Scrambled Dog: Anything worth doing is worth overdoing
Too much is never enough.
I’m on vacation this week, which usually means an array of bad food choices in voluminous quantities. Sometimes I go for the familiar — the barbecue joint and the Mexican restaurant that are as familiar as a classic-rock radio station — and sometimes I attempt something new, challenging my gut to a whole new litany of abdominal assaults.
Join me in that spirit, then, as we seek out …. the Scrambled Dog.
A Columbus, Ga. institution, the Scrambled Dog dates back more than a century, to the days when local entrepreneur Firm Roberts — as always, names were better back when — began serving meals at his cigar/shoe-shine/newsstand1. He sold hot dogs and chili, and soon learned that people enjoyed ‘em both mixed together — scrambled, if you will. The Scrambled Dog was a big hit with the military that passed through nearby Fort Benning, and celebrities that descended on Columbus to snare a bite included Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt and Charlton Heston.
Sometime around the 1940s, Dinglewood Pharmacy began selling its own version of the Scrambled Dog. Firm’s closed in 1976, leaving Dinglewood as the sole Scrambled source. The handy historical society plaque that stands outside Dinglewood’s slides right over the fact that Dinglewood showed up to the party three decades late and yet now corners the Scrambled Dog market, but hey, to the victors go the oyster crackers.
The locally-legendary Lieutenant Stevens — his Christian name, not a rank — created Dinglewood’s chili blend and served the dogs, as many as 600 a week, for 68 years until his death in 2019. Scrambled Dogs made their way to the White House — when Jimmy Carter was in office, of course — and all around the world. (Some societies export art or music; the South exports chili dogs. We win.)
Here’s the Scrambled Dog, as Lieutenant Stevens conceived it, and as it’s still served today:
Hot dog bun, submerged
Diced hot dog, the more unnatural shade of red the better
Chili, welling up right to the edge of a bowl shaped like a bathtub
Oyster crackers, because why not
Pickles, for color…?
Optional adds include mustard, hot sauce, diced onion, ketchup and shredded cheese. Behold:
You can taste it right now, can’t you? Definitely don’t dine on this while wearing anything that might get stained, because this stuff will leave marks that last for generations. And maybe be extra careful if you have a weak constitution or a dicey gastrointestinal system, as this will augur its way right through you.
As for the actual taste: the chili isn’t going to change your life or anything, and the hot dogs are chewy ballpark-grade franks. It’s all fairly routine stuff, though the oyster crackers are a nice counterpoint to the diced dog and the utterly soaked bun. The pickles, I can’t really figure out; they seem like a what-the-hell addition way back when, and they, like the rest of this conglomeration, have hardened into tradition.
And that’s what the Scrambled Dog really is, tradition in a long bowl, a sloppy madeleine that Proust would’ve loved had he been born in rural South Georgia instead of nineteenth-century France. I can imagine that if I’d grown up eating Scrambled Dogs, I’d come back to the little pharmacy at 1939 Wynnton Road every chance I got.
Food’s highest calling, to me, is the unlocking of memory. The right food at the right time can transport you back through your own history, putting you in touch with long-gone days, long-forgotten moments. Food is home, and food is love, and it doesn’t matter if that food is the kind served on fine china or scooped up with both hands. I’ll always attempt my own versions of the Low Country Boil and Coca-Cola Cake that my dad still makes, and my kids are already taking swings at our family’s recipes.
As I write this, the family members in our kitchen who have meal duty tonight2 are busting out my great-aunt’s spaghetti sauce recipe that I haven’t had for decades, and I can’t wait. They probably won’t be making it with the pound of bacon grease the original recipe requires, but that’s just fine … cover versions of a song can be just as transcendent as the original.
To me, and to anyone else flitting into Columbus, the Scrambled Dog is a roadside curiosity, a decent lunch to be enjoyed at a classic diner counter. But to those who grew up on these dogs, it’s soupy heaven in a long white dish, a finer meal than anything Paris or New York have to offer. There’s something glorious about that.
What’s your family’s favorite dish? Share it here. Heck, if you know the recipe, share that too.
I’m off to enjoy the last few hours of vacation. Y’all go pile a little chili on everything this week, even your cereal. See you back here next Saturday!
This is issue #63 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, check out some of our hits:
Happy birthday, America. Let’s blow things up in your honor.
Elvis Presley gets one last comeback
Beware the White River Monster of Arkansas!
An ode to an Atlanta landmark from the last days of disco
What’s in a Diablo Sandwich? Solving a “Smokey and the Bandit”mystery
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
If you dig this newsletter, share it with your friends. Invite others to the party, everyone’s welcome.
“What are ‘three industries that won’t exist in 2022,’ Alex?”
My contribution a few days ago was a build-your-own-pizza spread, which led to some brilliant pesto-garlic-artichoke creations and also some Gummi Bear-mozzarella atrocities. People handle power in different ways.