In our current age of culinary recycling, otherwise affordable classics routinely get the “chef treatment” — they are re-imagined, gussied up and sold at a premium. However, sometimes there is something to be said for the classics done classically right.
The latest of these comfort foods to earn the foreboding title of the next “trend” is the hot dog, made all the more believable by the opening of HD1 earlier this year. But there is nothing trendy about the unassuming Ringside Franks and Shakes, opened this fall on the border of Sandy Springs and Buckhead.
Behind Ringside is Jeremy Kelly, who, after 12 years with the Fellini’s chain, enlisted Fellini’s/La Fonda owners Mike Nelson and Clay Harper to partner with him on his new venture. I’m not privy to Nelson and Harper’s level of daily involvement with Ringside, but I never set foot inside without seeing Kelly in the kitchen or behind the counter. He is quick to help newcomers navigate the menu, and it takes only a few moments of speaking with him to notice his passion for his ingredients.
Having sampled nearly all of the hot dogs served in the Atlanta area, I know firsthand that very few shops actually make their own dogs in house. Most are imported from New York, such as Sabrett’s or Sahlen’s dogs. Although Kelly does not make his own, he at least keeps it local by sourcing most of his franks from Wienerz Butcher Shop & Deli in Marietta.
Aficionados will appreciate the all-too-important “snap” of the natural casings on Wienerz’ beef franks. Ringside grills the dogs and buns prior to serving, giving them a nice char and extra layer of flavor.
Ringside’s menu is a simple build-it-yourself job, where you pick your frank and assemble the toppings of your choice from there. Portions are hardy, and one dog should be plenty for most diners. You begin with an all-natural beef frank ($3.75), beer bratwurst ($3.95), spicy chicken sausage ($3.95), or the veggie frank ($3.95).
Kelly also regularly rotates a special frank onto the menu, such as the currently featured Vidalia onion brat ($4.25). Many of the standard toppings – ketchup, mustard, diced onions and relish – are complimentary, and Ringside boasts at least 11 premium toppings ranging from 35 to 75 cents.
Although the official menu has no “specialty” dogs, Kelly took note of some of the more popular toppings combinations and posted an additional handwritten menu over the register to help the undecided. Prominently displayed is the always-popular Chicago dog ($5.35), a beef frank topped with neon green relish, diced onions, tomatoes, pickled sport peppers, a dill pickle spear and celery salt. This heaping mound of toppings was a messy one to eat, but should satisfy the most discerning of Chicagoans.
Another winning combination on the list is the beef frank topped with the startlingly bright purple jalapeno slaw and pimento cheese ($5.25). Not surprisingly, the combination of the house-made chili and coleslaw ($5.25) made the menu of crowd favorites as well.
While I enjoy a sloppy stack of toppings as much as the next person, I found that I enjoy the more sparsely topped dogs, as the flavor of the franks tends to shine through. Try a beef frank topped with spicy mustard and New York onions ($4.10). The onions, cooked in a flavorful tomato-based sauce, complement the frank well and do not overwhelm the taste or feel of the meat.
Perhaps it is my carnivorous bias shining through, but my wife was much more enthused about her veggie frank topped with ketchup and diced onions ($3.95) than I. Although the flavor was close enough to the real thing, without any natural casing it lacks the texture of the other franks. However, it works as a veggie-friendly substitute for those looking for it.
With only four flavors to choose from, the milkshakes feel like an afterthought; more of a footnote on the menu than the signage would have you believe. Both the chocolate and strawberry shakes ($2.99) that I tasted were good, and certainly worth a try, but don’t expect to be blown away.
Sides are also sparse, limited to Zapp’s potato chips ($1.75), coleslaw ($1.95), chili ($1.95) or fries ($2.00). The hand-cut fries arrive crispy and lightly seasoned with a subtle sweetness to them that contrasts the saltiness without being too sugary.
For hot dog lovers in the area, Ringside Franks and Shakes offers an affordable and satisfying place for a no-frills, quality dog experience.RINGSIDE FRANKS AND SHAKES