The Roast Grill

I have a confession: “I don’t like hotdogs.” There, I said it. They are the last food item that I will typically eat. I avoid them at ballgames, picnics, and cookouts. I don’t know where this came from, maybe overeating them as a kid, but they are not appetizing for me. However, I love the hotdogs from Roast Grill. I can remember distinctly my first trip to Roast when I had just moved to Raleigh in 1993. It was one of the places you had to go to. It was “Raleigh.” I was given strict instructions, “Get ’em burnt, get ’em with chili, onions, and mustard (you can add ‘slaw if you want to get ‘crazy.’ But for goodness’ sake, don’t ask for ketchup or fries.” And so, I went down and entered an old storefront attached to a house, sat at the bar, and did my best to fit in. And from that moment on, I was hooked- Raleigh was in my blood. So, when we discussed starting this blog, I demanded we go to the place that is known for one thing: Roast Grill and hotdogs.
I have found that three is my magic number. I get them now as I did the first time: burnt, chili, mustard, and onions. The char and snap add a smoky texture to the banquet of unique flavors to create the perfect dog. Add a Bottle of Mexican Coke, and I am transported back 30 years to a young punk who was beginning to think they knew something about something. It is bliss. I crave these things every two weeks or so and make excuses to be on West Street at 11:30 AM to be first in line on some Saturdays. Sometimes, the best experiences are when we just let go and enjoy the ride. Roast Grill has been that for me, and I wish you the same fate. See you at 11:30 on Saturday. — Don

Don’t go for the hot dogs. They’re pretty darn good, but to be honest, the newly introduced bratwurst is even better.

Go for the vibe.

Roast Grill has been around since 1940 and feels like it. It feels like Jimmy Stewart, in his “It’s a Wonderful Life” phase could come strolling through the door at any moment. Or Humphrey Bogart banging the door open, sporting a minor gunshot wound, saying, “Gimme a couple of dogs, doll, burnt.” Yeah, that kind of vibe.

The place is small, 13 seats in all. Going to the Roast Grill requires some planning.

Here are some Dos and Don’ts:

Do: arrive at or before 11:30. Wait in your car if you have to. If you’re walking across the street just as they flip the sign from Closed to Open, you’ve hit it just right. 

Don’t: ask for ketchup. You won’t get it. The dogs are served with chili, cheese, mustard and onions. You can ask for deletions ( I’m not fond of raw onions), but don’t ask for additions. They do hot dogs their way, take it or leave it.

Do: know the lingo. Michael had been there before and knew to ask for his dogs “burnt”. That means extra crispy on the outside. I had a bite of his, and, damn, it was better.

Don’t: ask for French fries. That marks you as a newbie. They don’t serve fries.

Do: bring cash. That’s all they take. No cards, no checks, no Krugerands or bearer bonds. Cash only. Bring at least a $20 because you’ll want three dogs or a dog and a brat with a drink.

Do: revel in the fact that a place like this exists. It is a throwback, or maybe a carryover, from a time that no longer exists except in this tiny hole-in-the-wall hot dog joint.Yeah, that kind of vibe. — Chad

The Roast Grill in Raleigh is right around the corner from Taverna Agora and makes it seem like this site is going to focus only on restaurants started by Greek immigrants. I have lived in the Raleigh area for 25 years and had not eaten here. Don has been on me about eating here since The Straight Beef days. At the time, he even went as far as suggesting we branch out from burgers and add hot dog rankings to the site. After having eaten there twice for a total of six hot weiners, I can see where Don was coming from.
The Roast Grill was opened in 1940 by Mary and George Charles on the bottom floor and front porch of 7 S West Street. Victoria Bouloubasis wrote a great history of this purveyor of weiners for the News & Observer. It is part of a rich history of Greek-owned restaurants in Raleigh. The Mecca is the only longer-standing family-run restaurant in Raleigh, beating The Roast Grill by five years. The Mecca was opened by Greek immigrants, of course.
Mary and George’s grandson, George Poniros, currently mans the grill, and his wife serves them up. The only food on the menu is hot dogs, brats, bags of chips, pound cake, and baklava. You can get soda or beer in a can or bottle. That’s it. On those dogs, you can get chili, mustard, onions, and slaw. Don’t ask for ketchup, as it is forbidden.
I had some of my hot dogs with just mustard and the rest with mustard and chili. All of them were ordered burnt. That gave them a satisfying snap when biting into them. They all had just the right amount of toppings so as to not spill out all over the place while eating them. The chili is made from grandfather George’s recipe. It’s tangy and not the least bit spicy. If you want spice, you can use a dash or two of Texas Pete’s. I washed them down with Mexican Cokes in glass bottles.
These hot dogs were very good, but I don’t know if I could differentiate them from other very good hot dogs I have eaten. That’s OK, though. They didn’t need to be amazing because the place is. A simple menu with wonderful people not interested in what people think of them on social media. They love NC State sports and the Carolina Hurricanes. They make good hot dogs. That’s enough.
The second time I was in there, Chad and I lingered for a bit after finishing our food as the lunch rush had finished. A young man walked in and asked if they had fries. George looked at him and told him no. He added, “We don’t take cards. Cash only.” The guy left, and George gave us a knowing look. “Whenever anyone asks for fries, I know they don’t have cash.” — Michael

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