When the bars close down in Capitol Hill, Belltown and Ballard, hungry drunk people march onto the hot dog stands like zombies to brains. Many of them are ordering the Seattle dog: A hot dog smeared with a healthy stripe of cream cheese and smothered with grilled onions.
“If people don’t have it [that way] they’re either not from Seattle or they’re scared,” says Don, a hot dog vender with Seattle’s Monster dogs.
I’m not a native Seattleite and I thought everyone was familiar with the Seattle dog. But a lot of my coworkers, who don’t spend many 2-in-the-mornings on Pike Street, have never heard of the culinary phenomenon. Seattle Weekly restaurant critic Hanna Raskin was curious about where this unusual dog came from, so she hit up Seattle’s hot dog carts in search of a story.
“Everyone kind of knew it had come from Pioneer Square, which was where the music scene was really focused in the mid to late 80’s. But the question was: Who was the first person who put cream cheese on a hot dog? A lot of people will tell you they are the first person who put cream cheese on a hot dog. So I heard a lot of lies and I heard a lot of folklore, trying to track down where this had come from.”
Turns out it came from 1988! Our Seattle Dog story starts with a man named Hadley Longe.
“Hadley was a bagel man. He had grown up in the Midwest and, as a little boy, Hadley dreamed of becoming a bagel man. His dream came true! He had a bagel cart and then a bagel store and then decided to head west with his bagels. The problem is, the people in Pioneer Square, who were going to these clubs, were not as infatuated with bagels as he was.”
The drunks of 1988 said they wanted hot dogs.
“He refused to carry hot dogs because he had dreamed of being the bagel man and he was the bagel man and he wouldn’t stop being the bagel man. So he put the hot dog on the bagel, or the bialy.”
This makes perfect sense! A bagel with cream cheese, transformed into a hot dog with cream cheese. Hanna says the trend took off overnight.
“The man at the bagel deli, he was stunned. Having been in the deli business for a while, to see how quickly Hadley was going through these bialy sticks.”
But the copycats had no interest in using the bialy sticks (a long, not round, version of the bialy) so they used hot dog buns and the Seattle Dog was born! I asked Hanna if the dog is known around the country.
“No, unfortunately. I think there are people in the hot dog scene who know it. I mean, if you’re really into hot dogs. Often times you will see it labeled on a menu where people just call it the Philly Dog because of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. It has nothing to do with Philadelphia, nor do the Philadelphia Cream Cheese people know anything about it. Kraft had never heard of it ’til I gave them a call.”
Lots of locals love the combination, but Monster Dog hot dog slinger, Hawk, says out-of-towners are more skeptical.
“People, for some reason, from Chicago, they don’t want to try it,” Hawk says. “I tell them ‘OK, try it for free, if you don’t like it, I’ll make you another one.’ They say, ‘No, I’m from Chicago! I’m not going to do it!’ All the time!”
Hanna Raskin is not from Chicago, but the food critic who loves most everything, doesn’t love this.
“The first time I ordered a Seattle Dog, I threw half of it away. I could not finish it and it’s rare I encounter a food that I can’t finish.”
Lucky for Hadley Longe, drunk people on the street at 2 a.m., and myself, aren’t quite so picky. Long live the Seattle Dog!
Photo courtesy Urban Spoon.