“I liked smoking meat, but now I have a new passion….” – Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother.
The more hotdog stories I chase, the more I learn about myself, the process and most importantly what you want for Behind the Dish. I’ve found great food and beautiful locations; I’ve experienced quality ingredients, breath taking ocean views and unbelievable toppings combinations. I’ve learned to think outside of the box and try new things; although I wouldn’t ask you to do the same. (The cotton candy and nerds dog was the stuff of nightmares) I have added followers and fans on social media and my stomach has taken a beating. I do it for you and believe me the entire journey has been worth it, but something has always been missing.
Something to bring this thing full circle and connect you, the food and the amazing people behind the dogs together.
Enter Connor Brague. At first, I couldn’t tell you who he was, but I assumed once he responded to my repeated requests to be featured on BTD he was the owner or maybe the manager. Now I’ve learned not to get too excited when I get a response online as this is pretty common but getting them to show up for the show and participate has been the hardest part of the entire column since its inception. Forgive me for my lack of enthusiasm as once again I got my hopes high to actually get into the kitchen, into the thought process and into the birth of a great American hotdog concept, but I’ve been let down before. Not this time friends and not with Connor running the social media portion of the business. This kid gets it and I was immediately impressed with him and his passion and knowledge. See when BTD comes to you two things happen- you help grow #thefoodguy name for BallNine and he helps you by bringing recognition to your fine establishment.
You made a friend? How cute.
Don’t start. It’s early, I’m about to hop a cross country flight and I am leaving with a great story. And the story isn’t the only thing I am leaving Arizona with. No sir, this hotdog connoisseur is torn. After nine episodes of BTD we have left “Ted’s Hot Dogs” in Tempe, Arizona as the best one we’ve eaten. It was the first episode we did when the website was still in its infancy stage and although we have had some really tasty meat sticks with every topping under the sun, we have not found one worthy enough of knocking the king off his throne. If you read that column, you’ll remember that there is a slight bias; I lived in Arizona on and off for 14 years and frequented Ted’s way before I was a pseudo-celebrity. It’s going to be hard for anyone to knock this nostalgic champion out, but I try my best to be open minded. You can’t blame #thefoodguy if you’re dogs didn’t quite get the belt. Everyone gets a title shot on BTD, but only you can win the fight. Enter Clay’s Dawgs in downtown Gilbert, Arizona. Small, with an open kitchen and a drive thru, hugged by a little wrap around patio and a large community table that sits in the center of the dining room this place is cute, quaint and warm. You would feel comfortable sitting next to strangers while staring at a pair of green eggs where the mesquite magic happens. I can describe this in so many words, but I don’t want to mess it up and Ill leave this part to the professionals.
In their website’s words:
“After their joint successful partnership with Caldwell County BBQ, Clay and Susan, along with Spencer and Alisa Caldwell have done it again. They saw an opportunity in the heart of Gilbert that would be perfect for the hot dog concept. They completely remodeled the drive-thru restaurant and Clay Dawgs was born.
If you know Clay Caldwell, you know (1) that he has a fascination for experimenting with food flavors and (2) that next to BBQ, Clay loves a good hot dog. He thought about trying out a hot dog concept before he began the Caldwell County BBQ concept.”
So, we have a success local family who according to Conner wanted to start with a hot dog restaurant open a successful BBQ joint and then roll it into an amazing hot dog concept. You can’t make this stuff up and if you’re like me you are thankful, they did. I made have been told I was boring this week, but this concept of smoked meats meets smoked meats is anything but.
Wait… So, the BBQ people made hot dogs? What’s the big deal?
I am glad you asked, because they didn’t just “make hot dogs” as much as they married two of America’s classic comfort foods in such a unique way that me- #thefoodguy was blown away from first bite to last lick of green chile macaroni and cheese off my shiny, black plastic spoon. I eat, A LOT and I am not easily blown away….and rarely am I speechless, but Clay’s figured it out and people need to discover this gem tucked perfectly along Gilbert Road because you are cheating yourself out of one of the best meals I’ve ever stuffed in my face- on or off camera. Let’s talk about the “dawgs” as I couldn’t help but order three of them in in order to get the full tour of the menu. First, they offer two different options for meat – all beef and polish. These are diamond crosscut and smoked in a Green Egg. They have two in the kitchen and were nice enough to let me stand back there and watch the process. Here is what we decided on:
- All beef topped with green chile macaroni and cheese and fresh jalapenos (GCMC)
- Polish topped with coleslaw
- All beef topped with brisket
Now the hotdogs alone could stand on a plate with some mustard or any plain ol’ run of the mill condiments and they would have been phenomenal. You could taste the smoke; you could feel the snap as you broke the skin with your teeth, and you could feel the dribble of grease being released and you completed the perfect bite. I honestly could have gone home and called it a day and been satisfied, but like all good things in life- why stop there. So, as I settled in to stuff my face, I was visited by Connor again- and he brought gifts. The restaurant features a couple of house made sauces that can compliment any dog and he wasn’t letting us leave without trying a few. I played around with the two sauces- first what Clays called “Yummy Sauce” which was sweet and sticky and obviously honey based and went well with both the brisket topped all beef and the GCMC and the BBQ sauce which really made the brisket dog pop. It worked with the mac and cheese too - but I was in hatch chile heaven and didn’t want to disrupt that flavor. Caldwell BBQ gets the hatch chiles for the mac in fresh and smokes them at the BBQ joint. These guys really don’t mess around when it comes to flavor profiles.
It sounds like we must talk about where this one falls in the Behind the Dish HOF.
We do. I know I sound like a hotdog fan girl at this point and that’s okay. It’s exciting to get excited about food. It’s even more exciting to be treated like an old friend when you arrive as Connor and Henry, the Chef during our visit were as accommodating as anyone we’ve met while starting up the website. Now I am an unbiased food critic when it comes to my column and being nice won’t get your brownie, or hotdog points. You must let the food do the talking and since these dawgs barked, I don’t have to say much.
We are going to give out our first ever Oscar Wiener!
Wow. Really? Is this the best hot dog we’ve eaten?
I don’t know or I can’t say. We had a different scoring system when we started, and it wouldn’t be fair to crown a new champion if they weren’t held to the same set of rules and scoring. At BallNine we don’t move the goal posts and I will have to revisit Ted’s Hot Dogs in Tempe to reevaluate and be fair, but I will tell you this- They are either #1 or #1 A on our list. There is no other competition that we’ve visited and this one finally knocks off that little roadside beer store in Lakeland with the beet dogs. With all of that said I can’t say enough about this visit. The food was out of this world. Connor and Henry alone are enough to make you want to visit Clay Dawgs with their warm, welcoming attitudes that had me feeling like one of the family seconds after we stepped inside. Clay and Susan are doing a lot of things right and I can’t wait to return to Arizona and visit Caldwell’s BBQ and see where the magic happens. Who knows, maybe I can convince El Jefe to let me do a BBQ episode as long as we talk about hot dogs a little. I think I’ve said it all I can, and I never made the green eggs and ham joke I had pocketed this whole time, so I am proud of myself for that. Come visit Connor, Henry and the crew at Clay Dawgs and tell them #thefoodguy sent you.
Stay tuned and Stay Hungry. #thefoodguy
#thefoodguy and #thefoodkid
- Clay Dawgs: 546 N Gilbert Rd, Gilbert, AZ 85234
- Rating: Oscar Wiener (Our First Ever)
- Major League Teams: The Arizona Diamondbacks
- Minor League Teams: The AZL or Arizona League includes minor league teams from all Cactus League teams, minus the Rockies
- Other Baseball: The Phoenix metro area is also home to the Arizona Fall League and 15 MLB teams for Spring Training as part of the “Cactus League”
Tempe is also the home of the LAA Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
How We Score Your Wieners:
- Oscar Wiener (The Best, award winning)
- Best Supporting Meat (The Joe Pesci of hot dogs- never a star, but you need him)
- Nominated Dog (Hey- just getting your name called is a big deal)
- Honorable Mention (Average, Edible- No shame in the game- or bun)
- Drunk David Hasselhoff (You may be on the floor and incoherent after this one)