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You can't go wrong with Raw Dog

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Jamie Loftus — Photo by Andrew Max Levy
Jamie Loftus — Photo by Andrew Max Levy

Image courtesy of Forge  

© 2023 Forge
320 pages

Wieners, sausages, frankfurters: you probably grew up on that staple of summer picnics, loaded with relish and mustard. You've eaten countless hot dogs in your lifetime, at home, in a stadium, at a gas station, at camp, at a fair, or streetside. But where will you find the best in America?

In 2021, in the middle of a pandemic, author and comedian Jamie Loftus set off from New Mexico with a dog, a cat, a boyfriend, and a tiny budget in order to find out.

We like to think of it as a quintessential American food, she says, but the "hot dog is not American at all." A tube of "meaty scraps in meaty casing" is actually an ancient thing from several cultures. We've just made it our own, in many ways across the country and through the decades.

The first tastes on Loftus's journey was a "Sonoran hot dog" topped with bacon and beans, and one with vegetables and pasta rings in Albuquerque. Then we learn how hot dogs are made — though maybe you really don't want to know.

A Coney dog in Tulsa was served on a wet bun. In Georgia, Loftus ate one boiled with beans and another "with strings." She had a red hot in Florida, a "second-best" in Virginia and a papaya dog in New York. She was at a hot dog—eating contest on Coney Island, ate a "garbage plate" in Rochester, consumed a Chicago dog in the Windy City, had dairy with one in Wisconsin, and scarfed down others in three different stadiums.

And the very best, tastiest hot dog is...?

Says Loftus, "Everybody knows that."

So what'll you get in Raw Dog? A little of this, a lot of that, mustard and pickles, some profanity, couple of laughs, some learning, and a road trip, that's what.

Let's go back to the profanity: Loftus is quick to ladle plenty of that, just so you know. But also know that it complements a series of bad hotel rooms and intestinal issues, a dying relationship, and worry about her father, about all of which Loftus is appealingly, honestly forthcoming. If you've ever taken a road trip on a dime, you'll understand everything, including the desperation of wondering if this was really such a good idea after all.

Add in great descriptions of authentic hot dog counters, sprinkle on the history of the food and America itself, spoon on second thoughts, and Raw Dog is a funny story about a trip you'll be glad someone else took.