As people who have relocated from one region to another know, you tend to notice little things about your new home that seem unusual. One thing that stood out when I arrived in North Carolina from Washington, D.C., is the abundance of restaurants devoted to hot dogs.
Snoopy's, Penalty Box Dogs, Cloos' Coney Island, etc.—they seemed to be all over town. Any freshman in a dorm room can make hot dogs, so why go out for them? Even for someone from D.C., land of the half smoke, there seemed to be a surfeit of hot dog-focused restaurants in Raleigh.
Firewürst, located in Cary's Shoppes of Kildaire, is the newest addition to the local lineup of hot dog purveyors, and it may just answer the why-go-out-for-hot-dogs question. Its flame-grilled sausages and hot dogs are flavorful and varied. One of the most popular, according to a member of the restaurant staff, is the smoked kielbasa. It is simpler than many of the menu options available, with a blend of beef and pork dressed in grilled onions and your choice of spicy, Dijon or yellow mustard, on an 8-inch hoagie roll. The simplicity allows the smoky grilled taste of the sausage to take center stage. Other würst options include sweet Italian, hot Italian and cheddar brat.
Firewürst flexes its creativity with its 100 percent beef hot dogs. The delicious tortilla dog wraps a quarter pound of meat inside a tortilla along with diced tomatoes, lettuce, cheddar cheese and sour cream. It may not look like a hot dog, but it tastes like one that made a quick stop at your favorite Mexican restaurant en route to your table. The spiral-cut, quarter-pound BBQ dog is topped with Swiss cheese, applewood bacon, BBQ sauce and onion "tanglers" (rings, but straighter). The West Coast is a chicken apple dog slathered in lettuce, havarti, Granny Smith apple and a "secret SüBe SoBe" sauce.
Transplants to the area may find memories of home on the portion of the menu labeled "The Classics": the Coney Island dog, the Texas chili dog, the Chicago dog, the Carolina dog and the backyard dog. They are all faithful to the geographical style they're named after.
All of the bread is fresh baked, which provides a nice canvas for such dog creativity.
But enough about the dogs. After visiting Firewürst, my answer to "why go out for hot dogs?" is "for the slaw." Yes, the slaw. These aren't finely shredded-by-machine slaws. This is slaw with a texture reminiscent from your mother's kitchen. That's because Firewürst makes all three of its slaws fresh when you order. You may be tempted to go for a familiar taste with the sweet creamy slaw—don't. Instead, order the wasabi-cucumber slaw topped with julienned cucumber; it radiates heat with each bite. For something less fiery but no less enjoyable, try the sesame-ginger slaw. The won-ton noodles that top it provide a pleasing crunch, while the sesame-ginger dressing will have you scraping the slaw's cup with your fork to get the last bite when you get to the bottom.
There are other excellent sides. The sweet potato fries are some of the best I've ever encountered, crisp and flavorful thanks to a dusting of brown sugar and nutmeg. The "crispy onion tanglers" aren't as consistently crispy as billed, but even when they're a bit floppy they still are a hit.
Choose among soda, beer or wine to wash it all down.
Based on how packed Firewürst was at lunchtime on a recent weekday, quite a few people have decided why they should go out for hot dogs.