There are quests for salvation and quests for money, but when Byron Caulk sauntered into The Herald in Rock Hill, a city he does not know well, he was on a quest far more important.
Caulk wore a golf shirt and a golfer’s tan and spouted out: “I’m lookin’ for the best hot dog in town! I’m on a mission!”
A retired salesman with a spiel so smooth you could rub your face against it, who worked for Sonoco so long his nickname was “Sonoco” to a thousand customers, Caulk ran into me – who knows all and never met a stranger. I said: “Ebenezer Grill! Home of the Giant Weenie!”
Loyd Ardrey, the grill owner, was immediately summoned by phone and yelled, “Tell Byron come on!”
So Caulk, from Pawleys Island, headed a mile from The Herald to Ebenezer Grill, self-described world famous with the self-described best hot dog on earth. Caulk has been to many places in the Carolinas and puts his hot dog journeys on Facebook. The joints and dives and holes in the wall are his favorites.
“One rule: no chains,” Caulk said. “Never. Local place, local people, local dogs only,” Caulk said.
At Ebenezer Grill, Caulk walked in and knew he was home. The regulars elbowed for room, the place was as loud as a wedding reception with an open bar, the tea was poured, and the dogs were slung as fast as the waitresses could carry them.
“One dog all the way!” Caulk called out. “Chili, slaw, mustard.”
The dog was in front of him before he could sit down and Ardrey was right there next to him telling the tall tales of the rooftop sign that was stolen in 2005. After The Herald’s coverage of the weenie sign theft a decade ago – when an old salty police detective quipped, “It’s tough to hide a 12-foot weenie” – Ebenezer Grill and Ardrey were on the news all over the world.
But is the dog great, Caulk wondered as the regulars leaned in to find out what this talky traveler was up to.
Better than great, Ardrey said. The best.
Caulk raised the dog in his left hand and took the first bite. His eyes widened. His teeth churned. His smile pushed to the ends of his face.
“Delicious!” Caulk proclaimed.
The two guys shot the breeze like old friends. Caulk found out the guy he came to see in York County once owned the Ebenezer Grill decades ago before Ardrey took over. Friends were made, in seconds, over a hot dog and a smile.
Caulk ordered another dog.
“Onions?” asked the waitress.
“Bring ’em,” said Caulk. “You live once.”
He ate the dog.
“Hot dog, that’s good,” Caulk said.
Caulk bought two bumper stickers of the famous place and got ready to head out. But he was not done.
“Gimme four – to go,” Caulk said. “Hot dog good as this is, you better have some to take home for the wife. She gets two. I get the other two.”