Hot Dog Heaven

Many Americans have a strong affinity for hot dogs, and there’s no better time to enjoy them than during the dog days of summer. If you want a legitimate place to relish a quality frankfurter, here are three local businesses that have stood the test of time and acquired many loyal patrons.

Ashworth Drugs
105 West Chatham St., Cary
(919) 467-1877

It’s noontime on a Wednesday, and the lunch counter at downtown Cary’s Ashworth Drugs is bustling. An assortment of customers — from soccer moms and kids to senior citizens and clergy — eat and mingle in the congested area known as the soda fountain.

Barbara Macey prepares a hotdog at downtown Cary’s popular soda fountain at Ashworth Drugs.

Just across the aisle, several rows of shelves are filled with pharmacy staples like Band-Aids, aspirin and Hallmark greeting cards. Ashworth Drugs is the epitome of a bygone era.

Owner and registered pharmacist Paul Ashworth said the building was originally constructed as a Masonic Lodge in 1931, but later became Adam’s Pharmacy. “My parents bought the store from Mr. Adams in 1957,” Ashworth said. “When I took over in 1992, my father made me promise that I would keep the fountain intact. He thought it was an integral part of our presence here.”

It’s clear that the lion’s share of patrons didn’t come for a birthday card, cough drops or a prescription. They came for a reasonably priced lunch.

For more than 53 years, the Ashworth Drugs fountain has been the quintessential place for patrons to get their fill of chicken salad sandwiches, fresh-squeezed lemonade, old-fashioned milkshakes and, of course, hot dogs.

“Hot dogs are the biggest selling item, particularly on Wednesdays and Saturdays when we run specials,” said fountain manager Al Badger, 52, who has overseen the store’s food-and-drink service for the past six years.

Ashworth Drugs has long served Jesse Jones hot dogs, which are made in North Carolina. Three varieties of wieners are available: red, beef and veggie. Toppings include chili, slaw, mustard, ketchup and onions, and each hot dog is served in a white paper boat.

Popular daily specials are worth the pit stop. On Mondays, you can grab a foot-long hot dog, bag of chips and a large drink for $3.50. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, two hot dogs only sets you back $2.25.

“My colleagues and I come here every Wednesday,” said Penny Wilkinson, who works at a nearby church. “I get my hot dogs with ketchup, chili and slaw.”

The Ashworth soda fountain is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Cash, checks and credit cards are accepted.

Jim’s Ole Time Hotdogs
2000 Walnut St., Cary
(919) 801-1893

On any given day outside the entrance to a well-known home improvement store in Cary, Jim Rivers serves hot dogs with passion and purpose. Since 1998, loyal customers come early and often, lining up in front of the nifty portable cart with the red-and-yellow umbrella.

“What are we gonna have today?” Rivers cheerfully asked one patron, who patiently waited in line. It’s a common sight at lunchtime. During a recent Friday during an exclusive photo shoot with Cary Magazine, business was booming.

“It’s not uncommon to sell more than 150 hot dogs on weekdays, and 250 on weekends,” said 61-year-old Rivers, a gregarious Warren County native who now calls Rolesville home. “I just wanted a simple business where I could make a living and serve people.”

Jim’s Hotdogs features acclaimed Nathan’s and Southern Red products, including top-selling beef along with red, jalapeño and sausage. Abundant condiments — such as mustard, ketchup, chili, onions, slaw, relish, cheese, hot sauces, mayonnaise and sauerkraut — are on hand for no extra charge. Each frankfurter is prepared to order and wrapped in aluminum foil.

The hot dogs are set apart by key ingredients like fresh, steamed buns, quality chili and creamy slaw. “We source our buns daily from Flowers Foods, and use an all-beef, no-bean chili and a mayonnaise-based sweet slaw,” he said.

Besides frankfurters, Rivers offers 14 different ice-cold canned drinks, bottled water, bagged chips and double-decker Moon Pies.

Prices range from $2 for one red hot dog and a drink to $4.50 for two beef wieners and a drink. Additional specials offer chips, and posted prices include tax.

Rivers pays monthly rent for the prime location that attracts a wide assortment of people, many of whom he calls by name. One such person is carpenter Mark Ellington from Raleigh, a regular who comes three times a week for a sausage dog and Mountain Dew. “I’d rather support an independent person like myself than go to a chain restaurant,” Ellington said.

Jim’s Ole Time Hotdogs accepts cash only and is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The Roast Grill
7 South West St., Raleigh
(919) 832-8292

The Roast Grill, an iconic hot dog joint near downtown Raleigh, offers a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Where else will you find seating for only 12 people and possibly dine next to a lawyer, doctor, senator or even a former governor?

The Roast Grill’s genesis traces back to Greek immigrants George and Mary Charles, who originally started a restaurant on Martin Street but then opened the current location in 1940. “My grandmother called me to come here 19 years ago and take over for her,” said owner George Poniros. “She worked here until she was 88.”

The no-frills building features the original stainless-steel backsplash, black resin counter and swivel-style barstools. A pushpin-laden bulletin board holds countless yellowed business cards, while a back corner mirror showcases obituaries — a makeshift memorial to former Grill regulars.

Poniros, 53, mans the eatery’s two-knobbed original grill. It’s there that he cooks each hot dog until charred black. “Our motto is ‘we burn ’em for you!’” he said. “The wieners are a special Swift Premium product from Michigan. They are 90 percent beef and 10 percent pork.”

Hot dogs are $2.50 each. Toppings include Sauer’s brand mustard, hand-chopped, mayonnaise-free slaw (which costs an additional 25 cents), Texas sweet onions and a “century-old family recipe” house-made chili.

Ketchup is nowhere to be found, though. In fact, there’s a “no-ketchup-allowed” policy that’s been in place as long as the restaurant has been open for business. “My grandparents spent too much time making the hand-crafted chili for people to ruin it with ketchup,” Poniros explained, wearing his trademark round eyeglasses and a black Roast Grill T-shirt. French fries and chips are also not accessible, but, thankfully, Texas Pete hot sauce is. “It’s all about the wieners,” said Poniros.

The Roast Grill serves glass-bottled Coke and Diet Coke along with a handful of beer choices like Budweiser and Foster’s.

Poniros’ mom, Freeda, works alongside him and usually takes orders, delivers food and drinks to customers and tends the still-operational antique Royal cash register. She also makes sinfully good homemade baklava and pound cake, served saran-wrapped in individual portions.

“This place has the best hot dogs around,” said regular Ron Hughes, an N.C. State University employee.

Recently, the Travel Channel television network visited The Roast Grill and filmed an episode of popular show Man v. Food. Host Adam Richman ate 17 hot dogs, breaking the eatery’s record for most consumed in an hour. “Since then, people have come here from all over the country and the world,” Poniros said.

A cash-only establishment, The Roast Grill is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Be advised: The restaurant will be closed the last full week of July for vacation.

Other Places to Grab a Decent Dog

Snoopy’s, Raleigh
Remington Grill, Cary
RJ’s Place, Fuquay-Varina
Char Grill, various Triangle locations

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