IT SEEMS like every big city has local street vendors selling quick bites from a compact cart on wheels. While food trucks are all the rage, these nostalgic food stands, shaded by an umbrella, have been around for years.
In the past, those who pass by would order from a simple menu, offering basic food like cheeseburgers, pretzels and hotdogs. Ketchup, mustard and relish were the standard accompaniments.
Yet, now in this foodie driven society, classic hand-held items are just not cutting it. The burger is blinged out with foie gras, pizza is topped with quail eggs and tacos are stuffed with kimchi. Even more, the brave ballpark has stepped out of its comfort zone, dressed in chic toppings.
While couture hotdogs are not a novel concept for New York City or Chicago, places like The Naked Dog have helped Savannah keep up with the trend.
Owners Patsy and Jim Hood, Georgia natives, commandeered what is now The Naked Dog after its previous owner chose to leave the food industry. While they did not have any former experience in the gourmet hotdog realm, the Hoods were no strangers to food sales or seizing serendipitous opportunities.
The Hoods moved to Savannah, from their hometown of Thomaston, in 2005 and opened a Repicci’s Italian Ice franchise in a quaint wooden shed next to the River Street Market Place at 502 E. River Street.
“We have one of the best Italian Ices on the market,” Hood acknowledges. Their award-winning Italian ice is Dominic Francesco Repicci’s grandfather’s secret recipe, brought over from Messina Italy.
Patsy Hood personally met Repicci through business connections. “He loved my work ethic and offered me a position within his company to help develop franchise opportunities.”
Once they learned of this business venture, the Hoods jumped on board and moved to Savannah.
The couple set up their Italian ice kiosk in the Open Air Market on River Street where the water meets the road. The view of the Savannah River, with its striking bridge was a picture-perfect setting for visitors and locals to enjoy a frosty cup of creamy Repicci ice.
Then in March 2013, just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day, the Hoods took over their fellow vendor’s hotdog stand, branding it as The Naked Dog.
“We looked for a creative name and liked the concept of a naked (hot) dog, with the tag line, ‘How would you like that dressed?’”
Patsy researched regional hot dog varieties and their unique takes on an how to dress America’s favorite frank. That information coupled with her own inspiration made The Naked Dog a sensation among travelers and locals alike.
The Naked Dog is now housed in a traditional hotdog cart sandwiched between two wooden sheds that hold the Italian ice products, drinks and snacks. Any toppings for the dogs are prepared in their newly renovated commissary kitchen.
While Chicago dogs, slaw dogs, chili-cheese dogs and kraut dogs remain constant on the menu, Hood conceives new flavors combinations regularly. Take Reuben Dog for example: this is an all beef hot dog piled-high with Sauerkraut, 1000 Island dressing, Swiss cheese and a mound of pastrami.
For those looking for a breakfast revamp, the Morning Glory Dog is garnished with a fried egg, bacon, buffalo sauce and melted cheese.
The assortment of hotdogs that I pigged out on included the Reuben, Kraut, Slaw, Chili and Cheese, Jalapeno and Chicago. Don’t worry; I didn’t eat them all on my own.
I was impressed that the Hoods made all their toppings in-house, including the coleslaw and chili sauce. Each dog has its own distinct flavor combination, making it hard for me to choose my favorite!
Can’t make it to River Street? That’s okay, The Naked Dog and Repicci’s Italian Ice can be found at different locations on their food truck, at the Civic Center and at various community events.
For local festivals, Patsy seeks to concoct a specialty dog that is related to each event. For the Seafood Festival in May, she plans to introduce a themed hotdog, like a Loaded Potato Dog. For the Blues and BBQ Festival, we can expect a Southern Dog with pulled pork and, if we’re lucky, maybe even baked beans.
“We put our heads together and try to figure out what will go with each event.”
The Hood’s plan to have a busy crowd once March hits. Tourists and town folk swing by their humble hotdog stand to grab a quick nibble, indulge in an affordable munch or snack while waiting on their restaurant reservation. Some days, like July 4th, they get so slammed that the Hoods employ a staff of about 15 people!
In the past, The Naked Dog has been closed for the months of January and February. This year the Hood’s chose to stay open, only closing for a short time at the end of January to build a new kitchen. The Naked Dog is now open for business as of February 1st.