One balmy day last summer, my boyfriend and I came up with what we thought was a good way to spend a relaxing day: bike riding on the beach path in Santa Monica. After fighting traffic on the 10 to get there, we found the path impermeable, a jam of cranky kids on Razors and their equally cranky parents trying not to get mowed down by rollerbladers and skate rats, and a neon-bright spandex crowd whose aesthetic charm lasts about as long as a lollipop’s, quickly imparting the same sticky, sugar-headache irritation.
Feeling a drop in my own blood sugar, I suggested we head to Main Street, if not for a ride then at least some lunch. It might have been the overabundance of boutiques selling $40 tank tops stenciled with working-Joe logos, or the legions of locals preening outside cafes with $4 cups of coffee, but I found myself in a murderous mood, one further blackened by the fact that we could not find anyplace to buy a simple goddamn sandwich. We settled on a spot where the staff was rude and the prices absurd, and where we waited 20 minutes for a prefab baguette with one lousy slice of ham.
The only reason I may attempt such a venture again is because of Surfdogs, which six months ago introduced Main Street to the true working-Joe concept of a hot dog in a liquor store, the kind of liquor store with big jugs of wine and the sort of essentials (soap, toilet paper, glue) one throws on the counter when stopping in for cigarettes.
”I know that place,“ says my friend Loren, who lives around the corner, and who arcs her eyebrows dubiously at the idea of actually eating anything cooked there.
She warms up when we see two middle-aged beach boys chowing on Polish sausages at one of the five tables outside. How‘s the food?
”Good,“ says one guy, offering us a crispy, deep-amber French fry. It is good, the sort of fry that’s battered and spiced before cooking, making it bumpy and crunchy and savory.
We ask the guys if they eat here a lot because they‘re surfers.
”Used to be,“ says one. ”Want to see my surf bumps?“
He shows us his lumpy shin. Thanks.
The dogs and sausages and pastrami sandwiches are served in one corner of the store, where a leaflet on the counter announces new offerings — chicken tenders, corn dogs and onion rings.
”For the kids,“ says owner Danny Kim, whose Surfdogs menu proudly states, ”Locals Only,“ and who began serving up the natural-casing hot dogs because ”Before, we only made sandwiches, and then everybody on the street started serving these fancy sandwiches, the Coffee Bean and all that, so we thought, hey, let’s keep it simple and give the locals what they want. Are you local?“ Loren says she is. ”If you want something, give us a suggestion and we‘ll put it on the menu.“
What Loren, who’s a semivegetarian, wants today is a turkey dog with chili, a spicy goo made with turkey meat. She takes a bite.
”This is yuck, and I mean really yuck,“ she says, pulling out the wan dog but eating up the chili and toasted bun, an option Surfdogs calls Poor Man‘s Dog. Danny is quick to apologize. ”We gotta get a better turkey dog,“ he says, and by way of apology brings us a basket of excellent, supercrisp onion rings.
I am very happy with my garlicky Polish sausage, which gives a mighty snap and a squirt of peppery juice with each bite. I’m also delighted with a Navy Dog, a very good, equally snappy beef hot dog piled with coleslaw, whose sweetness I counter with a few freshly sliced jalapeños.
”It‘d be nice to be watching a ball game right about now,“ I tell Loren, who’s laughing at our view of the Village Car Wash next door. We nab a New Yorker (pastrami with coleslaw and Thousand Island) to bring home for Loren‘s husband.
”You got this at Surf Liquor?“ he asks incredulously, unwrapping the overstuffed, lean-meat sandwich. And despite his claim that he’d always thought of Surf Liquor as ”a place to buy 40-ouncers,“ he enjoys every last bite.
Surfdogs, inside Surf Liquor, 2522 Main St., Santa Monica; (310) 392-2819. Open Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. noon–8 p.m. No alcohol. AE, MC, V.
Rommelmann‘s Los Angeles Bar & Nightlife Guide was recently published by L.A. Weekly Books.