This is a conversion story. My road to Damascus led past the bustle of the Oak Bluffs harborfront, ending at Dinghy Dogs, the daytime home of Brian Langhammer, the self-proclaimed Hot Dog King of Martha’s Vineyard. I was a hot dog agnostic, chastened by a lifetime of experiences of the sausages as an ignoble mystery meat turning slowly in convenience store displays, or stewing anonymously in suspicious, yellowed water. All that changed after a summerlong education by the evangelizer of the all-American barbecue staple. Each trip to the hot dog stand brought a new suite of outrageous accompaniments: bacon, cole slaw, sour cream, sriracha, pineapples and homemade relishes of all variety.
“I had a little bit of a relish block in the past month,” Mr. Langhammer said on Tuesday as he shoved a handful of onions into a food processor. “But I just came up with a new one. Code name: Red Velvet. We broke through in a big way. It’s a good relish. A gooood relish . . . hot dogs. Get excited.”
Mr. Langhammer possesses an outsized personality to match the audacity of his dogs, a fact that becomes apparent within a 100-foot radius of his hot dog stand.
“Behold!” he announced to the Oak Bluffs hoi polloi on a sultry Tuesday afternoon. “Behold the hot dog king of Martha’s Vineyard! Honi soit qui mal y pense.”
“What does that mean?” asked a bemused bystander.
“Shame on he who thinks ill of it.”
Mr. Langhammer opened the stand with his wife, Jennifer, the hot dog queen of Martha’s Vineyard, in 2009. Since then he has tinkered like a mad scientist developing the latest breakthroughs in his condiment arsenal.
“Some of the recipes I keep in a book by my bed. I came up with the Blueberry Groover in a dream. It’s bacon underneath, a balsamic blueberry reduction, a shot of sour cream, chopped onions, couple drops of hot, a nice shake of chives.”
Other offerings include the Grand Hawaiian, which comes stocked with bacon, melted cheddar, barbecue sauce and a homemade spicy pineapple relish, and the State of Maine, which comes loaded with Mr. Langhammer’s Coney Island sauteed onions, bacon, mustard and . . . mayonnaise.
“Mayo’s gross, mayo’s gross on hot dogs, but it works on that dog,” he said. “Today if I can get to it, as soon as I get my main ingredient on the fryer, I’m doing this.”
He produces a handmade sign from underneath the counter.
“PANAMA SAM: Curried bananas, black beans, bacon, sour cream, onions — delicioso,” it reads.
As for the dogs themselves Mr. Langhammer serves the all-beef, natural casing Pearl Kountry Klub Frank.
“They’re the best hot dogs I’ve ever had,” he said. “If I ever find a better hot dog I will sell those. It’s smoky, it’s spicy without being hot. Just a very rich experience. Grill ’em, butter ‘em and serve ‘em on Martin’s famous Pennsylvania Dutch potato rolls.”
Mr. Langhammer has a Martin’s bread deliveryman leave a shipment of the rolls with the Patriot ferry in Falmouth and pays ferry personnel in cash before wheeling his prized rolls back to Dinghy Dogs.
“It’s worth it because they’re the best and that’s what we do,” he said.
Many of his recipes are modifications of old Connecticut standards. Mr. Langhammer is from the Bridgeport area and Connecticut, it turns out, has a proud hot dog heritage.
“Like a lot of places where people actually live you’ve got to discover the little places here and there, little mom and pops that have been there forever, or new young guns like Gary’s Super Duper Weenie out in Fairfield,” he said. “He comes up with a lot relishes. I know intimately well at least a half-dozen hot dog stands in Connecticut, what they do specifically and how they differ from each other.”
Mr. Langhammer derides Kobe beef dogs as a tasteless extravagance and is equally harsh in his appraisal of the nominal hot dog world capital.
“People think about hot dogs and they think about New York which is really not about quality, it’s about ubiquity, like double-decker buses in London,” he said. “It’s just a symbol of the city, but the hot dogs [expletive] [expletive], dude. They suck. Dirty water dogs are nasty. People don’t complain because hot dogs are like sex. When they’re good, they’re really, really good. When they’re bad, they’re still pretty good.”
Mr. Langhammer’s enthusiasm about his cuisine is infectious but he has had to temper his own consumption of the Pearl Kountry Klub Franks.
“I’m down to like two a week. I get it, they’re awesome. People say, ‘Do you think about expanding?’ I say, ‘I don’t know, honey, these are four-XLs,’” He says gesturing towards his pants. At the end of our conversation Mr. Langhammer hands me a dog drowning in a purple cabbage and golden raisin relish, sour cream, sriracha, bacon and cole slaw.
“The power words we’re going to focus on with the code name: Red Velvet is demented picallilly, but better,” he says mysteriously.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had. First thing I’ve ever really been good at.”
As I sit down on the harborfront bulkhead struggling to manage the unwieldy marriage of the all-beef frank with its unusual accessories, I overhear another patron already halfway through Red Velvet.
“That’s a good [expletive] hot dog.”