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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Bunyan’s Slaw Dog

July 3, 2017

There are some things that can’t be explained. I can’t tell you how magnets work. I couldn’t begin to describe how black holes function, why people ever watched a television show that featured any member of the Kardashian family, or why the cheapest, most unassuming, hot dogs at Bunyan’s BBQ in Florence, Ala. are so good. It is truly inexplicable (though I’ll give it the old college try for the benefit of you, the reader).

I am not typically a hot dog person. I didn’t grow up eating a lot of hot dogs, and they aren’t one of my go-to foods these days. Though in my 55 years on this planet I have probably eaten a respectable number of hot dogs.

Wyatt Waters and I have just finished our fourth collaborative book project, and— both being huge music fans— wanted to take a celebratory daytrip to Muscle Shoals to visit a couple of friends, hang out in a recording studio, and take in the vibe in an area that has produced so much great music.

One friend invited us to his studio and offered to pick up lunch on the way in from Nashville. “Barbeque,” is all he said. Waters and I got to the studio early and our friend called and said, “I’m 15 minutes away. I’ve got Bunyon’s.” I heard it as, “I’m 15 minutes away and I’ve got bunions.” I didn’t know why he might be relaying the intricacies of his foot status, but said, “OK,” nevertheless.

When he got to the studio he had two large brown paper grocery sacks in each hand. “I got Bunyon’s.” This was too much information, I thought to myself, but the two other guys at the studio obviously knew what he was talking about and started rummaging through the bags immediately. It was at that moment that I figured out we were talking about a restaurant called Bunyon’s, and not a foot malady.

I was still puzzled though when one of the guys opened the small wax-paper wrapped hot dog. It was a cheap grocery store hot-dog bun, and the cheapest of red wieners that had been split open, with some kind of slaw on it. I remember thinking to myself, well, I didn’t come here for the food, so I’ll be polite and eat one of these little hot dogs and then get on with the studio visit. Then I took a bite.

Folks, I can tell you exactly where I was when I ate the best orange of my life, the best croissant in my life, the best spinach dish in my life, and now, the best hot dog in my life— Bunyun’s BBQ.

It was great. Again, it was a basic, cheap bun, an inexpensive red wiener, but the slaw made it. It was a mustard-based slaw that had a spicy kick too it. It was slightly sweet and tangy, but cool and spicy, too. It was slaw perfection, which led to hot dog perfection. I ate another, and then another. I begged everyone’s pardon when I went for my fourth hot dog, but our host said (with his mouth full of his third hot dog), “Don’t worry, that’s why I got so many.”

He relayed a story about a very famous singer/songwriter/performer who was in the area recording and called for a meat-and-three restaurant recommendation. “Go to Bunyon’s and get the hot dog, and how ever many you think you want to order, double that.”

“But I really want a meat-and-three,” the friend said.

“Trust me.”

The singer called him from his car, halfway up to Nashville, and said he had finished off a bag of six and wanted to know if he could get the slaw shipped to his home.

I am obviously one of the last people to know about Bunyon’s hot dogs. My friend who owns the studio served hundreds of them on silver trays at his daughter’s wedding a few years ago.

Bunyon’s is a small, limited menu bbq joint. They don’t ship any food or cater any big events. They cook awesome hotdogs made with excellent cole slaw, and if you want it, you go to the restaurant and get it.

I own a burger joint that sells killer hot dogs, I have eaten bratwurst at Lambeau Field, chili-dogs in Yankee Stadium, and dozens of other hot dogs in dozens of other noted locations and restaurants. None, I repeat, none, can hold a candle to the cheap little slaw dog at Bunyon’s.

View today’s recipe: Almost Bunyan’s Hot Slaw Recipe

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