JJ’s Red Hots Is Burning Up Crown Town
Back in early 2012, we caught word of a new hot dog spot opening on East Blvd. We slapped up a fast and loose post about JJ’s Red Hots┬áto get the rumor mill going and used some generic stock photo of a couple ballpark franks to accompany the few details we knew. Not long after that post published, we received an email from the JJ’s team asking us to take down that photo. They politely informed us that the JJ’s handcrafted, one-of-a-kind version of America’s favorite tubed meat could not be accurately represented by some stock photography. The slogan goes, “Don’t Dis The Dog!” and JJ’s leaves little room to complain once you’ve tasted the artistry they are putting┬ábetween the bun.
Fast forward about two years and now JJ’s Red Hots has two locations in Charlotte (East Blvd. & Ballantyne), a behemoth of a food truck named Frank The Tank, and God knows how many hot dogs served. A friend at one of our neighborhood pool shindigs spied me scarfing down a hotdog and asked me if I’d ever tried JJ’s over in Ballantyne.
“They’ve got this special right now, the Dog of the Week, and it’s a hot dog with pimento cheese, bacon, and jalape├▒os,” Mike said to me.
“What?!” I said, leaving my moth agape. “What do they call this wonderment?”
“The Big Cheesy. You gotta try it.”
“That sounds about as good as it gets. I’ve seen some of their specialty dogs on Instagram. They sound pretty good. I always see local personalities coming up with recipes and the hot dogs all have these hilarious names.”
At JJ’s, there┬áis a whole wall of sausages and hot dog menu choices made with meat shipped in from Sahlen’s Packing Company in New York. There are also a few vegetarian options and kids menu with fun choices.
“Do they serve beer?” I asked.
“Yep,” my friend said nodding. “With local stuff on draft. They always have beer specials too.”
“You said this paradise is over in Ballantyne? Is it near Zapata’s? I think I’ve seen their sign off Ballantyne Commons.”
“Yeah, on the back end over by the fountain.”
“That’s what I thought,” I said. Then I craned my head over in the direction of my wife and hollered at her that we should take a night off cooking and go get some hot dogs.
And so we went with the kids in tow. The bright signs and fonts along with the happy hot dog character gives JJ’s a throwback vibe that makes me think about a diner or soda fountain with a really well-stocked jukebox. Judging by the selection of posters for Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, and The Grateful Dead on the edge of the ceiling, somebody at JJ’s shares my taste in rock and roll. When you know what you want to eat, you walk up and place an order at the counter and they give you a number to set on whatever table you choose. The staffers are all friendly and help make sure you get your food with any and all accoutrements you might want. There are lots of tables and enough space that if you get there before peak dining hours, JJ’s could accommodate a large party. A family graduation party was taking place the night we visited.
Other noteworthy points of interest: if you sign up for the text club you get a free hot dog, kids each free on Tuesdays, a pickle bar lets patrons customize their dog with sweet, spicy, and tart selections of different vegetables, the milkshakes are so good you’ll want to horde every last slurp, and there is Texas Pete is on every table.
Even with all the great menu choices before me, there was no resisting The Big Cheesy. I ordered it with a NoDa Brewing Ramble On Red and the fries. A fat smear of pimento cheese covered the Sahlen’s red hot, then came a layer of crumbled, housemade bacon, and they finished off with a couple slices of fresh pickled jalape├▒os. The toasted Martin’s bun pairs well with the chargrill on the dog and the casing on the Sahlen’s gives it a nice snap when you bite┬áinto it. Not much you can screw up when mixing such savory flavors. The jalape├▒os on top and cheddar in the pimento cheese adds a slow smolder throughout the meal. This Dog of the Week delivered on big on comfort and┬áwill please anyone who appreciates a well-made hot dog.
Aside from Green’s in Uptown, which is a Charlotte institution and original in its own right, there aren’t many other joints touting their hot dogs around Crown Town. And if another hot dog spot wants to open here, they better bring a big game. Between Green’s being the nearly 100 year old OG in town and JJ’s blazing new trails in handcrafted hot dogs, any upstarts will need need something equally as creative to compete. There is no room in this world for a mediocre hot dog and nothing about JJ’s is mediocre. Truth be told, I could see both Green’s and JJ’s Red Hots being around for the next one hundred years, holding fast to their recipes, and weathering the rough storms that come and go throughout the restaurant industry. JJ’s Red Hots is really that good. Go get some and tell them Restaurant Traffic sent you.