Review: Gus' Hot Dogs Dishes Up Tasty Downtown Tradition
1915 4th Avenue North (downtown)
By Deborah Lockridge
Four forks for a hot dog place, you say? Well, you just can't get any better than this for hot dogs. For years, our favorite downtown hot dog place was Pete's Famous. But Gus' Hot Dogs, just a few blocks away, may be even better.
We headed over for lunch on a Saturday. Gus' is in the middle of the block with a parking lot on one side and a parking deck on the other. In fact, it's actually part of the parking deck structure – inside, the half-column of the large parking deck support columns divides the narrow foot-wide counter that runs along one wall, where a handful of rickety stools offer a place to dine. Shakers of cayenne and a selection of hot sauces sit on the counter awaiting heat-loving customers.
The interior is bright and clean, and owner George Nasiakos greets everyone with a smile and sometimes a wink and maybe a "ladies first" as he takes the orders and prepares the hot dogs behind the counter. There are obviously many regulars.
After watching him prepare a chili-slaw dog with a really big squeeze of mustard, I ordered mine light on the mustard. He still slathered on the mustard, but I was surprised when I tasted the finished product that the mustard just complemented the mix of flavors, rather than overwhelming it as I had feared. In fact, it was the best chili-slaw dog I'd ever had. Gus' chili and slaw are both on the dry side, with plenty of flavor but not as much mess to slop all over your clothes. The chili had a pleasant, lingering bit of spicy heat to it.
The Birmingham style all-the-way dog was good, as well. Gus' dogs seem to be of a higher quality than average, as well as larger (though not as big as the huge kosher dogs at Chicago Mike's in Homewood.) The topping amounts are generous, yet not piled so high they're sloppy to eat. His version of Birmingham's own hot dog sauce is a little sweeter and thicker than most, with some different seasonings.
In addition to hot dogs, Gus' offers a few other sandwiches, such as BLTs, burgers and fried bologna. There aren't any fries, but plenty of Golden Flake chips are available, along with fountain drinks or bottled drinks. On the breakfast menu are sandwiches with fillings such as egg, bacon, sausage, and fried bologna.
According to the Southern Foodways Alliance, Gus Alexander, a native of Greece, opened Gus’s Hot Dogs, sometime in the late 1940s. Alex Choraitis (who later owned the now-closed Andrew’s Bar-B-Q) took the place over in the 1960s, when Gus and his wife returned to live in Greece.
Current owner George Nasiakos took it over soon after his arrival to Birmingham in 1997. George came to Birmingham from Tripolis, Greece, via Chicago, where he worked at his brother’s restaurant, Chris’s Grill. Aleck Choraitis recruited George from Chicago, where their brothers knew each other, so that he could concentrate on his barbecue business. The sauce recipe is the same one Gus Alexander created and then sold to Aleck and later George – almost. George says he’s added his own touch to the sauce in the intervening years, making it a little less spicy than the original.
Read the transcript of the Southern Foodways' 2004 interview with George at http://www.southernfoodways.com/oral_history/greek/BG04_gushotdogs.shtml
Review posted October 2007.
Update (Fall 2008): We have been back to Gus' a number of times in the past year, and it is always good. The breakfast sandwiches are good, too.