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A taste of childhood: Nothing says summer like baseball and a real ‘dog

SANTA FE, N.M. — “Take me out to the ball game / take me out to the crowd / buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack … .”

And so the song goes, and so it’s officially summer! And even though the Stanley Cup Finals are in full swing (the NBA, like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, just never stops), it’s time for America’s Pastime.

No, not Fantasy League Football. Baseball!! Beisebol!!

The power of memory and ritual kicks in, and what do summer and baseball and the ballpark mean? That’s right, a ‘dog and a brewski. Make that two ‘dogs, with everything. (Peanuts and Crackerjack is for the birds, and the kids.)

The great, big Southern writer Thomas Wolfe (not Tom Wolfe, R.I.P.) famously and incorrectly wrote, “You can’t go home again.” But of course you can, and sometimes it’s better the second time around. And for me, a ‘dog and a brew at the ballpark are the quickest ticket back to childhood, youth and “home.”

(And speaking of the South – WARNING! Major name-drop alert! I once shared ‘dogs and brews with the great Civil War historian Shelby Foote at a Memphis Chicks ballgame and never thought I’d be able slip that personal recollection into a restaurant review. But we digest … )

The humble hot dog conjures a lot of memory (Chicago’s Comiskey Park, that cart down by the river near Michigan Ave.); inspiration (check out YouTube for Buck Owens’ rockin’ ode to the wiener sandwich, “Hot Dog”); and opprobrium (“Do you know what’s in that?” “No, it’s what’s on it that counts!”)

We could go on about the lowly ‘dog, and have. But all this is by way of saying that in honor of summer and Memorial Day just past, we stopped by Chicago Dog Express at the Southwest corner of Paseo de Peralta and Cerrillos Road for a little comfort food.

The hot dog, from the German frankfurter, is basically a sausage on a roll. A Chicago Style Hot Dog is a very specific specimen of ‘dog with rituals and rules as precise and unwavering as a Japanese tea ceremony.

I watched the young lady behind the counter at Chicago Dog Express the other day as she prepared my Chicago Dog, regular size with regular toppings ($5.20 after taxes) and she observed the requirements religiously.

Chicago Dog Express uses Vienna pure beef hot dogs. (They’re “the official hot dog of the Chicago Cubs,” proclaims the sign. Sorry, White Sox fan here – see Comiskey Park reference above.) As instructed, the ‘dogs are never boiled, but slowly simmered using steam heat.

Now the important part – administering the condiments IN THE PROPER ORDER and always onto the ‘dog, NEVER on the poppy seed bun.

Mindy, the manager of Chicago Dog Express, assured me that everyone there knows the orthodoxy!

Here are the toppings, as properly applied in steps from beginning to end:

1. Yellow mustard

2. Bright “neon” green relish

3. Fresh chopped onions

4. Two tomato wedges

5. A pickle spear or slice

6. Two sport peppers

7. A dash of celery salt

In a little twist, and a venial sin, Chicago Dog adds cucumbers.

But we also must admit to committing two of our own absolutely heretical substitutions.

We have never relished relish (too sweet) and so we get green chile instead. And – and this is very difficult for us to admit, but we must – we request KETCHUP! And they always give us a funny look as we whisper, urgently, “Do it. Just do it !” And then they do.)

The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, in its recommendations for proper Hot Dog Etiquette, states, “Don’t use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.”

As I said, for a quick trip to childhood, Chicago Dog Express.