Birmingham’s reputation as a food destination has grown in recent years as white tablecloth restaurants and trendy food trucks have staked claim on the city’s culinary scene. But when it comes to basics, Gus’s Hot Dogs still is a main attraction.
On any given day, police officers and politicians, lawyers and laborers eat hot dogs and talk sports and area happenings in the small shop near the corner of 4th Avenue North and 19th Street. They are drawn to the special slaw, sauce and chili toppings made in-house by George Nasiakos.
“As far as quick food goes, you’re not going to find a better hot dog,” says Birmingham police officer Herbert Jackson. Many days he pops in and gets a brown paper sack stuffed with two regular hot dogs and a bag of chips.
“I try to keep it healthy, so I just drink water with ’em,” the 60-year-old Jackson says. “To me, it’s just the best.”
Rusty Sherard of Trussville has his favorite menu item — the special hot dog with cheese.
The “special” means you get the sauce, beef, ’kraut and regular fixings like mustard and onions, if you like. He eats them while standing in the small shop, and finishes off the meal with a cold Grapico.
Sherard, a 50-year-old car wholesaler, passes through downtown regularly and makes Gus’s a part of his visit, even on Saturdays.
“I used to go to Pete’s Famous, but that hot dog shop closed after the owner passed a few years ago. That’s when I learned about this place, and I’ve been coming ever since,” he said.
Pete’s Famous closed in 2011 after the owner Gus Koutroulakis died. A couple of years ago, the Lyric Hotdogs and Grill closed to make way for redevelopment on Third Avenue North.
Hot dog shops dotted almost every block in downtown Birmingham back in the 1970s. As the city’s retail area transitioned, some of the shops closed. But Gus’s, operated by Nasiakos with help from Carl Lee “LA” Alexander, remains a city fixture.
If you’re planning to visit and use a credit card at Gus’s, stop by an ATM on the way. Only cash is accepted, but it doesn’t take a lot of it. Two hot dogs and a drink cost about $5. And there are other things on the menu: hamburgers, sausages, bologna sandwiches and chips.
Nasiakos, a 75-year-old, white-haired man, with a heavy Greek accent, knows many of his customers by name. He knows their occupations. And he knows many of their children, because they also visit for hot dogs.
Often, he has goodies stashed away for children — candy and fruit. It’s not unusual to see a child come in after school, run to the end of counter and holler “Mr. Gus,” then give him a hug.
“I like it here. I like the people. I like the work,” says Nasiakos, a native of the Greek city of Tripoli. “I make a lot of friends here.”