ST. LOUIS — "Thank you, St. Louis!"
Those words were always bittersweet if you went to a concert back in the day in the Lou. The band had put on a show for the ages, but now your thirst for life and tunes were replaced by a newfound hunger rage. With your ears ringing and liver soaked in alcohol, you settled for a 24-7 diner or fast-food drive-through. By morning, those great music memories were gone and stomach revenge awaited your first cup of coffee.
Steve Ewing, frontman for the longtime popular St. Louis band The Urge, changed that when he pulled a hot dog cart in front of a concert venue back in 2008. He would go on to create a brick and mortar location on The Hill and later open a second location in Tower Grove East. Saturday was the last day for the business, as Steve's Hot Dogs closed its doors for the last time.
Lines filled the streets, good times were had as Ewing hit the stage for some music, and people went home full. They won't be able to grab a specialty dog on Monday, but they will have a hard time forgetting these particularly inventive and satisfying hot dogs.
The first time I went to Steve's Hot Dogs was around six years ago. I went to the Hill location, having passed it a dozen times. My family came with me, and when I walked in, the menu was overloaded with good treats. Making a choice wasn't easy, because your head wanted to have three dogs even if your stomach could only handle one.
You could truly lean into it with Steve's classic chili dog, a salivating and epic eat that may or may not induce a small food coma. Chicago hospitality was shown with the St. Louis-Chicago dog, basically, a hot dog loaded with all the Windy City trimmings. The Bacon-Bacon Jamaican dog had jerk seasoning, sweet chipotle sauce, and pepper jack cheese. There were movie-themed dogs, like the Stormtrooper. Keywords from movies helped you get a discount off your next hot dog. You made a choice and were happy.
I had the Gorilla mac n' cheese hot dog, which is basically what your mind is describing at the moment. A smothered and covered hot dog that only foodies could think up and bring to fruition. There may have been bacon and fried onions on my shirt as I drove home. We left Steve's happy that night, and I would return for more. Every time I drove by, I opened negotiations with my stomach to fit a hot dog into that day's diet. Good food makes you do that.
With this establishment, St. Louis got to see Ewing's heart and soul. He was always a giving person, whether it was on the stage or off it. When I was a young radio host starting out and trying to get big names onto my show, I ran into Steve at a local gym and out of the blue asked him to come on. He had a solo gig that weekend, so we could help each other. Without evening thinking, or going through publicists or reps, he agreed. Steve is an upfront guy no matter what he is doing or where he is doing it.
It's that genuine attitude that helped make Steve's Hot Dogs last for 11 years and two locations. Ewing admitted that the Kingshighway construction hindered foot traffic to the Hill location, and put the business at a deficit that it could come back from. I don't need an extra excuse to complain about road construction. The kind that seems to last 6-12 months longer than expected and puts a stranglehold on local businesses that can't make up the loss. Ewing added burgers to the menu, but the location change didn't help business enough. That is why it was a surprise when I saw the news of their closing because you don't find this kind of unique food just anywhere in St. Louis.
Steve's Hot Dogs was something else, and that was all due to the owner and namesake being a one of a kind himself. Wherever he goes next, whether playing with his band or into another business adventure, I will invest time and money. It's a done deal. I'm not a big mushroom fan, but if Steve opens a fried mushroom stand, I am going.
In a day and age of corporate business weighing down on mom and pop shops and the old times slowly dying, we need more people like Steve Ewing.
Thanks for the good times and the tasty food, Steve and company.