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The Dog House Rules

From kielbasa to hot links to Habanero Tequila Chicken, this Long Beach sausage shack puts the hot in hot dog

I liked the Dog House before I even bit into a single sausage there. It’s the location. I can’t picture a more apt spot for this eatery than at the corner of a busy intersection on Second Street in Long Beach, where Naples ends and Belmont Shore begins. It looks and feels like a real hot dog stand, the kind ubiquitous in New York. This one reminds me of Gray’s Papaya in particular.

As any Manhattanite will tell you, there’s nothing like the bustle of an urban setting to make a lowly hot dog extraordinary. Perhaps exhaust fumes somehow complement the smokiness of a frankfurter. Or maybe it’s the cylindrical sandwich’s inherent portability, how it fits snugly in one hand, leaving the other to hail a cab. Whatever the allure—the roar of traffic, the pitter-patter of passing pedestrians—it’s all as essential as the mustard.

The Dog House seems to recognize this. The doors are kept open to let the scene in. Through its tall windows, you can see the street and the street can see you. Inside, you will find no more than three tables. On one wall, beneath a large but hilarious mural of sausages playing poker, there’s a self-serve shelf of condiments with diced onions, relish, sport peppers and three varieties of mustard in pump-action dispensers. Next to that, a kettle warms sauerkraut, its acidity intensifying by the minute.

That better be a Chicago-style dog, dude
Kimberly Valenzuela
That better be a Chicago-style dog, dude

From a menagerie of squeeze bottles and sieved jars, you will ponder what sauce to squirt, what seasoned salt to sprinkle. Will it be celery salt for a Chicago-style dog? Do you dare slather Sriracha on the hot link? Or is it wiser to do the garlic aioli?

Sausage orders are griddled in full view by workers who flip the wieners to a crispy burnish as a Beastie Boys song thumps from a boom box. They slip the cooked sausages into sesame seed-encrusted toasted buns that are somewhere between a hoagie roll and French baguette in constitution. Moisture-proof and crispy, they are the perfect sausage-delivery device.

Finished sandwiches are wrapped loosely in butcher paper. Fries are deposited into flimsy baskets. For the $5 (pre-tax) combo meal, they add a self-serve drink. It’s a measly price to match an already-cheap sausage sandwich, which retails for $3 by itself.

While there are others to chose from, the fries are what almost everyone opts for as a side, and they’re excellent. Battered in a mahogany coat of crunch, these are the same fried spuds that are served next door at Barry’s Beach Shack, a boozy burger bar and the Dog House’s parent company. The chili is also simmered from the shared kitchen, full of beans, meat and vigor.

I prefer the homemade coleslaw, even though it’s routinely drenched with so much dressing it looks like chowder. It’s the coleslaw’s julienned green apples I cherish most. Sometimes the apple-to-cabbage ratio is so high that the concoction qualifies as a fruit salad.

You’ll need that cooling reprieve after you sink your chompers into the smoked hot link. The first spicy spurt of its salty juices will burn a path to your throat—and then your sinuses. On second thought, forget what I said before: Don’t put Sriracha on this one.

In fact, hold back on any sort of hot sauce for other sausages labeled spicy. Though the Habanero Tequila Chicken is actually milder than the Smoked Hot Link, the heat slowly builds to scorching level by the time you get to the last morsel. The Portuguese linguica is kinder still, relying on hints of cloves and coriander to tickle your palate, but it’s also one of the drier sausages here.

Conversely, the Kielbasa Polish is bold, spicy and rich. This sausage is also the most texturally assertive. It’s one of a few that uses a crunchy natural casing, which requires considerable force to pierce. When you hear a snap, you’re in. Look at the cross-section where you’ve bitten, and you’ll see it’s pockmarked with jewels of white fat, the surest sign of a good sausage.

There are still others to consider—a total of a dozen, which includes a long, thin Kosher-style frank that hardly anyone orders; an Italian sausage studded with spice pods; and a bratwurst worthy of beer. The best sellers, as your counterman will tell you, are the Smoked Chicken Apple and the Honey Apple, with pork subbing for poultry in the latter. Both are sweet and evocative of the fruit, even if you don’t really taste it immediately.

For the hoity-toity gourmet who wants a hoity-toity sandwich, a Spinach & Asiago Sausage sounds a lot better said than tasted. It’s the closest to vegetarian without resorting to the misplaced veganism of the Veggie Sausage. But even that one tastes decent when you eat it in view of the street scene outside. I’m telling you: This is the natural environment for hot dogs, and at the Dog House, you’re at home.

The Dog House, 5374 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 433-4544. Sausage sandwiches, $3 each. Open Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight; Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

 
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