Woofie’s is one of those "insider" places that don’t get much publicity outside of the local area. And in this day of multitudes of travel publications and highly active blogmania, it’s always surprising that newcomers don’t know the place and passers-through-town aren’t Googling for directions off the interstate.
A mustard-yellow building on Woodson (or, as they put it, "Woofson") Road. just north of Page Boulevard, Woofie’s introduced St. Louisans to Chicago-style dogs back in the 1970's, when the late Charlie Eisen brought the kosher Vienna Beef brand to town. Over the years, the menu has expanded to include other sausages and non-Chicago toppings for the dogs, as well as hamburgers and, most recently, gyros.
But, frankly speaking–and spare us the groans–we stay with the tube steaks and their cousins.
The basic dog arrives steamed. They can be grilled on request, but that’s not Chicago tradition. The bun is a soft poppy-seed, and atop the dog goes mustard, chopped onion, a spear of dill pickle, slices of tomato, a couple of small, quite hot sport peppers, and the pickle relish traditionally described by the senior author here as "evil green" in color. That’s what arrives if it’s ordered with "everything." There’s also a quarter-pound dog called the Big Herm, and there are many variations from the addition of chili, cheese and bacon, on to the sauerkraut-laden, brown-mustard drenched Nathan’s-style and beyond. The Polish sausage (also from Vienna Beef) is excellent, coarse-ground, grilled to slight crustiness but still moist inside. We’d like a little more heat inside the Italian sausage, but that’s our only gripe. Yes, there are corn dogs, as well, which was one of the first state fair foods to prove that putting a stick in it helps make it more salable.
Woofie’s also was one of the first places hereabouts to put something extra on their fries: a light dusting of that rust-colored "seasoning salt." Almost invariably, they’re dry, crisp and hot, good enough to convert someone who didn’t care for seasoning salt, not mentioning any names.
A lot of the lunch business is to go, because there are maybe 15 stools at the counter. While folks wait for their order, they crane their necks and stare at the photographs of celebrities, mostly local, who attest to the purebred wonder of the dogs, and read old clippings, including some from Joe, about the place. The awning-shaded outdoor tables are spiffed up in the summer with some hanging baskets, the better to watch the cars in the drive-through. (Caveat: No burgers at the drive-through, and no microphone and menu; just pull up to the window and scan the sign.) Dinner has to be eaten early; the dining room closes at 7, the drive-through at 8.
Good stuff. Long may they steam.
1919 Woodson Rd., Overland
Lunch and Dinner (see above) Monday-Saturday
Credit cards: No
Wheelchair access: Fair
The newest entrant in any local hot dog tournament, though we’re not yet a threat to Westminster, is Pam’s Chicago Style Dogs, at the expanding eastern wing of the Delmar Loop, just west of the bridge over the Metro tracks and across the street from the old Wabash Station. But it’s a little more than just a hot dog stand; there are tables and chairs, breakfast is served–real breakfast, emphasizes a sign outside–and the menu, which includes gyros, is a bit wider than one might expect. But the drill is standard: order and pay at the cash register; pick up your food a few feet away. Some older types may remember that the building was an A&P more than a half-century ago, the first grocery store that Joe patronized when he moved to St. Louis in 1955.
Pam’s CSD, as the house abbreviates it, has the same basic ingredients, with the addition of a sprinkling of celery salt, a component frequently but not invariably seen in the Windy City, and a sprinkling of jalapenos and pickled carrot. The bun seemed a little soggy, but the pickle spear was an excellent half-sour, fresh and crunchy. Overall, it was an adequate dog. Joe demurs the Chicago title, claiming that jalapeno peppers and marinated carrots are not in the Chicago canon, despite the tasty dog.
We also investigated something more uncommon in St. Louis, an Italian beef sandwich, another Chicago favorite. Thin-sliced roast beef is placed in a long bun from a company called Gonnella, which supplies a number of Chicago’s Italian beef spots. The usual topping is giardinera, a relish of chopped pickled vegetables, with one’s choice of hot or sweet peppers. We went for the hot, and asked that the sandwich be dipped in the beef juice, another touch that’s traditional. Pam’s also offers the juice on the side for the daintier eater, a title to which neither of us can lay any claim. (But we did knife-and-fork it, probably heresy.) Tender beef, crunchy vegetables, except for the nacho-esque slices of jalapeno, and a fascinating aau jus that combines salty, peppery and tart. There’s even some sweetness in the aroma. Clearly beef broth is one of the components, and we were a little surprised that there seemed to be no oregano notes, but we can see how it would be addictive.
A busy lunch spot, with police at the next two tables knocking back baskets of various sandwiches like the quarter-pound dog, corned beef and the crinkle-cut fries. We were hoping we could watch when someone orderes a chocolate-covered cheesecake-on-a-stick or a deep-fried Twinkie, but no such luck.
6016 Delmar Blvd.
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Mon.-Sat., Lunch and Dinner Sun.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Good