This article is dedicated to those who can make it through the traffic on I-75 to the Varsity in Hot Lanta or the new location of Miss (Willie May Griffin Hawkins) Griffin’s Foot Long Hot Dogs formerly on the side venue of Main Street and Central Avenue in Choo Choo City prior to its exile to the Eastgate Shopping Center off beautiful Brainerd Road.
In Lewis Grizzard’s (LG) “Chili Dogs Always Bark at Night” (1989- Villard Books) he shares his culinary addiction to the gourmet wiener delight.
His fascination with the product of the world famous delicacy developed at the early age of twelve. It would continue through three unsuccessful marriages, three aortic heart valve operations, comparisons with Mark Twain as a Southern humorist, and an early death at the premature age of 47.
In his own words are the uncensored remarks in an article “My Dogged Addiction”:
“If you're addicted to drugs or alcohol, you can go some- place like the Betty Ford Clinic and get help.
But where do you go if you're addicted to chili dogs? Yes, chili dogs. Those wonderful hot dogs with lots of chili on them and mustard and onions on the chili that the mere mention of which makes my mouth water, my heart rate speed up, and my stomach literally beg to be fed as many of these delights as it can hold.
I had my first chili dog when I was twelve. My father took me to Atlanta's legendary Varsity, the world's largest outdoor drive-in. My father ordered me a chili dog, I took the first bite of it, and I was hooked.
During my three years in exile in Chicago, I formulated a scheme to get chili dogs from the Varsity delivered to me. I started dating a girl I met on a trip back home to Atlanta. Every other week I would fly her to Chicago.
"And would you mind," I would ask, "stopping by the Varsity on your way to the airport and bringing me fourteen dozen chili dogs." Later, it became clearly evident to the young lady that I looked forward to the chili dogs more than I looked forward to seeing her.
"It's me or the chili dogs," she eventually said. I often wonder what ever happened to her.
I had heart surgery in 1982The doctors said I could have anything I wanted to eat for my pre-operation dinner. I sent for Varsity chili dogs. Had I died under the knife the next day, at least I would have had a satisfying last meal.
For years I've tried to decide why Varsity chili dogs remain the best I've ever eaten. The hot dogs are good and so is the chili, but it's the buns that really do it. The Varsity, somebody was telling me, steams its bunsThere's nothing better than a steamy bun.
But I must admit my chili dog addiction is becoming a problem.
I can't eat them like I used to and not pay a painful price. The other night, for instance, I went to the Varsity and had three chili dogs with mustard and raw onions. I also had an order of french fries and I topped that off with a Varsity fried apple pie with ice cream on it
I went to bed at eleven. The chili dogs hit at about two.
My stomach felt like I had eaten a large box of nails. It made strange sounds like goooorp! and brriiip! I got out of bed, took six Rolaids, two Alka-Seltzers and drank a six-pack of Maalox. Nothing helped.
I'll never eat another chili dog, I said to myself. Those addicted to any substance often say things like that, but they rarely stick to it.
I know I'll be back at the Varsity soon, woofing down chili dogs. And, later, the agony and the goooorfs and brriiips will be back.
My stomach and I simply will have to learn to live with a certain fact.
That is, chili dogs always bark at night.”
(One of LG’s biggest regrets was that he never came to Southeast Tennessee to dine on a Krystal hamburger!)
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You can reach Jerry Summers at email@example.com