Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ken Morrone's Hot Dog Stand @ REI - Santa Ana


Amid the sad news that owners of L.A.'s hot dog carts were being hauled off to jail for wrapping bacon around their wieners (that sounded wrong...), eating food from a street vendor has never been more exciting. Perhaps it's because the anti-establishment rebelliousness, the perceived covertness, and the fleeting nature of it all has always been a tastier condiment than bacon itself. Leave it to prohibition to make something even more appealing.

Above all, it's the absence of formalties and pretense, where ambience, waiters, and silverware go out the door. In fact, there is no door. There is just food -- you won't get closer to what you consume and to the person preparing it than when you order from a street vendor.

But to call Ken Morrone a street vendor is inaccurate. His sausage and hot dog stand is more like your neighbor's backyard BBQ, brought out to the public. You only wish you had a neighbor like him. Friendly and energetic, he is called simply "Kenny" by the employees at the REI sporting goods store in Santa Ana, where you will find him on weekends.

Before the store's doors open for business, he sets up his monster grill outside, under the canopy of a bright blue tent. Throughout the day, until the store closes in the early evening, his hot grates will roast five kinds of sausages for a seemingly never-ending supply of patrons.

As such, the relationship Kenny has with REI is mutually beneficial. He attracts as many customers for the store as the store gives him in hungry mouths. In fact, Kenny's food has become so much a part of the REI weekend shopping experience that you aren't just allowed to browse the aisles with one of Kenny's sandwiches in hand, you're expected.

I find it best, however, to park my butt on one of the plastic chairs Kenny sets up in front of his stand. There's no better place to soak in the sun and catch a whiff of his grill smoke while my teeth sinks into one of his freshly cooked dogs.

All the foot-long sausages he offers are beautifully charred, but the Italian ($5), in particular, is burned black in spots, glistening in others -- the poster child of cooking by flame. The bite is snappy, thanks to a natural casing, and the meat is full of fennel flavor and general porkiness.

Bratwursts ($5) are equally perky, if only slightly less flavorful. But that's just a good excuse to ask for sauerkraut, which Kenny heats up for free by request on the same grill.

For those who might balk at the prices, remember this: It's actually less expensive than Jerry's Dogs (which I also love) where similar dogs retail for $5.15 (before tax). But unlike traditional establishments like Jerry's, Kenny has to lug his entire kitchen to work and tear it down at the end of the day.

So give him a break, will ya? The next time you hanker for a dog, don't "think outside the bun", just think "outside".

Ken & Mary Morrone's "The Walkin' Dog" @ REI
1411 Village Way
Santa Ana, CA 92705
Saturday: 10 am - 7 pm
Sunday: 10 am - 6 pm

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27 Comments:

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Sanford Woo, CSP said...

Even the street food you have out there looks great and is cause for envy.

 
At 6:03 PM, Blogger WSL98787 said...

MMM...looks so good. My local REI doesn't feature hot dogs! You are really lucky, elmomonster, to have a REI that has a "street vendor" that serves awesome food. Makes the hot dog I had yesterday (extra generic like) look really run down and basic.

 
At 7:49 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hi Elmo - I just had the mental image of you on the rock climbing wall, with a hot dog in one hand! ;o)

 
At 11:57 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Thank goodness for REI. At least until Santa Ana decides to start aping its big brother. There seems to be a marked trend by big city health officials to shut down all that's good and glorious in street food. The folks in Costa Mesa went after my favorite roach coach, but the Alejandro's on 19th and Placentia, which is infamous for being a bad place to order meat (unless you like counting the floor tiles in your bathroom), has stayed open for years.

 
At 12:32 AM, Blogger jesusHAX said...

Was on my way to Hollywood today and was a little hungry. I saw your blog before I left and had a crazy craving for a hotdog. I had to stop by and had myself a Italian...wow it was amazing. I will deff be back there next Sunday. Ken was amazing. Very energetic and fun.

 
At 1:33 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Looks tasty in a backyard BBQ sort of way. :-) I'd rather have that than the IKEA/meatball experience. And I'd rather have sauerkraut than bacon, but that's just my personal taste.

Oh. I posted a tasty recipe on my blog if you want to take a look. Come for the recipe, stay for the cute pictures of my kids. :-)

 
At 7:20 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Sanford and wsl98787,

I suppose we are lucky here in OC. Great food abounds (if you know where it is beyond the Olive Gardens)...but you know who's luckier? New Yorkers. Man, what I wouldn't do to be able to walk to Zabars and H&H Bagels every morning. Then take a taxi to Chinatown for all that it offers.

Kirk,

Nothing meshes together better than extreme sports and sausages!

CP,

It's unfortunate isn't it? Some of these street vendors are way cleaner than actual restaurants. It will be interesting where they go with this recent controversy about OC Health Department ratings (to grade or not to grade).

JesusHax,

Wow! That was fast! I'm glad you tried it and even happier you liked it! That Kenny's a swell guy!

Juliet,

Xander's soooo photogenic...I love this pic .

 
At 3:05 PM, Blogger jesusHAX said...

I check every Sunday(since it's my day off) and if excites me I'll go.

 
At 8:24 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I can't believe that crap, bacon and wieners is LA. I can already taste the air of the wieners frying in the bacon fat with a hint of smog. This is my wife favorite indulgence.

 
At 9:22 PM, Blogger colleeeen said...

i laughed out loud when i saw Ken at the top of your blog. i LOVE his kielbasa with sauerkraut - grilled meat, grilled kraut, grilled bun... enough to make this semi-vegetarian betray herself for a day.

 
At 10:14 PM, Anonymous evelyn said...

Wow, how coincedental. I just went to REI a couple of days ago, and picked one up on the way in. How could you not? One whiff of the smell and my stomach was growling like mad. It was very enjoyable; all props to Kenny.

 
At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Marvin said...

Every week I come here and am amazed at your incredible finds, but I'm even more amazed this week.

Hotdogs at REI? That's awesome! Does Kenny lug his cart elsewhere during the week?

 
At 1:05 AM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

Hilarious. Good one, Elmster.

 
At 4:50 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Jesushax,

Cool man! I hope my record stands and I don't disappoint you. So far 1/1.

Bill,

I'm sorry to say I never got to try it. And now I probably never will.

Colleeeen,

Cool, so you knew about him already! It was a new discovery for me, so I was extra happy when I ate one.

Evelyn,

That grill smoke is a foolproof method of marketing. No one can resist.

Marvin,

Uh, I wish I knew where he is on weekdays. He did mention he used to sell his dogs at the HB pier. Though I'm not sure whether he still does it.

Eddie,

Thanks! If you decide to make your bacon-wrapped dogs a permanent business, I'll buy one off you! I draw the line at the peanut-butter-and-jellyfish sandwich though.

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger Vegasbuff said...

Looks like a great camping trip, without the dirt, setting up the tent and not having to go to the bathroom in the bushes.

Will try it out the next time I'm down there.

 
At 2:03 PM, Anonymous White On Rice Couple said...

Hi Ken!! And thanks Elmomonster for highlighting Ken and his hot dogs! Every time we go to REI, it's impossible to not grab one of his smokin' hot dogs and a lemonade ! It's become a standard now for us to go get our outdoor gear for the season and have lunch at REI as well. It soothes my tummy before I head into REI and go into sticker shock!

It's a shame about LA's hot dog carts, especially in downtown. There was a time that we could find a kick ass hotdog street vendor on every corner between 3rd-12th street, and Hill-Los Angeles street. Not any more.
Lucily, we can occasionally find the guys that sell corn on a stick for $2, topped with butter, cheese and cayenne pepper. Now that's wickedly good!

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

vegasbuff,

You're right about that! No need to spend $$$ at REI either. And at the very least, it's like a picnic without having to bring any of your own food!

WoRC,

That corn sounds soooo good. I've heard of it, yet not seen it. You can bet when I do, I'm grabbin' one. Heck maybe two!

 
At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Lalaine said...

I've seen worst food handling habits at McDonald's so keep the hotdog cart rolling, I say!

 
At 4:11 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

lalaine,

True that! Perceptions on cleanliness is almost always that -- just perceptions.

 
At 4:22 PM, Blogger SonOfSpam said...

If memory serves right, Ken used to man the grill at Big T golf course in Buena Park years ago (before they paved paradise and put up a parking lot there). He called everyone "Brah" and served the brats and lemonade with a smile...usually inquired about any future River trips too. This was at least 10 years ago...good times!

 
At 4:36 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

SonOfSpam,

First; love your name. Second; I was talking to Ken and he did mention he used to do it at other places. I think he also mentioned HB pier at one point.

 
At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You go to REI, smell the BBQ and you feel like a moron if you don't get something from Ken's grill. I've been going to REI for years and make sure I'm hungry when i go down there. Ken is like a buddy at a backyard BBQ. Only thing that could make it better is if you could have a beer with your dog!

 
At 7:07 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

True. An ice cold beer would be perfect. Especially now. when the mercury has hit 100 F.

 
At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Brent said...

On the basis of this blog, my wife (Vicky) and I went out to see how good Ken's dogs were. Since we're both fans of Jerry's Dogs, we were curious if these would compare. Well, gotta say, they do! Vicky's keilbasa was definitely tastier than my brats. Only thing missing are Jerry's chips. Once he figures out how to do those, going to Jerry's will be history!

 
At 3:34 PM, Anonymous michael said...

You can no longer find Ken Morrone At this Location Because Of anal little ass munchs at the health department Who have nothing better to do but screw with A persons Income and shut them Down and chances are wont be able to be back here anymore-Son Of Ken Morrone

 
At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael - Say it ain't so. I'll be totally bummed without an Italian from Kenny. Anything that we can do to help?

Scott

 
At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Ken Morrone said...

714 533 8684 If you need to contact me for a catering event party etc still in bussiness doing bbq's for friends and companies look foward to hearing from you Ken The Dogfather Morrone. Have a Great Day

 

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