Jeremy Hardcastle is passionate about hot dogs. Most days, he can be found in a basement kitchen of an Asheville restaurant, forcing meat into casings to make his handmade wieners, which he provides to Table, Tod's Tasties and the Admiral. Soon, Hardcastle's Handmade Hot Dogs will be available in the light of day.
In the past, these dogs have mostly been a nocturnal phenomenon. On weekend evenings at the Admiral, Hardcastle can be found behind the helm of his cart, which often seems to be the center of some spectacle.
The most intoxicated of the Admiral's late-night revelers seem drawn to the smell of pork fumes like moths to a flame — some even want to take part in the business end of things. At least once, a girl wearing fishnet stockings served up the wieners, much to Hardcastle's delight. The cart's even been known to catch fire.
Perfecting the recipe for his hot dogs — which took about a year and a half, says Hardcastle — was a comedy of errors. At least that's how it sounds when he tells the story.
For example, Hardcastle, who uses milk powder to emulsify his meats, once ran out. So he decided to substitute heavy cream.
"I basically ended up with pork whipped cream," he says with a shrug, chalking the experience up to another wiener lesson learned.
What he doesn't often mention, however, is that he's well trained in the art of cooking, an experienced chef who's traveled extensively, staging in a number of restaurants — including one in Portland that turned out a hand-crafted hot dog, which Hardcastle immediately wanted to replicate.
Plenty of trial and error has earned Hardcastle's hot dogs fans aplenty.
Dustin Spagnola is one such fan — at least it seems that way. When asked what he thinks about Hardcastle hot dogs, the local artist deadpans, "They taste just like other hot dogs. I think that's the main selling point, really."
"That's really what I was going for," says Hardcastle.
"That's really what you were going for, Jeremy? Good idea," says Spagnola.
Even if they taste like it, these aren't your typical hot dogs. Sure, purists can procure a plain Jane dog if they want. Even a standard Hardcastle dog, however, is something special: he makes each one with all-local, all-natural meats.
"I'm taking a product that's seen as being made with not necessarily the most prime ingredients — you know, assholes and earlobes — and making something that people won't be afraid to eat or have any guilt about eating," he says.
Hardcastle maintains that there are no strange parts in his hot dogs.
"I use beef chuck and pork shoulder — the same thing you have in a burger or in barbecue," he says. "I'm into making really good food with wholesome products made from around here, but I also have a soft spot for really bad food — most cooks I know do."
To that end, he says, when it comes to some of his products, Hardcastle won't be trying to recreate the wheel — or Cheez Whiz.
"Sure, I want to focus on handmade products — make my own sauerkraut, make my own chili, have someone make relish for me, but at the same time, I'm probably going to use fluffy white buns and Cheez Whiz. You try to make Cheez Whiz."
Hardcastle, though, does like to experiment. One concoction he made for the 4th of July party at the Rankin Vault cocktail lounge — a hot dog topped with bacon, goat cheese and blueberries — received rave reviews.
There's also a jalepeno-bacon combo, piled high with guacamole, tomatoes and mayo. It's a stomach-confusing experience, to be sure, and not for the faint of heart. Hardcastle calls that monstrosity the "Mexi."
"I'm trying to get inspiration from wieners around the world," says Hardcastle, who says that he'd like to develop plenty more special dogs for his cart, according to his daily whims.
"I want to have it so I can just play with it," he says of his rotating selection of wieners. "I want to have specials — and use even different types of sausages, like bratwurst and chorizo. I just want to have fun and make good food."
Hardcastle also makes a BLT dog with chevre — lettuce, tomato and goat cheese. "I hope to have different specials every week, and get the Chicago dog down — and maybe add bacon to it." Hardcastle practically giggles when he talk about maybe wrapping hot dogs in bacon one day. "I'm really into the bacon dogs," he says. "They're really very good."
Hardcastle is, in fact, so enthusiastic about wieners, that he's got one tattooed on him. This particular hot dog is wearing Mickey Mouse gloves and waving from a spot on Hardcastle's thigh.
"I think it's going to be my new logo," says Hardcastle. "I'll at least put it on my T-shirts, if not on the side of the cart." He might, he adds, depict his waving hot dog as dropping any number of racy double entendres about wieners.
"There's so much sexual innuendo that comes my way with hot dogs and sausage," says Hardcastle, rattling off T-shirt slogan ideas that include, "Hardcastle handmade hot dogs — full of love and waiting to burst in your mouth," he says. "There's also the ubiquitous, 'You can't beat my meat.'"
When asked if he thinks any of this will offend, Hardcastle says, "I hope so. I mean, it's a hot dog. You can't take that seriously."