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Hot diggety dog, y’all!

Cal Bryant’s column from earlier this week on the art of eating grits happened to bring to mind some of the great delicacies that have crossed my own palate.

No, we’re not talking about maple syrup on cauliflower or adding crushed black pepper to my oatmeal, but rather some really mundane and, to me, ordinary pearls that have appeared on my plate.

I’m going to start with how I became familiar with one of the more interesting ‘foods of the gods’: The John’s Island hot dog.

First, though, you have to understand my affection for these beef-and-pork sausages, or frankfurters, squeezed into an oblong, split-bread bun. The secret isn’t so much the meat and bread itself as much as the condiments that are added to enhance the overall culinary experience.

And what do people slather on their hot dogs? Just about everything you can imagine. Usually it’s ketchup, mustard, pickle, chili, slaw, melted cheese, bacon bits, jalapeno peppers, sauerkraut, and mayonnaise.

Add to that, there were many years of living down on the coast in Wilmington, which I once believed was the hot dog capital of America. One eatery boasts 11 varieties of hot dog. That’s because down there, people put some of everything on a hot dog short of rhinestones or dumping on everything in the garbage can.

But, back to the topic at hand, for you unskilled eaters out there, let me give you the secret of the John’s Island hot dog, or JIHD, for short. It consists of your typical hot dog with flavor enhancers of onions, mayo, and, peanut butter. Forget the tame stuff, this will be a really adventurous Anthony Bourdain-type experience.

But before going any further, I must confess, eating them with any consistency is truly an acquired taste (pun intended!). This, I can relate from experience!

Let me begin with how JIHD’s and I first became acquainted; it was on a lunchtime visit to a Wilmington eatery called J. Michael’s Philly Deli. As the name implies, their specialty is Philadelphia cheesesteaks.

  1. Michael Hutson, the co-founder of the restaurant – and a native of the Palmetto state – grew up on John’s Island, which is one of the seemingly archipelago of islands surrounding Charleston, SC. “Mike”, as I came to know him, is a peanut butter aficionado.

“This hot dog is strictly J. Michael’s invention,” his former restaurant manager, Cheryl Sealy once confessed to the Wilmington Star-News. “He eats peanut butter on everything.”

“We have people who’ll just go ‘yuck’ when they see it on the menu,” said Ms. Sealey, imitating someone wrinkling his or her nose. “But when they taste it, they’ll love it.”

Good thing that wasn’t an iron-clad, lead-pipe promise.

Here’s how the typical first experience went for me at the restaurant when I called over the waitress and pointed it out on the menu ….

“Ma’am, can you tell about this John’s Island hot dog?”

“Uhm…I can tell you that I wouldn’t eat it.”

“Oh, why!?!”

“Just taste it, sir.”

So, adventurous me thinks, it must be worth the experience. Okay, lady, bring it on.

“Set me up, ma’am. I have to try one.”

“You’ll probably need another, uhm, ‘beverage’ to wash it down with.”

My order arrived, and the first bite was, let’s just say, ‘texturally interesting’. What I hadn’t expected was for the peanut butter to be so hot, gooey and pretty much overwhelm the onions, the mayo, and any other nutritional nitrites in the dog. But by the end, as by now, a group of nearly a dozen patrons were by now glancing askew at me from their dining tables. While the taste was, well, pretty dang nasty, the ‘beverage’ made this inaugural experience tolerable.

I guess I forgot how peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth, among other places.

I won’t say the Roanoke-Chowan needs to be introduced to the JIHD, but for any of you venture capital entrepreneurs out there, keep in mind, this area does have a lot of ….. peanuts!

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or by calling 252-332-7211.