Steve’s Place in Raleigh wins Triangle Hot Dog Bracket

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Nathan’s beef dog at Steve’s Place in Raleigh on Monday, May 23, 2022.

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The Triangle’s Hot Dog Bracket is a true underdog story.

After collecting 16 hot dog shops, voters considered the best hot dogs from Chapel Hill to Clayton, narrowing the list until the final pitted Raleigh institution The Roast Grill against Steve’s Place Deli in North Raleigh. And with 71% of the final vote, Steve’s Place is the best dog in the Triangle.

Call it a vocation, call it destiny, the owner of Steve’s Place thinks the magic starts with the name.

“My last name is Weiner,” said Steve Weiner. “It could be fate.”

Steve Weiner calls himself Steve 2.0. The original owner of Steve’s Place is Steve Daniels, a retired Raleigh police officer who ran the hot dog shop from 2000 until 2019, when it was sold to Weiner. There were a few changes in the transition, the addition of an all-day breakfast, a larger sandwich menu, but the heart and soul remained on the bun.

“We’re really known for hot dogs,” Weiner said.

Steve’s Place is a hot dog stand in a mall that was built two decades ago. There are no seats inside, just a counter for ordering.

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Steve’s Place Deli in Raleigh on Monday, May 23, 2022. Juli Leonard [email protected]

Weiner has spent his career working in restaurants and convenience stores, first in his native New Jersey and more recently in the Triangle, before moving in 2009 to manage a truck stop in Johnston County and then local locations in Taco Bell.

Then, in 2019, he was looking to direct something of his own. That’s when he found Steve’s Place, which had already built a community of hot dog fans in North Raleigh.

“I love Raleigh, I love it here, it’s got a great food scene,” Weiner said. “There are a lot of foodies. But the working-class type can be overlooked when these cities explode. The growth is great, but there are fewer and fewer places offering blue-collar food.

Steve’s Place: Hot Dogs Never Go Out of Style

Hot dogs are Steve’s Place as you wish. There are Brightleaf Reds and Nathan’s Famous Beef Hot Dogs, 11 toppings and all the diner favorites. They come boiled, grilled, and Weiner said they’ll even throw them in a deep fryer.

“For a little texture,” he said.

Weiner said he had never seen a red hot dog before moving to North Carolina. For him, a hot dog was a long Nathan’s beef trotter with red onion sauce on it.

“People here will say, ‘Give me two regular hot dogs,'” Weiner said. “But the regularity depends on where you come from. It could be beef or pork. If someone asks for a regular hot dog, I tell our workers to listen to the accent.

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Steve’s Place hot dogs come any way you want them. There are Brightleaf Reds and Nathan’s Famous Beef Hot Dogs, 11 toppings and all the diner favorites. They come boiled, grilled, and owner Steve Weiner said they’ll even throw them in a deep fryer. Pictured is a Nathan’s Famous kielbasa. Juli Leonard [email protected]

Weiner said hot dogs will never go out of fashion, that a grilled sausage is a memory countless people share, a lifelong bond with a squirt of mustard.

“I think that’s the common denominator,” Weiner said. “Whatever your background, whatever your upbringing, you probably grew up with hot dogs, putting them on sticks over the fire, barbecues on Memorial Day. We disagree on a lot of things, but hot dogs are a constant thing.

After calling North Carolina home for more than a decade, Weiner said he’s seen Raleigh’s growth change the food landscape, embracing fast food trends and styles that often mean higher prices. He said that Steve’s Place aims to be a must for everyone.

“It’s just kind of common food for normal people,” Weiner said. “We are blue collar, we have a lot of regulars. It’s kind of a dying place, a take-out place. We don’t have chocolate soufflés or red potatoes. It’s a hot dog, it’s three dollars. You can put seven toppings on it and it’s three dollars. We keep things simple.

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Red footlong at Steve’s Place in Raleigh on Monday, May 23, 2022. Juli Leonard [email protected]

Finalist: The Roast Grill

Over time, The Roast Grill’s stance on ketchup has softened somewhat. You are now allowed to bring your own, if you wish to dishonor your hot dog, and perhaps yourself, with such a condiment. Owner George Poniros said the 82-year-old lunch counter’s famous anti-ketchup philosophy came from his grandmother, Mary Charles.

“People would want ketchup and she’d kind of chuckle and tsking and shake her fork and say ‘No ketchup,'” Poniros said. “The reason is that she spent so much time preparing the chili – a day and a half – and you don’t taste the full flavor of the chili if you cover it with ketchup.”

The Roast Grill, one of Raleigh’s oldest restaurants and one of the state’s most famous hot dog joints, is second in the Triangle Hot Dog Bracket, but it’s not the silver medal belongs to nobody.

Poniros’ grandparents opened the restaurant in 1940, serving a broader menu including pork chops, stews and green beans, but soon focused on hot dogs.

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George Poniras, grandson of Greek immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, is the third generation of his family to sell grilled hot dogs in this cramped but cozy spot in downtown Raleigh. Photo courtesy of Mike Lassiter

Poniros has been running the Roast Grill for 30 years, watching the modest 12-seat counter become an icon. He said there’s no secret to it being magic, it’s just a matter of attention.

“It’s worth grilling (the hot dogs), it’s finding the best sausage you can find, it’s the vibe, it’s one of a kind,” Poniros said. “We try to make every one of our toppings. We don’t do anything mediocre.

Roast Grill’s grilled sausages are from Michigan, the chili is a 100-year-old recipe, the coleslaw is coarsely chopped cabbage that once meant a quarter extra, which customers were happy to pay. Drinks are coke and local beer bottles. The hot dogs themselves blacken and burn slowly on the roasting pan of the Roast Grill, cooked a few feet from the counter full of diners. Dessert is a couple of miniature Tootsie Rolls.

It’s a hot dog, but it’s also an experience.

“It’s a hot dog that you can eat and actually enjoy and say it’s delicious,” Poniros said. “I will as long as I can walk.”

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the Triangle and North Carolina food scene.

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