I can recall with crisp detail the day I ate the best hot dog of my entire life: June 21, 2000. I was sitting way above first base in Boston's Fenway Park and my friend, whose birthday had prompted the trip to Beantown, introduced me to the world's greatest cased meat: the Fenway Frank. That day, I learned the importance of the word "wicked," rode my first T train and watched the Sox triumph over the Yanks, all memorable events on their own. But I will never forget that hot dog.
I'm not the world's foremost connoisseur, but I think I know a thing or two about hot dogs. Well, I thought I did until I met a mustachioed 71-year-old with white hair and more personality than a talk show host.
Stan Linkowski is the proprietor of Stan's Char-Broiled Hot Dogs, which opened in the Vista Village Shopping Center in October 2007. A restaurant management graduate of St. Bonaventure University in New York, Linkowski lusted after a Buffalo, N.Y., hot dog seller's recipe for Texas Red Hot Sauce for 40 years before the man finally caved. After shelling out $50,000—you read that right—and rechristening the accoutrement, Stan's "Bronco Sauce" was born. Linkowski will not, of course, reveal the recipe, but I'd describe it as the world's greatest lightly spiced, bean-free chili.
Hot dogs are available in nearly every grocery store in the nation, and Linkowski attributes his restaurant to a momentary lapse of sanity and a flare of ego that told him people would love his food. His Angus Burgers come from Burley, but every one of his dogs and sausages are flown in fresh weekly from Sahlen's, a 125-year-old premium meat producer in Buffalo—the city he attributes with having the best-tasting hot dogs in the country.
Stan's might be described as the best hot dog dive in Boise if it weren't for its immaculately clean interior. Framed Boise State artwork and Boise-area high school and NFL pennants hang on the pristine beige and red walls. And Linkowski's employees, none paid less than $10 per hour, are not pimply faced kids. They're customer service experts who'll guide you through ordering a hot dog with all of the care and smiles of a first grade teacher. If you see him there, Linkowski will thank you for visiting Stan's; and when you come back, he'll remember you.
Linkowski clearly knows his meats, but they're only a portion of his eatery's appeal. The lightly breaded, ridiculously crunchy onion rings are the result of a year-long mission by Jolene, Linkowski's wife, to perfect the recipe. And no meal is complete without sampling the soft-serve frozen custard. Stan's custard is less sweet than most, but the best treat since whipped topping.
When I went, I ordered the special, a foot-long dog, fries and medium drink ($6.95), and my girlfriend chose a cheese dog ($3.05), onion rings ($2.49) and a medium Diet Pepsi ($1.49). A $7-meal sounded steep for ballgamey fare, but heaping bags of fries and rings, and giant dogs made me completely reconsider that notion. We downed our regular swirl cones ($2.49) in minutes flat, which only whetted our appetite for dessert. We ordered take-home pints ($3.95) of both chocolate and vanilla flavors to revisit later—as in, about an hour later.
A hot dog and burger joint is not fine dining, but Stan's gets close as far as the quality of the food is concerned. Don't be surprised if after a visit, you ask "McWhat?" or "Dairy Who?" And keep the square on your calendar free the day you meet Stan. It might very well end up being the day you eat the best hot dog of your life.
—Travis Estvold is a wicked hardcore Mariners fan whenever he's not in Boston.