Selecting Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2011 was no picnic. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this Gut Check series, we are chewing our way through notable runners up in a number of categories. To see hundreds more winners and finalists and download the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis mobile app, visit our Best of St. Louis homepage.
No longer relegated to ballparks alone or punch lines about the contents of their encased innards, hot dogs have never been so hip. So Gut Check was only too happy to fete the 'furter in our countdown of the area's best.
Steve's Hot Dogs on the Hill (2131 Marconi Avenue; 314-762-9899)
What's in a name? Does calling a hot dog a frankfurter make the little link any more refined? Probably not, but there is something about the "Molotov Dog" that just might make your mouth water before you even take that first bite, and with its habanero-chipotle spread and sriracha and additional options of pickle relish, chipotle onions and jalapeños, you're going to need all the water you can get. At Steve's Hot Dogs on the Hill, hot-dog eaters get more than just clever names, as saying each one gets you closer to biting into one of Urge singer Steve Ewing's hickory-smoked and grilled-to-perfection hot dogs and sausages. The "St. Louis Style Hyaaah! Dog" is nothing like that weiner you pulled out of your microwave, as each snapping bite comes with ample grilled onions and grilled bell peppers, hot peppers, bacon and provolone. Diners can also branch out into a number of other locally produced meats, including The "Al Hra-brat-ski" Hungarian bratwurst, topped with more sauerkraut, mustard and celery salt than you can fit under a Fu Manchu.
Foxy's Red Hots (11658 Dorsett Road, Maryland Heights; 314-770-2440)
For more than 25 years Foxy's Red Hots has been cooking up classic Vienna Beef hot-dog delights. A word to the wise: Leave the Chicago rivalry at home because Foxy's Maryland Heights spot is decked out in Second City décor. As expected, the dogs at Foxy's get the Chicago-style treatment right down to the sport peppers. The restaurant also serves up chili dogs, corn dogs, a Philly dog and, among the specialty pups, the Kathy, which features cheese sauce, bacon, pickle and mustard. (After this entry went live, commenters wrote in to tell us that Foxy's has closed. Read more here.)
Audi K's (235 N. Euclid Avenue; 314-361-0270)
Audi-K's in the Central West End is open for lunch, and an early dinner, every day but Sunday. It is easy to see why, as any one of its many specialty dogs, juicy and grilled to lightly crisp perfection, makes a perfect lunch or midday snack. Audi-K's also reopens every Friday and Saturday night from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m. Why? Because sometimes at one in the morning, you need a hot dog. I mean really, really, need a hot dog. And for those who happen to be on or around Maryland and Euclid avenues when other establishments start to shut down, Audi-K's has exactly what your body needs. It covers its dogs with just about anything you might be craving when you step into the little restaurant, including simple options with ketchup, mustard and relish or the "Buddie-D Dog" topped with coleslaw, baked beans and bacon, or you can spice your frank up a bit with the "Killer Dog," covered in sauerkraut, onions, horseradish and spicy red-pepper relish. And then there are the chili dogs, prepared with chili alone or even more stuff, such as cheese, onions, hot sauce, jalapeños and more.
Classic Red Hots (41 Forum Center, Chesterfield; 314-878-4687)
Tucked into the Forum Shopping Center in Chesterfield, Classic Red Hots serves up Vienna Beef hot-dog goodness Monday through Saturday. Here the pups are all served on a steamed poppy-seed bun, Chicago-style. Going above the typical wiener-on-bun paradigm, Classic Red Hots adds pizazz with specialty dogs such as the Reuben dog, a bagel dog and a Philly dog, which comes topped with cheese, grilled onions and grilled peppers. For those with a heftier appetite, go for the "colossal dog." This bad boy features a one-third pound dog with mustard, tomatoes, relish, onions, sport peppers, celery salt and a pickle. Classic Red Hots also offers combo meals that come with fries and a drink to accompany your frank.
Woofie's (1919 Woodson Road, Overland; 314-426-6291)
To be the best requires dignity; your product must have the qualities worthy of esteem to be named the best. Enter Woofies, the hot-dog stand on Woodson Road in Overland and home of "the hot dog with dignity." Located just north of Page Avenue and way west of Halsted Street, Woofies has been serving Chicago-style dogs in the 314 for more than 30 years: steamed Vienna Beef served on a soft, poppyseed bun with mustard, onions, tomato slices, a pickle spear, hot peppers and relish. Diners at Woofies need not feel bound by Windy City tradition, where dogs can also be served grilled, with chili or even Nathan's-style, topped with sauerkraut and brown mustard. Or you can go for Woofies' Danny dog, the perfect fix for your nostalgic, hungry inner child -- a corn dog covered with chili and onions.
Mr. Harry's Carnival Foods (15581 Manchester Road, Ballwin; 636-256-1908)
Everybody loves a carnival, but, sadly, they only come in town every so often, and then, just like that, the thrill is gone. Lucky for us, Mr. Harry's Carnival Foods brings the excitement year-round. Beyond all manner of fun foods available at Mr. Harry's Carnival Foods - including chili pie, cotton candy and shaved ice, Mr. Harry's gets serious about hot dogs. Choose from the standards - a good, old-fashioned Nathan's Famous pup - or opt for a corn dog or chili-cheese dog. Feeling adventurous? Go for Mr. Joe's Triple Dog Dare You - this dog's dressed with chili, jalapeño, mac and cheese, and bacon. Just be sure to rest for a bit before test-driving one of Mr. Harry's Hula-Hoops.
And the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis 2011 "Best Hot Dog" is...
Carlos' Hot Dogs (Sixth and Olive streets)
Food trucks are a dandy craze, and we're thankful they've finally arrived in the Midwest, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, for the past seven years, Carlos Pereira's hot-dog cart has anchored the intersection of Olive and Sixth streets downtown, existing in a street food-vending world all its own. A native of Portugal who worked as a chef in Canada's fine-dining industry for two decades before moving to St. Louis, Pereira equips his corner like a veritable kitchen, complete with jumbo-size grill and an assistant who helps out with the fixins. His thick, juicy hot dogs and Polish sausages are a delight, and if you prefer not to take our word for it, get an eyeful of the downtowners who queue up at his cart during lunch hour every day. After grilling his dogs, Pereira slathers them with a special sauce then seals the deal with another concoction applied from a spray bottle -- both are secret recipes about which Pereira will reveal nothing beyond the fact that they're made by his mother. Look for the cart weekdays from 10 a.m. till 2 p.m., weather permitting.