Good hot dogs come out of Left Field
Former baseball pitcher Dontrelle Willis has a hot dog named in his honor at Left Field Dogs on the West End of Alameda. The “Dontrelle Willis” is a beef frank topped with chili, nacho cheese, cheddar cheese, jalapeños and onions served on a potato bun ($13). Before making it to the big leagues, Willis started playing the game in Alameda, where he grew up.
When co-owners Abraham Kinfu and John Ngu were creating the concept for their restaurant, they wanted to pay homage to the rich history of Alameda’s baseball culture. Ngu is an Alameda entrepreneur who owns Cookie Bar and helped launch Neptune’s, and baseball players such as Willie Stargell, Jimmy Rollins and Dontrelle Willis are all from Alameda.
Kinfu explained that when he was growing up on the island, it was known as a baseball mecca in California. “There are a lot of baseball programs in Alameda,” he said. “Recruiters go to the high school because they do a good job of training athletes.”
I spoke on the phone with Kinfu and asked about the restaurant’s origins. When he and his business partner were coming up with the concept, they noticed there were Bay Area restaurants specializing in gourmet pizza and gourmet hamburgers, but they hadn’t seen many gourmet hot dog joints. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Kinfu said. “We just wanted to give a traditional American entrée a twist.”
The menu at Left Field Dogs also incorporates hot dogs from different regions in the country—from Kansas City to Chicago, New York and the South. “When you think of baseball, you do think of all these different areas and we wanted to provide hot dogs to represent those areas,” Kinfu said.
For example, the “Jimmy Rollins” is named for the Bay Area shortstop who played for the Philadelphia Phillies. “We created a Philly cheesesteak with a bratwurst inside,” Kinfu said. In addition to rib-eye steak and a beer brat, the meat is topped with grilled onions, bell pepper, cheddar, garlic aioli sauce and mozzarella on a french roll ($14).
Willie Stargell went to Encinal High School. His eponymous hot dog is a beef frank slathered in pickles, onions, ketchup, mustard and mayo on a potato bun ($11). “He [Stargell] was one of the first athletes that came to Alameda, so we made a classic hot dog,” Kinfu said.
Left Field Dogs takes advantage of its proximity to Crispian, a bakery on Park Street that makes customized French rolls for Left Field. The poppy seed buns come from Grateful Bread in Sacramento. And while Kinfu and Ngu attempted to find a local bakery specializing in potato buns, they chose East Coast vendor Martin’s Famous Potato Rolls and Bread.
The majority of their meat vendors are local. Sonoma County Meat Company provides Left Field with bratwurst, chorizo and Italian sausage. “When you’re getting your sausage, they’ve just been made days prior,” Kinfu said. Golden Gate Meat Company is responsible for the smoked meats, such as beef franks, kolbasi sausage and hot links. “There are no preservatives in any of our meats,” he added.
At the moment, vegans have two options on the menu—an Italian garlic fennel and a “beef frank” that’s also made with fennel. Both are made by Field Roast, a plant-based meat-and-cheese company. Before they decided to go with Field Roast, Kinfu sampled vegan options from Beyond Meat and Impossible products. “When I tried the Field Roast sausages, I thought I’d eat them with anything—and I’m not a vegan,” he said.
When something comes out of left field, Kinfu said, “It’s unique. I think that’s a good way to categorize our food.” Shortly after Left Field Dogs opened last year, Dontrelle Willis stopped by to try the “Dontrelle Willis” hot dog covered in chili and nacho cheese. “He was a fan of it!” Kinfu said. An IG photo of Kinfu and Willis smiling together hangs inside the restaurant. “He reposted our images on social media and gave us a shout out.”
Left Field Dogs, 1606 Webster St., Alameda. Open Tue-Sat, 11am to 7pm; Sun, noon to 6pm; Mon, 11am to 5pm. 510.217.8697. www.leftfielddogs.com