The hot dog has been an iconic staple of American cuisine for generations. It alludes to a place, a memory—afternoons at the ballpark, dinner served from the grill, a chilly night around a campfire. The snap of the casing, the black char marks, the sweet and savory toppings all carry the essence of a Midwest summer.

This National Hot Dog Day, July 18, we invite you to join in the celebration with Colbye O’Neil, owner and chef of Traverse City’s Uptown Dogs. He’s giving this childhood favorite a culinary upgrade at his hot dog stand on the corner of Front Street and Boardman Avenue (in front of The Coin Slot).

“I liked the challenge of transforming the idea of what a hot dog could be,” Colbye says. “When I made the decision to start Uptown Dogs, I gave great thought not only to the ingredients I use but to the name of the business. I wanted you to automatically see Uptown Dogs and know you’re in for more than just your run-of-the-mill dogs.”

Indeed, a lackluster hot dog is the very last thing you’ll find on the menu. This food stand boasts one-of-a-kind creations like the Northerner topped with asparagus, bacon, carmelized onions and balsamic ketchup, and the Poutine Dog laden with shoestring sweet potato fries, rich beef gravy, bacon, onion and cheese curds. The latter requires a flame torch.

The Pico Fresco (heirloom tomatoes, radish, cilantro, candied jalapeños, jalapeño mustard and sriracha ketchup) is Colbye’s favorite. “It’s a taste of my home in California. The acid in the radish actually counteracts the jalapeño bite so that it has a cooling effect. It’s about being able to marry those flavors in a way that makes sense.”

With vegan and gluten-free options available, Uptown Dogs has something for the whole family. And if you have any room left over for dessert, the Waffle Dogs are a must-try: smoked sausages wrapped in a waffle coating. Colbye owns one of a handful of the specialty waffle makers in the country required to make this tasty treat.

While the toppings certainly make the dogs, for Colbye, it’s all about the quality and locality of ingredients, starting with the weenie itself. His franks come from Grand Rapids, pickles and sauerkraut from Lexington, mustard from Davison and chili from Detroit.

“I thought, if I’m going to do this, I want to make sure that we’re not only going to feed my family, but I want to feed the local economy as well,” Colbye says. “Caring about what you do and who you choose to use as a provider really does make a massive difference.”

Uptown Dogs started years ago as a mobile 1970s-style pushcart. After garnering a following and being invited to all the major music festivals in the state, from Electric Forest to Hoxeyville, Colbye has been able to cultivate his food stand into a thriving business with plans to expand.

Come September, expect to see Uptown Dogs moving from the street corner to a brick-and-mortar. “It’s just continued to build its repertoire, and now I’m just too far ahead to ever turn back.”

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