are five stools that look out on Broadway through the glass storefront. Music from 98 Rock blares from speakers.
Perlberg is a local boy, a graduate of Boys' Latin School (Class of 2003) who formed a partnership with his father, Stuart and opened the restaurant in April . Stuggy is his father's nickname.
In a telephone interview after I visited, Perlberg told me that he makes a point of using regional suppliers. The hot dogs are ordered from Saval Foodservice in Elkridge, the Italian sausages come from Ostrowski of Bank Street and the bauernwurst comes from Binkert's in Rosedale. The potato rolls hail from Martin's in Chambersburg, Pa.
Perlberg was especially proud of the store's soda fountain. It dispenses Boylan sodas, a New Jersey product that uses cane sugar, not corn syrup, as a sweetener. Stuggy's claims to be the only soda fountain in Baltimore City dispensing Boylan products.
"Soda from a fountain is like beer from a keg," Perlberg said. "It tastes fresher."
I sipped a small cola ($1.99), and it did remind me of colas of my youth. The Chicago dog I ate had the contrast of snap of the sausage and the sweetness of the relish. It was reminiscent of the dogs I downed when I lived in the Windy City . This one, however, came with brown mustard and corn relish. The Chicago dogs I ate years ago in Hyde Park came with yellow mustard, pickle relish and hots.
On a second visit, I ate the Motor City dog ($5.29), a quarter-pound kosher dog topped with Stuggy's chili, shredded cheddar cheese and diced raw onion. It is, I was told, the most popular dog in town. I guess this means many Baltimoreans have a little Detroit in them. The combination of cheese, chili and onion was classic, but the dog could have been cooked longer .
For dessert I had the deep-fried Oreo option ($2.89), five cookies wrapped in funnel cake batter, deep-fried and sprinkled with powered sugar. It was astonishingly sweet, decadent, the kind of sugary food that you might crave after a night on the town.
Tucked into a storefront on a block of Broadway close to the water, this hot dog joint is positioned to draw tourists during the day and bar-hoppers at night.
Stuggy's is small, and friendly. The menu is limited, but be prepared to answer a lot of questions about your hot dog preferences.
Where: 809 S. Broadway
Call: 410 327- 0228
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
[Ratings: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]