For this week's cover story, I traced the history of the Seattle dog back to its invention in Pioneer Square. Incredibly, the tale of how Seattle eaters developed a fondness for cream cheese on their hot dogs had been lost over the span of just two decades. But the previously unsolved mysteries surrounding the snack haven't prevented it from becoming hugely popular. Over the next few days, Voracious will look at off-the-street versions of the dish made famous by late-night cart operators.
For Summer Dog, the floating hot dog cart which last month debuted on Lake Union, cream cheese is a "deal maker."
"People yell it as they're cruising by," says co-owner Emma Schwartzman, who's identified in press materials as the operations "condiment queen." "DO YOU HAVE ANY CREAM CHEESE? We say yeah, and they pull over."
Although Schwartzman says the health department wasn't thrilled when it learned Summer Dog planned to make like every terrestrial cart in Seattle and put cream cheese on its menu, the condiment sends a message to prospective patrons.
"It's an indicator of what kind of hot dog we have," Schwartzman says. "It's like 'are these little Oscar Mayer dogs, or is this a full hot dog experience?'"
From the moment they decided to invest in a grill, Schwartzman and Chris Rice knew they'd stock cream cheese. "People were like, 'you're going to have cream cheese, right?'," Schwartzman says of friends who worried a condiment oversight could sink the Ethan Stowell Restaurants vets' plan to sell $6 dogs to Lake Union and Lake Washington boaters. "There's a regional pride associated with the choice."
Rowers, kayakers and yachters who dock alongside Summer Dog's buoy without first inquiring about cream cheese availability are always elated to find it on the topping list, Schwartzman says.
"Sometimes people will be ordering, and you see it register on their face," she says. "They freak out."
Schwartzman and Rice haven't noticed any correlation between cream cheese preference and watercraft type, but - just as on land - the condiment is most popular with Gen X hot dog fans.
"Lots of older people want the classic dog because they weren't out in bars in Seattle in the 90s," Schwartzman says. "People are like, 'no way, I'm a classicist,' and then their companions are like, 'you've got to try it. I'll buy it for you.'"
Summer Dog will keep serving dogs on sunny weekends and especially hot weekdays through the end of September. Schedule updates are posted here.