When hot dogs finally deserve their very own restaurant, you know Americans are onto a good thing. They are yummy, inexpensive, and packed with “wow” flavors, at least at Herndon’s very own doggy eatery, The Wiener’s Circle.
What makes this cozy little place such a culinary superstar — and it really offers an astonishing selection of the best dogs, sausages and interesting concoctions ever — is the smiling chef behind the menu, Greg Hill.
A totally devoted, possibly even obsessed, foodie, Hill has spent the past 20-plus years in the food business, stirring pots, wandering through Western and ethnic markets to grab onto ideas, and experimenting with far-out ingredient combinations that might puzzle most culinary school-trained chefs.
But besides being an obsession, Hill says the food industry basically is his hobby. “I don’t take vacations, I don’t play golf,” he said. “I haunt grocery stores and ethnic markets and I am always in the kitchen. ... The food must look interesting, and then have real taste and texture.”
Of course, he points out, he did not go to culinary school. Instead, Hill is self-taught, but not in any casual sort of way. “I took some high-end cooking classes in California,” he said. “Also, I took lessons with top chefs in D.C., such as the late Jean-Louis Palladin and Roberto Donna. Each class cost $200 and we worked from 7 a.m. onward. We students were very involved in making the food.”
He adds that in his opinion being self-taught is a better way to go.
His food education and passion must explain his and his wife’s foodie successes, as hot dogs are not their only cooking venture. The couple started out with Hill Performance Hospitality, a catering-by-contract business. And more than 20 years ago, they started the very successful Great Falls Gourmet Catering Company, a full-service caterer, for all types of events and occasions. As far as running this mini-conglomerate, Hill explains that he does the cooking; his wife, Diane, runs the business end.
Then about two years ago, the Hills launched this offbeat business, taking over the space of what was once Jamaica, Jamaica. They launched The Wiener’s Circle, and recently, Jenni’s Authentic Tacos and Pupusas right next door.
But for many the real draw to the Hill’s business will be the doggy deal. For one, hot dogs and sausages are really not the only menu items. Hill manages to offer such specials as a duck panini with mashed potatoes and hoisin sauce on chapatti rolls, lamb sliders, and a lobster and lamb surf ’n’ turf combo with french fries. And then there are such oddities as this: He uses taki corn sticks, a chili-lime crisp he found in a Hispanic grocery store to garnish hot dogs covered in a chipotle cheese sauce.
With 12 different hot dogs and sausages, 40 different toppings, and a host of daily specials announced via email the night before, The Wiener’s Circle is really a go-to place for the food famished. How can you beat the Barking Tall, a deep-fried hot smoked sausage covered with Tabasco onions and a dripping sriracha cheese topping garnished with potato sticks for crunch?