I wrote this little piece as an example for freshmen to demonstrate use of MLA-style documentation, for a short assignment preparatory to much longer ones. They were to describe a scene at a favorite restaurant from their hometown, provide some history for it, and include an epigraph and a specified variety of sources, in MLA style. It was written soon after Jim Covington, Sr., founder and long-time proprietor of Jim’s, had an Alamance County bridge named for him.
Family Fun at Jim’s Hot Dogs
The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feeds the hand that bites it.
–Lawrence J. Peter
To be one of our most common foods, hot dogs are remarkably complicated and varied. It seems we can’t even agree how to make them. One webpage says that they are cooked sausages that can be made from “a combination of beef and pork or all beef, which is cured, smoked, and cooked” (“History”). But that source obviously hasn’t been in a grocery store lately, where you might also find dogs made from turkey and even fat-free. Merriam -Webster makes it simpler, defining “hot dog” (first used as a “word” in 1884) as a “frankfurter with a typically mild flavor that is heated and usually served in a long split roll.”
Hot dogs in America are considered of German origin: the synonym “frankfurter” comes to us from Frankfurt, Germany where pork sausages “similar to hot dogs originated.” The types of garnishes placed on a dog include mustard, ketchup, onions, mayonnaise, relish, coleslaw, cheese, chili, olives, and sauerkraut (“Hot Dog,” Wikipedia). Wikipedia obviously doesn’t know about Chicago ‘dogs, which are sometimes topped with a dill pickle and even a tomato slice, or Jim’s Hot Dogs in Graham and the scores of Southern restaurants that specialize in various ways of preparing and presenting dogs that invariably feature a homemade chili as a garnish that sets them apart from competitors.
North Carolina has an especially large number of such local institutions. Our State magazine listed a suggested 10 best in a recent issue. I’ve tried most of them, including Zack’s in Burlington, Snoopy’s in Raleigh, the Yum Yum in Greensboro, Paul’s Place in Rocky Point (which tops its dogs with a weird concoction, its “signature barbecue relish,” and Bill’s with its famous white chili in Little Washington.
But for my money (and memories), none really competes with Jim’s, at 509 W. Elm Street in Graham, where you can also get among other things, a burger, French fries, chicken salad or sandwich, a salad, sweet tea, soft serve ice cream and milkshakes–a meal and dessert for about six bucks (Menu.)
On a hot day in mid-August, we’re taking our son to Boone to start his freshman year at AppState. Move in day’s tomorrow, so this day our primary intention is to arrive in Winston-Salem, at my wife’s sister’s house, before the I85 traffic gets too unbearable. Driving from our East Carolina home in Fountain, we’ve already made it through the Raleigh-Durham threat and it looks like we’ll be done with Greensboro before mid-afternoon, so we take the time for a sit down lunch. Silas wants Cook Out, Elizabeth, Moe’s Southwest at the Mebane exit. Me? No question. And, despite our being in two cars, I win this time, and we’re in Jim’s bright space waiting to place our order at the bar.
At 2:30 in the afternoon, it’s still a busy place, most of the dozen or so tables full, though the patrons are almost exclusively on to the dessert part of Jim’s specialties. The couple in front of us–they’re talking about picking up their kid from kindergarten in a few minutes–is, like most everyone here, local. Jim’s doesn’t attract a lot of travelers: it doesn’t advertise or have billboards, doesn’t have a webpage (a local fan maintains its Facebook page). It honors an age-old and small-town tradition that dates back to before its founding, 57 years ago, of closing on Wednesdays (“Jim’s Hot”), and as we arrived I had been thankful that this was a Thursday.
Always health conscious, my wife, I know, will order her usual grilled chicken sandwich, with lettuce and tomato. Silas asks me again what the difference in a hot dog “all the way” and one “with everything” is and I tell him again that I can’t remember: it’s one way at Zack’s and another here, and I’ve learned to say “chili mustard and onion” to make sure–at one place, the request will get you a mess of slaw slathered on top of everything else. I remind him, though, that if he wants a cheese dog meaning a hot dog with cheese on it, he’s got to order a “combo”; otherwise, it’ll be a bun with cheese but no dog.
My two combo bacon dogs with chili, mustard and onions are served just like always, on soft steamed buns with everything kind of mashed up inside by the wrapping in wax paper. One Facebook patron wonders why in the world the dogs get wrapped even when you’re eating in; ask Jim, I’d say, because he’s still here, wrapping dogs and glancing up every few minutes to see if he sees anyone familiar. But who am I to mess with such tradition? Instead, I remind him who my dad was and of the time when, in high school, I arranged to borrow his trailer to build our homecoming float on. He says those were good days and tells me that Graham High, my alma mater, is about to close and become some kind of specialized academy (Covington).
My memories of Jim’s go back much farther than that, though, to its origin as a Tastee-Freez and its significance as Graham’s only fast food joint for years, long before McDonald’s finally came to Burlington, a couple of miles away. Jim’s dogs were our one eat-out treat, available maybe once a month to eat in but much more often in a pinch as take-out, to bring home, where we’d have Mama’s own French fries and sweet tea, thus cutting down significantly on our family-of-six’s bill.
Years after I’d grown up and moved away, on returns to Graham, Jim’s became the way we said our lingering goodbyes around the kitchen dining table that had, earlier on a Sunday, been crammed with way too much of everything to eat. But as the visiting wore on, and time to leave for a life outside of home came too soon, we’d extend it a little longer. Aunt Amy might be the one who’d say she could sure use a hot dog, and pretty soon we’d be getting up an order to phone in for everyone, and by the time I’d drive the mile and a half to Jim’s, it would all be ready, packed tightly into a couple of white paper bags that were already starting to show splotches of grease from the fries. Back at the house I’d grown up in, we’d all linger for just a little while longer in the fading daylight, savoring our last little bits of time together as much as our familiar food.
The only one from our family still living in Graham is my brother, who I’d like to say was named for our favorite restaurant (he was actually named for an Uncle James none of us kids met–he was killed in combat in France in 1945, just prior to the end of World War II). Brother Jim remembers putting Texas Pete on his first hot dog and getting it replaced by a laughing waiter; but I remind him that that was at Zack’s (Albright, Jim). My sister, who lives in Nevada, will be home for a few days soon and she says, of course, that Jim’s is the first place she’ll visit (Albright, Jane).
My wife, though, says that next time we’re eating at Moe’s (Albright, E.).
• • •
Albright, Elizabeth. Personal interview. Fountain, NC. 17 Aug. 2017
Albright, Jane. Email. 27 Aug. 2017.
Albright, Jim. Telephone interview. 27 Aug. 2017.
Covington, Jim. Personal interview. Graham, NC. 17 Aug. 2017.
“History and Legends of Hot Dogs.” www.What’sCookingAmerica.net. 30 Aug. 2017.
“Hot Dog.” www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary. 29 Aug. 2017
“Hot Dog.” en.wikipedia.org. 30 Aug 2017.
“Jim’s Hot Dog and Hamburger Inc.” www.facebook.com. 30 Aug. 2017.
Menu. Jim’s Hot Dogs and Hamburgers. .
Schanze, Katie, et al. “The Dog Days of Summer: 10 Hot Dog Joints Across the State.” Our State. July 2017: 42-57.