(Grand Rapids, MI) — With a long holiday weekend in front of us, our cravings turned to the traditional. What’s July 4th without hot dogs? Grand Rapids seems to have its fair share of hot dog joints, and much like hamburgers, everyone has their favorite. We started asking around and got more than one recommendation to try the fairly new Jonny B’z on Wealthy. So we braved the hot, humid summer Saturday and drove to our hot dog destiny...
I’m not sure if it’s the heat, but I’m feeling just a little “off” this afternoon. Maybe I’m just hungry? Or maybe it’s Corner Bar flashbacks, in anticipation of meat sweats? Who knows. We find a parking spot out back of Jonny B’z and go in through the rear entrance. The restaurant is split into two rooms: one contains the open-air kitchen and ordering counter with a couple free-standing tables, while the other has booths, a soda machine, and pinball. Everything is decorated in bright, cheery red and white, and looks clean. (A few of the tables haven’t been cleaned but I attribute that to lunch rush, and later someone comes around to reset them.)
I step right up to the counter and ask about the Cajon dog. In my research, “cajon” is a meat market in San Bernadino, California so I figure this is just some kind of premium meat hot dog. Turns out, Jonny B’z “cajon” is really “cajun”...an andouille sausage dog. Not sure why the spelling, but I love andouille! Instead of fries, I opt to try their brisket sandwich.
The booths look tight so we snag a clean table in the center of the second room. Not long after we fill up our soda cups (I go with Cherry Coke) and sit down, someone from the kitchen calls out my name and brings our food. I dive straight into the Cajon dog, piled high with Amish relish, smoked gouda, spicy mustard, and ketchup, all on a lightly grilled bun. The bun is kind of square, but thick and airy with some crunch from the grill. My first bite of sausage is fantastic. The meat is thick and spicy, with just a bit of grease. All of the condiments meld perfectly. (I thought there would be chili on it, as recommended by the person taking my order, but it is nowhere in sight. I don’t miss it much, though.)
Contained in a fresh-baked pita-like bread, the brisket is tender but a little fatty. I’m not crazy about the sauce; it’s a bit too sweet for my taste, with no bite to it. It’s a pleasant little sandwich and for just under $6, not a bad deal.
With plenty of parking, and conveniently located next to The Winchester, I’d say Jonny B’z is a no-brainer if you’re in the mood for a decent dog. The people are super-friendly and everyone seems to take great pride in the place. If you’re not sure what to order, trust them to recommend something delicious.
I can't choose just one hot dog from the list, so I end up ordering two. The Classic Dog with ketchup, mustard, pickle, and onion; and the Kraut Dog with mustard, onion, and kraut, just to jazz things up a bit. I ask if I can add haystack onions to the Kraut Dog and the gal behind the counter enthusiastically replies "Of course you can!" The last time I had a hot dog it was in Chicago and when I requested "no raw tomato please" you'd have thought I asked for live monkey meat or something. There was eye rolling and grumbling, so this friendly "can do" attitude is an unexpected surprise. I also order a basket of fries for the table to share.
We fill our sodas at the fountain and take a table in the middle of the adjacent dining room. The dogs are delivered pretty quickly and the fries a few minutes (less than five) later. It's a hot sticky day and the ketchup bottle at the table is so icy cold that it's sweating onto the table. I love hot steaming fries daubed in icy cold ketchup. The salty heat on my fingertips, the cold sweetness that awaits on the other end of the fry. These fries are extra crispy and I eat far too many, forgetting I intend to share with the table, then suddenly find myself filling up before I get to the hot dogs.
Both of my dogs are awfully good. The skin is a little snappy and Jonny B'z dogs are 100% beef, which I'm a big fan of. I think kosher dogs have more flavor, but maybe it's all in my head. I know it's just a hot dog. We're not exactly talking about kobe beef or filet mignon here.
In any case, the dogs are solid. The kraut has been sauteed which gives it some color. The condiments are portioned precisely—there's nothing worse than too much mustard or not enough onion. My only complaint is that the buns are a little sticky as I'm eating them. Now Jonny Z's has obviously taken care with these buns. They're grilled and lightly crunchy, but once I start chewing I get that "sticking to my teeth like cheap Wonderbread" mouthfeel. It's a bit gooey and I have to use my fingers to scrap bits of bun off my teeth. Not fun.
That said, I finish both dogs and go back for more fries. The sticky buns will not deter me from hot dog greatness, but if they added a whole wheat bun this place would be perfection.