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Battle of the Footlongs

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In New York City and Chicago, there are hot dog carts on every corner. Philly is home to the Pastrami Dog. Nathan's boasts the famed footlong frank. Hot dogs are everywhere on the East Coast, in all styles and sizes.

It's a little more difficult to track down a footlong here in the Valley, but we were tipped off about two Tempe hotspots offering their version of the Coney Island classic. In this week's Battle of the Dishes, we see how these big dogs measure up.

In One Corner: Dave's Doghouse
130 E. University Dr., Tempe
480-967-DOGS

We remember walking over to Dave's while attending ASU way back when. This popular college hangout is a small, eat-at-the-counter-joint that's the last remaining tenant in the small brick building across from The Chuck Box. It's a cute place, especially considering the crumbling, boarded-up building looks like it ought to be condemned any minute now. Good thing they're moving onto campus in early 2010.

The kitchen is set in the middle of the restaurant, flanked by a row of stainless steel bar stools overlooking the prep area. The tables are also stainless, giving them a crisp, clean look even after years of abuse. Oh-so-clever signs on the rustic wood plank walls say things like, "In August, if something smells funny it's probably you."

When we received a tip from a friend about Dave's Devil Dog, we had no idea what we were signing up for. Apparently, twelve dollars and one full pound of beef.

"You've got to be kidding me," exclaimed our dining companion. "This thing is bigger than a baby's arm." We snickered at that one.

But he wasn't kidding. The monstrous Devil Dog measured at sixteen inches long and about five inches in circumference. This thing was a beast. Finish it by yourself and you'll score a free Dave's Devil Dog Challenge t-shirt (we were disqualified for sharing). Juice squirted out as we bit into the crispy charred skin of the huge dog.

The beef was tender and spicy, more like a good kielbasa than a traditional dog. "Very flavorful," said my companion. "The combination of spices makes it taste almost like sausage." The charred skin on the outside of the dog was also tasty, but there was a thick, tough layer of skin underneath that we could've done without. The toasted garlic bread bun was delicious.

The best thing about the Devil Dog is that it's really about four meals in one. For $12, it'd better be. The downside is clearly the price. Even for a pound of beef, that seems extreme. Plus, the sign on the wall advertises that it comes with fries -- but our dog arrived sans frites.

In The Other Corner: Ted's Hot Dogs
1755 E. Broadway Rd. in Tempe
480-968-6678

It seems unfair to compare a standard footlong against Dave's Devil Dog -- kind of like matching a lightweight with a 300-pounder -- but it's not like there was another 16-inch dog in town. So we wiped the mental slate clean and headed over to Ted's, a chain based in upstate

New York. Ted's is a Coney Island style dog shack down to its bones. The slump block building boasts patio tables with yellow and brown striped umbrellas and awnings. 

Inside, formica tables, '70s style wood-paneled walls and historic photos from back east give transplants the whiff of nostalgia they crave. It's like they boxed our childhood up and crated it to Arizona just for us. There's always a huge line to order dogs and burgers cooked on a charcoal grill.

We tried to put the image of the Devil Dog out of our heads as our footlong arrived, just shy of 11 inches and very pale, served on a store-bought white bun. Sigh. While Ted's does offer a regular size all beef hot dog, the footlong is the traditional beef/pork/mystery meat combo just like we had back home. Ted's also offers cheese on their dogs, something we couldn't pass up (even it it was the liquid kind).

"MMM...kind of bland, but still tasty," said the friend and fellow East Coaster we'd brought along. "Very similar to the dogs we grilled in the backyard when I was a kid."

The meat was extremely smooth, and not as flavorful as their regular all-beef version. Combo meat dogs always pale (literally!) in comparison to all-beef, but this one could've benefited from a few more spices to make up the difference.

Once we slathered on relish, ketchup and mustard atop the cheese, the flavor improved immensely. Perhaps that's what they're counting on. Kudos to Ted's for using a charcoal grill vs. basically frying the dog on a traditional fast food griddle. The charcoal added the smoky, grilled flavor we associate with backyard barbeques.

In Ted's defense, this was a $3.50 dog as compared to a $12 giant frank. And this was definitely the dog of our childhood. 

The Weiner, er, Winner: We'll call this one a DRAW because we appreciate nostalgia -- and it's hard to stomach paying $12 for a hot dog no matter how big and beefy it is.  

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