Station Street Dogs

February 2012

I’m pretty convinced local chef hero Kevin Sousa is some type of illusionist, and I was mesmerized by his sleight of hand.  I was so fixated on the updates of Union Pig & Chicken, his new bbq joint [read:  salivating while reading his tweets], I somehow missed news of his other side project- a breath of fresh air for an eclectic parcel of pavement, tucked oddly enough behind Target…

Station Street is a hot dog shop in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. Opened in 1915 at the corner of Station Street and Larimer Avenue and relocated in 1969 to Broad Street, the shop was closed for several decades before being resurrected in 2006 by Bob and Ruth Tortorete. In February 2012, Station Street was reopened by brothers Kevin and Tom Sousa, and designer Jay Fanelli.

Every workday, I pass a mom & pop hotdog shop, and every workday, it’s the bane of my morning existence.  It reeks of stale soda, old relish and hotdogs that probably rotate for hours under a light.  The staff, who I occasionally see on their smoke breaks, have the ravaged look resulting from years of hotdog consumption, smoking and a complete lack of exercise.  I cross the street only after passing the shop’s wafting zone, which on certain days is a larger airspace than I can combat with strategic street crossing at 8:30am (before the dogs are even rotating!!).  I feel gross even thinking about it, so why would I be excited about this new/old hotdog shop?

Look at this menu..!

This is a prime example of converting some beloved food staple into something more natural, better tasting and better for you, and to that I say, pass me a hotdog pretty please!

Apparently, in 1915, they thought hotdogs cooking humans was a comical switcheroo.  In 2012, it’s the plot of a horrible horror movie (yes?  no?), but I do appreciate the sentiment of stepping through the main door and stepping back in time.  You can practically hear the old crowds, the flirtations with the waitresses, the jokes from the cronies at the counter….

My visit took place on day two or three of Stations Street’s latest incarnation, so I wasn’t expecting a full blown production.  However, should Sousa really want to make this hotdog haven a hotspot, I have some ideas!  Look at that large, white wall above the open kitchen (photo below).  Can’t you just imagine old films being projected there?

Or in the parking lot?  What if a screen blocked the view of Target, which uproots the vintage feeling and firmly plants the diner right back in 2012.  What if the restaurant projected old films onto that large, Target-blocking screen?  The diner could drive to the parking lot, order into a mic and then eat the gourmet hotdogs while fully diving into eclecticism.  Inside eaters could watch as though viewing a silent film.  The food would right the fast food wrongs of the past decades while respecting the more creative traditions that have since begun to disappear.

More importantly and perhaps more feasibly…could I please have some bourbon or Root with my hotdog?!?  Maybe in the form of a boozy milkshake made with the abundance of local dairy supplies?

Oh Kevin Sousa, you hold so much potential!  Please raise your high bar even higher!

Shiiiet, this hotdog knows what he’s working with, and so does the little missy with the legs that just don’t quit [the male and female bathroom signs]….

So it’s new, it says the right words and has a vintage vibe, but how does Station Street fair on the real test… how do the hotdogs taste?!?

As usual, sharing is our Modus operandi, which equated to …

(menu diagrams from the restaurant website)

First of all, I have never managed to maintain a proper bun-to-dog ratio throughout the entire consumption of a hotdog, so these lengthy links with ample toppings proved to be a slight challenge to my disability.  Admittedly, I am a bread snob, so I’d be thrilled if the caliber of bread more closely matched the caliber of toppings.  Something slightly sweeter in the brioche family of rolls, perhaps?  My insider sources tell me Station Street might even have a rep, from the city’s beacon for bread, flippin’ dogs every now and then.  Shouldn’t let that connection go to waste!

I must also be a beef snob because I would have liked for a more robust beef flavor closer to a sausage (in my defense, I did grow up on all beef hotdogs from my dad’s cows).  I’m probably pushing the limit too far with that comment because after all, these are hotdogs, gourmet hotdogs, but hotdogs nonetheless, and the distinct flavor of a hotdog is probably supposed to be distinctly uniform.

As for duck fat fries, I was disappointed at first.  These were the duck fat fries?  Did we receive the wrong basket?  Did the cashier hear our order correctly?  However, a more careful taste inspection did reveal a finer flavor.  I’m curious to do a taste comparison between the duck fat fries and the fresh-cut fries because when one starts throwing around the terms “duck” and “fat” those words better combine to mean something significant.  Next time!

As for the toppings?  Accolades!  I really tried to choose a favorite between the banh mi dog and the kimchi dog, but I just couldn’t do it!  Both enticed me equally.  I was less enthused about the chili cheese dog but only because I’m not much of a chili cheese dog lady in general.  That being said, the Station Street version still stood on a pedestal.


All in all, this was a fun experience provided by a friendly, enthusiastic staff serving food I’d return to eat.  Will I be eating my next hotdog (really curious about the Hawaiian dog) with a boozy milkshake while watching vintage films?  I sure hope so!

p.s:  Kudos to the designer of the Station Street website.  It’s fun.  It’s catchy.  It’s different.  It’s iconic.  Two thumbs up, which should mean a lot, since clearly, I’m quite opinionated!

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