One of the biggest misconceptions about New York City dining is that it's expensive. While it's true that classy joints like the Russian Tea Room could set you back to the last recession, if you keep it simple and "of the people," you can easily keep a little of that jingle in your jeans. The trick is to eat where the locals eat -- that would be delis and street vendors. And no street vendor is more ubiquitous on the streets of NYC than the hot dog guy, the wiener man, the sausage pimp, serving up warm franks of various shapes, sizes and flavors in a warm bun with all the trimmings. All for a little more than bus fare.
Out here on the Western frontier, street vendors have finally taken their rightful places on the street corners of major metropolises and Spokane (OK "metropolis" might be stretching it a bit) is no exception.
You may have noticed that there are two such hot dog carts positioned daily along Riverside Ave. The first is on the corner at Lincoln just east of the Post Office, and is operated by entrepreneur Lance Goffin & eacute;. This guy has gone to extreme (and much appreciated) lengths to re-create the NYC hot dog cart experience. He features the very same dogs, condiments -- even chips and sodas -- you would find on the streets of Manhattan. The way he serves them up is oh-so-authentic as well. Unfortunately, Spokanites will have to hurry to sample Goffin & eacute;'s unique wares, as he reports that he will be forced to close down very soon due to slow sales. Get in on it while you can. It's worth it.
The smiling face behind the hot dog cart on the northeast corner of Howard and Riverside (in front of the Bank of America) belongs to Chad Rattray. For the past year, he has been a familiar sight on this spot of prime downtown real estate, fueling time-crunched business types with a modestly priced assortment of sausages in buns. He is the cart owner and sole proprietor of "Cheddar Chad's" (it says so on his business license). "This is the whole operation," he says of his washing machine-sized steel cart. "Everything."
Although his cart contains no actual cheese, Rattray gets points right off the top for consistency. He's probably more reliable than your letter carrier.
"I only missed a couple of days in April due to the rain," he says. "I really lucked out with the mild weather. It was a little slow sometimes, but I was always here. Hopefully I'll do well enough this summer to survive if we get a real winter this year."
While lacking any detectable unifying product theme (i.e., all-beef, authentic New York-style, etc.) Rattray's product line features local products whenever possible. "Pretty much everything here is local stuff," he says. "The German sausages come from the Longhorn, and the jumbos are from Sonnenberg's."
This really is lunch on the cheap. The popular Dollar Dog is just that. The Jumbo and the Polish sausage are just a dollar more. The smoked sausage is the priciest at a exorbitant $3. Add a bag of chips and a can of soda to any dog for a buck. Chips and soda a la carte are 75 cents each.
We bellied up to the cart and arranged for a German sausage ($2.50) with sauerkraut, onions and self-applied sweet hot mustard, along with a Dollar Dog loaded with onions, relish and yellow mustard (plus chips and a pop, all for $2). The cart is tidy and the service was brisk and friendly, even with a substantial noontime crowd standing by. Our tab for two, then, was a whopping $5.50.
The Dollar Dog was pretty much what we expected: a standard-sized nondescript white bread bun wrapped around a standard-sized nondescript steamed wiener, all in a little cardboard boat. What can you say? Standard wieners are pretty tasteless -- it's really about the condiments, and these were fresh, cool and crunchy (the onions were raw and diced). With the chips and soda, it made for a satisfying and incredibly inexpensive lunch.
The German sausage, on the other hand, had a lot more going for it. This big red dog had some bite, and our condiments turned out to be well-chosen, adding the perfect tangy foil to the smoky, savory complexion of the meat. The bun (a higher quality sandwich roll) held up nicely under the load. My only complaint was that it was a little on the dry side. (In fairness, keeping bread on an open-air stand from drying out is, I'm sure, a constant struggle.)
Cheddar Chad Rattray is downtown every weekday, doing his part to keep Spokane's urban center vibrant and well-fed.
"It's my quest to single-handedly revive the downtown core," he quips.