Seattle Dog - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods

Seattle Dog

The city loves hot sausage slathered with cold cream cheese.

On late nights, you’ll find Seattleites pouring from live music venues in search of street meat. Many vendors lure customers with the scent of smoky sausages. That’s a common enough scene, but only in Seattle do hungry denizens opt for cream cheese as a topping, and not just when they’re drunk. If your reaction to the combination is “Doesn’t that stuff go on a bagel?” Why yes, it does. And that’s exactly why you’ll find it smeared on hot dog buns in Seattle. 

The tale of Seattle’s signature dog begins about 30 years ago. Though many lay claim to its invention, a bagel vendor named Hadley Longe remembers being among the first to peddle the pairing to fame. Longe worked at Bagel Express in Pioneer Square during the day and operated a food cart at night. After hours of partying, Seattleites—rocking out to local bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains—wanted hot dogs. But Longe “didn’t want to be a hot-dog guy.” What he wanted was to be a “bagel man.” The compromise? Sell bagels and cream cheese with a hot dog stuffed inside.

Using a nearby bakery’s hand-rolled bialy sticks to accommodate the filling, Longe sold a fusion of cold, creamy spread and steamy, juicy sausage. And people loved it, maybe even more for the sense of place it imparted than its midnight munchies appeal. Sure, cream cheese makes tubular meat more likely to slip out of a bun, but despite the structural integrity problems, the union (which required both hands to eat) was a hit. Longe’s fusion of two familiar foods inspired three other bars on the block to open hot dog stands (using traditional buns, not bialys). From there, the trend spread like cream cheese on a bagel.

In 2003, Seattle cracked down on street vending, stunting access to the dishes that helped define the scene. Seven years later, legal revisions invited a resurgence of street food, allowing the Seattle dog to regain its popularity. Today, just about every local hot-dog vendor offers cream cheese as part of their condiment lineup. Some finish the dog with sautéed onion or cabbage, a tribute to traditional Polish-style sausages served in the European delis that dot the city.

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