Hamburgers and pizza have taken over our fair city during the past couple of years, and yet another all-American childhood food fave is just raring for its time in the sun: hot dogs. Yep. Good ol' wieners. The centerpiece of gluttonous Fourth of July eating contests, the ultimate old-school street food and arguably one of the more perfect portable meals ever created by man. I refuse to believe that Atlantans don't recognize the beauty of a well-made hot dog, but good ones are strangely hard to find.
Located on what feels like a former industrial stretch of road five minutes from the Windy Hill exit in Marietta is Wienerz Butcher Shop and Deli (1592 Atlanta Road, 770-426-8100, www.wienerz.com). I first discovered Wienerz at the Ponce de Leon Avenue Whole Foods, where its sausages were being showcased as a local product. After finding out that it was open to the public, I learned the place was closed for renovations, but would reopen shortly. I patiently waited until the doors had opened, gave them a month or so to get settled, and then made the longish drive in search of wiener nirvana. What awaited me was a carnivore's dream.
Wienerz is the brainchild of two men, a chef and a butcher, one from Switzerland, the other from Germany. Together they created a European-style butcher shop with all kinds of specialty meats. It's easy to get overwhelmed once you've laid eyes on the case full of sausages (both fresh and smoked), Bratwurst (including currywurst!), salumi, deli meats, smoked beef and pork, tubs of sauerkraut, three types of potato salad and more. There's also a separate frozen case where you can get four intensely red, hand-formed hamburger patties for around $6. Everything's so cheap, you'll want to grab whatever strikes your fancy, and it's all made in house, even the bread.
If you're going to make the drive out to Wienerz, you might as well have a quick lunch, right? Paninis are normally dainty sandwiches, but Wienerz doesn't do dainty when it comes to either size or flavor. Thick slices of rye bread are the vehicle for a hearty stack of pastrami, "real sauerkraut," provolone, mozzarella, Thousand Island dressing and deli mustard. The deli may be "European," but this gooey Reuben-style panini is straight New York.
As good as the Reuben is, the sausages and hot dogs are by far the best things on the menu. All of the links are nestled into a freshly baked bun that's heated until slightly crackly on a panini press and then slathered with your choice of condiment. Favorites include the sweet Vidalia onion sausage or the white Oxford banger. Both explode in your mouth, sending forth a wave of meaty juice with every bite. The Wienerz Hotlanta dog is slightly fatter than your average dog and paler in color because the factory adds no nasty MSG, fillers, artificial colors or flavors. Since this is a natural-casing dog, you can expect that beautiful telltale snap. You can also have it Chicago style with relish, tomato, onions, sport peppers (they sometime use a different pepper), mustard, pickle and celery salt. It's a good version, but a simple smattering of sauerkraut and mustard really lets the dog's beauty shine.