There isn't a review in this week's paper, since we turned over the food section to the talented poets who generously helped us celebrate local produce this summer, but we've got another food story with plenty of back story worth recounting here.
While I've had my share of incredible food in Seattle, very few of the dishes have been completely and totally new to me. Although it might have been ill-advised, I've eaten geoduck, spot prawns, fiddlehead ferns and blackberries elsewhere. But until I moved here, I'd never considered putting cream cheese on my hot dog. Like most people unfamiliar with the concept, I thought the Seattle dog was a bad joke.
What prompted me to think harder about the Seattle dog was a Stranger interview with Otmane Bezzaz, who told the paper he'd invented the now iconic preparation. I've dabbled in food history for years, and know it's remarkably rare to be able to pinpoint the progenitor of a folk eating trend. The trusted online food history site The Food Timeline is rife with disclaimers and disavowals:
"It is perfectly possible Mr. Gussin's claim is plausible," site administrator Lynne Olver writes in an entry for everything bagels. "We cannot, however, confirm it in print. This is not unusual in the food world. New products are introduced locally all the time."
The world is destined to never know who first poured hot fudge sauce over ice cream or spread peanut butter on a jelly sandwich. But whether or not Bezzaz' claim checked out, it suggested the Seattle dog was still so young that its history was traceable.
Modern reporting work starts with a Google search, but I found very little about the Seattle dog online. And what I did find was alarming: The Seattle Dog's Wikipedia entry cited a 2006 story I wrote for an alt-weekly in Asheville, N.C. as its top source. Unfortunately, my story about Appalachian hot dogs wasn't footnoted, so I have no idea what prompted me to write "there are no fewer than two dozen regional variations on the snack, from northeastern Massachusetts' boiled Frankfurt rolls to Seattle's cream-cheese-wearing dogs."
The Wikipedia entry's second citation was a 2010 Voracious post, authored by Erika Hobart, entitled "Are cream cheese dogs really a Seattle thing?" Hobart's post called the question "an ongoing argument here at the Seattle Weekly office."
Former Weekly critic Jonathan Kauffman, who told me via e-mail that "cream cheese hot dogs were welllll established by the time I arrived," might have taken the "no" side in those office debates.
"I don't know that it's an only-in-Seattle thing, but I've never heard of it anywhere else," he told Knute Berger for a 2009 Crosscut blog post, in which Berger admitted he'd never heard of a hot dog with cream cheese.
"Salmon and salal berries, maybe that would be local, but cream cheese? Isn't that Philadelphia? Wisconsin? Chicago?," Berger wrote.
Kauffman pointed Berger to a 2006 Seattle Times story in which Matt's Famous Chili Dog's owner Matt Jones revealed he put cream cheese on hot dogs. The same year, a round-up of readers' favorite hot dog toppings included a confession from Tracy Brockmann. "I know it sounds disgusting, but I love to put cream cheese on my hot dog bun," the Bellevue resident wrote. "It's like the most delicious mayonnaise ever!"
But the print record is otherwise mostly bare of Seattle dog references, which has helped contribute to the dog's urban legend status in certain circles. One of the earliest references Seattle Public Library's Bo Kinney could find was a 2001 Seattle Times story about the Hell's Belles; reporter Tom Scanlon set the scene at The Showbox:
Action: A young man (DUDE 1) who couldn't get into the sold-out show hangs out, listens to the music pouring out the doors. A second young man (DUDE 2), who has been inside the club, comes out for a dog break.
DUDE 1: How's the show?
DUDE 2: Awesome, dude. It's an all-chick AC/DC cover band.
DUDE 1: (listening to music) That's an all-chick band?
Hot-dog vendor: You want cream cheese on that?
There were clearly huge holes in the story. To reconstruct how the Seattle dog got its start, I hung around Safeco Field, chatting up vendors; called Bezzaz and talked to veterans of the 1990s club scene. But the first real breakthrough was rooted in yet another Google search: After clicking through dozens of results pages, I found a guy who wanted to resurrect the original bagel dog. He somehow knew the first Seattle dog was bedded down on bialy sticks from Capitol Hill's Bagel Deli. And the owner of the Bagel Deli had the name of the Seattle dog's inventor.
Curious yet? Check out the full story here.