The scene: America has many endearing roadside culinary treasures, and the South is especially rich in these. One that definitely qualifies is Kermit’s Hot Dog House, which has been around for 53 years and still features the nearly forgotten style of carhop service, where food is delivered right to your window, to dine on-site, in your car, not like a drive-through. (Hint: for the best service turn on your parking lights when you enter one of the covered carhop spots, turn them off when you get your food, and back on again if you want to order anything else – don’t blow the horn!)
There is also the regular eat-in restaurant interior, which looks like a gas station (use the uncovered parking), and outdoor picnic tables. Kermit’s has great accessibility, just off busy I-40 and convenient to those traveling between Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, and close to the many colleges in the region (UNC, Duke, Wake Forest and Elon, etc.). For over half a century, it has been popular with just about everyone: local regulars, students and countless road-trippers.
Reason to visit: Quarter-pound super frank with pimento cheese, fried hand pie.
The food: As the name suggests, the specialty at Kermit’s is hot dogs, but in a very unique menu twist, the hot dog itself varies by the size you order. There are three choices, and both the regular-sized dog and the foot-long version (which is the bestseller here) are a pork and beef blend, while the quarter-pound “super frank” is 100% beef.
Although the regular – and distinctly pink – dogs are the most popular, I thought the all-beef super frank tasted appreciably better, and it also has a superior bun, more like a sub or hero roll. This, in turn, stands up better to the onslaught of toppings Kermit’s is known for, which can demolish the regular bun.
But whatever size or type of dog you prefer, the trademark topping here is pimento cheese, that Southern staple. Kermit’s is not the only hot dog stand in the Carolinas offering this topping, but it is one of the best, and you more often see pimento cheese used as regional burger topping than on hot dogs. In any case, it is delicious and a big step up from the liquid nacho-style goop many cheese dogs feature.
Pimento cheese is a spreadable, dip-style condiment made from (usually) cheddar cheese that has been blended into submission and mixed with pimentos, while some people also add cream cheese for consistency as well as a varied array of spices and/or hot sauces. It is one of those hotly debated regional dishes where everyone has their favorite grandmother’s recipe and is adamant about what belongs or does not belong in it, (I won’t take sides except to highly recommend the pimento cheese dogs at Kermit’s.)
Otherwise, the basic order here is “special all the way,” a foot-long frank with mustard, coleslaw, onions and chili, and that can be upgraded to also include the pimento cheese for a very messy meal. The chili didn’t wow me, so I would swap it for the cheese and whatever other condiments you prefer.
The classic side options include onion rings, french fries and tater tots. I really liked the onion rings, which have just a slightly doughty breading, but not enough to obscure the onion, and they are all freshly fried, crisp and satisfying, so it’s just a matter of personal preference. Served in little bags, all three options are on the smaller side, and like just everything else at Kermit’s the prices are very reasonable, so you can choose a couple and mix and match.
When it comes to famous Winston-Salem, North Carolina, food institutions, one that is even older than Kermit’s is B&G Pies, which specializes is deep-fried individual fruit “hand pies,” a handmade crescent-shaped pastry stuffed with fruit (apple is the most popular) and still done the original way, with lard in the rich dough. B&G has been doing its thing here since 1949, and Kermit’s serves them for dessert, heated up and offered a la mode with soft-serve on top. Leave room because they are well worth trying.
Pilgrimage-worthy? Yes, if you are driving the I-40 corridor and want a special taste of Americana.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Location: 2220 Thomasville Rd, Winston-Salem, NC 27107.
Phone: (336) 788-9945 (Note: Kermit’s does not have a website)