Who has the bread for a $15 hot dog?
Even in Greater Los Angeles, home to Urasawa’s $250 sushi dinner and Campanile’s $14-and-up grilled cheese sandwiches, it does not seem possible.
A $15 hot dog?
A hamburger at that price would be an obscenity. But a lowly wiener? This is history in the making, if not a sure sign of the apocalypse. In the year 2007, Southern California has gone over the edge.
The home of the offending haute dog is the brand new Trifecta Restaurant & Sports Lounge at 2nd and Hill streets in downtown Los Angeles. Downtown boosters kept telling us a renaissance was going on downtown, but they never warned us it would lead to this.
One day an editor and I stopped in at the Trifecta to see with our own eyes if the rumor could possibly be true. We checked the menu and there it was:
“BOLD VENTURE -- The Big Footer.”
Bold venture, indeed.
The dog was described thusly:
“A foot-long all-beef juicy hot dog on a toasted, buttered hot dog bun, served with sauerkraut, red cart onions (New York style onions), brown mustard and ketchup.”
Unless it came with all the beer you could drink, that still didn’t explain why it was $15, and I thought it made sense to invite a team of wiener experts to join me in a taste test.
So I called the Pink family.
Pink’s hot dogs, at Melrose and La Brea avenues, has been a local institution since 1939. Gloria Pink took my call, heard me out and then asked the obvious question.
“A $15 hot dog?”
Yeah, it’s un-American, isn’t it?
Gloria, Richard and Beverly Pink gladly accepted the mission and met me at Trifecta one day last week, and see if you can guess what color they were wearing.
Richard’s pink shirt had “Pink” cufflinks from the upscale London clothing and accessory store by that name, and his wife and sister wore hot dog pins and toted little hot dog purses. I wish I’d gotten there in time to see whether they arrived in a wienermobile.
Trifecta has roughly 600 TV screens, some of them bigger than the face of Half Dome. Between that and the glare off the Pinks, I could barely see the menu. When our waitress came by, we asked what she thought of the hot dog. It’s excellent, she said. Kind of like the hot dogs at Costco.
Who could say no after a recommendation like that? Richard and I each ordered a dog, and Beverly and Gloria decided to split one. Meanwhile, they sent us a new waitress. I think the first one might have been locked in the freezer after the Costco comparison.
The hot dogs at Pink’s start at $2.85 and go all the way up to $6.45 for the Three Dog Night -- three wieners in a giant tortilla, with onions, chili, three slices of cheese, three slices of bacon, three paramedics and a defibrillator. I should point out that fries cost an extra $2.15, whereas they’re included with the Trifecta dog.
Finally, the moment of truth.
“It’s a beautiful looking dog,” Mr. Pink said as he surveyed the white, rectangular plates with three little cups for mustard, relish and ketchup. “Nice presentation.”
Each of the Pinks poked and tasted, poked and tasted, as if they were judging duck a l’orange.
“A little spicy,” Richard said approvingly, but maybe a bit too dense.
A bit? The LAPD should look into replacing their batons with these things.
“It’s good,” said Gloria, but she couldn’t hide what was really on her mind.
“It doesn’t have the snap,” she said.
“No,” Beverly said in a somber tone.
“No,” Richard chimed in gravely.
That’s the problem with grilling dogs, he said. When you steam, as Pink’s does, a dog holds its snap -- a crackling burst of flavor. It’s that snap, and good value at low prices, that keep customers lined up day and night, Gloria said.
“A hot dog should be habit-forming,” Richard said, doubting that many folks can afford a $15 hot dog habit. “You’re really going to have to love a dog at that price.”
Chef Will Gotay had gotten word that the Pinks were in the house, and he visited our table to see what they thought.
“It was good,” they said simultaneously.
Gotay, who cooked previously at Mastro’s and Citizen Smith, said he wants to cater to an upscale sports-minded crowd, so he asked his meat purveyor to get him the best dog he could find. These were flown in from Chicago, Gotay said, and I almost choked on the coincidence: The Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times keeps flying wieners in from Chicago too.
Gotay told the Pinks he’s still working on the menu and the concept, and hopes to add a cigar bar and movie and dinner nights on Fridays. It’s a tough business, for sure, and they wished him well.
I asked Gotay if, by chance, he’d ever eaten at Pink’s. He seemed to have lost track of how many times.
“Any chef who doesn’t tell you he hits Pink’s or Carl’s Jr. after work is lying,” Gotay said.
Speaking of hamburgers, try not to fall off your chairs when I tell you what Trifecta’s Kobe beef hamburger costs.
Are the owners of Tommy’s burgers reading this? If so, let’s have lunch.