Hot dogs are as deeply rooted in Birmingham’s culinary history as barbecue and biscuits. Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs was a local institution in our city for 63 years, drawing loyal locals as well as visitors from across the country for generations and proving that his famous franks lived up to their name. Gus Koutroulakis, owner of Pete’s Famous, died in 2011, leaving an empty storefront and a hole in the hearts of Birmingham’s hot dog connoisseurs. But leave it to local culinary creative Tom Bagby to fill that hole and make things right in the world, once again. Throw in Paget Pizitz, co-owner of MELT and Fancy’s on 5th, and you have the perfect combination of flavor and success.
Hot Diggity Dogs, the latest restaurant concept for Paget, was originally to serve as a “cover” for The Marble Ring, her speakeasy, upstairs from Fancy’s on 5th in Avondale. But Paget wanted this “cover” business to function as a real restaurant and hot dogs were just the thing to attract the locals and bring back a piece of Magic City history.
“If there is one thing I know Birmingham loves, it’s a damn hot dog,” Paget says. “It’s something people talk about like the weather or current events.”
Paget pitched the idea to Tom who was busy cooking up award-winning dishes for Bottletree Cafe and he jumped on it. Tom, a self-professed hot dog connoisseur, claims that a Special Dog with mayo from Sam’s Super Samwiches in Homewood is the perfect way to satisfy a dog craving. But Hot Diggity Dogs is serving up much more creative options than your run-of-the-mill ketchup and mustard.
“I love making up new menus and playing with flavors,” says Tom. “It’s like working a jigsaw puzzle sometimes. Other times, it just falls in your lap because it’s so obvious and you have to laugh at yourself for not thinking of it sooner.”
This menu is as clever as it is global. In true Tom Bagby fashion, each dog on the menu serves to represent a different culture, such as the Oh Canadog!, which mimics Canada’s famous poutine dish and is loaded with fries, gravy, cheese and onions. Or try the Waimea Dog, with Spam, pineapple relish and Sriracha mayo. Pair those crazy combinations with a 1920s-style speakeasy and you have a hot dog experience that outdoes your ordinary ball park or backyard barbecue.
Tom’s favorite menu item is the Sayonara dog, piled high with Surimi crab salad, pickled ginger and seaweed relish. He realizes that these hot dogs appeal to the adventurous epicures so the eatery also offers traditional-style hot dogs, a build-your-own hot dog and, of course, vegan options — after all, Tom is best known for his creative spins on meatless cuisine.
Top your dog of choice with vegan chili or meat chili and add a side of fries, tater tots or pork skins. Or enjoy a more substantial side of poutine, chili-cheese tots or pork skin nachos. For lighter fare, try the tuna salad plate or the goat cheese, apple and onion salad.
Paget attributes the high-quality 100% kosher beef dogs, unique ingredients and Tom’s love of hot dogs to the success of the hot dog joint. “The love Tom Bagby feels for a hot dog — seriously, the man thinks in terms of hot dog combinations,” Paget says. “With that kind of love being put into the food, it has to be delicious.”
Hot Diggity Dogs is above Fancy’s on 5th in a laid-back space with exposed brick, views of Avondale Park and creaky wooden floors that give a nod to the history of the area. The eatery will be treating Avondale to all sorts of tantalizing aromas each day before turning into a hip drinking hideout at night. Both Tom and Paget believe this hot corner at the entrance of Avondale is the perfect spot for this funky dining concept.
“It’s the best neighborhood in town. I live here, work here and play here. Honestly, I want folks to be proud to live here,” Paget says. “When I moved back home after being in New York City for many years, all I could think about was how much I wanted to leave. Now, I can’t imagine calling any other place home. If we can make folks here and elsewhere see and feel that then my job is accomplished.”
As for Tom, he’s serving up hot dogs that might one day be just as famous as Pete’s but for the time being, his happy, full-bellied customers are simply saying, “Hot Diggity Dog!”
Hot Diggity Dogs is located in Avondale at 430 41st St. S., Suite B, Birmingham, AL 35222. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. To learn more, call (205) 202-2363 or visit Hot Diggity Dogs’ Facebook page.
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