Florida Keys Business
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Lunch lady
Chef Jen's Wiener Wagon is hot dog heaven and so much more

Americans will eat an estimated 155 million hot dogs on Thursday, making Fourth of July the biggest day of the year for hot dogs.

But Key Westers aren't waiting until Thursday to slather on condiments and perform the familiar head tilt that's characteristic of hot dog consumption.

As if the island's inhabitants needed another reason to wander the aisles of The Home Depot, the home improvement headquarters on North Roosevelt Boulevard now boasts a significantly improved lunch cart parked daily in its parking lot.

Local chef Jennifer Cornell took over the lease of the hot dog cart in January and tops hot dogs with any number of things, turning the simple, all-American hot dog into a reuben of sorts by adding sauerkraut, cheese and Russian dressing. The Tex-Mex dog (no, it's not a chihuahua mascot), features salsa, chili, cheese, peppers and onions.

But despite the "Wiener Wagon" moniker and lengthy hot dog menu, the new walk-up lunch option offers much more than wieners -- and nothing costs more than $8.

The varied menu is unexpected for such a small space, but Cornell, best known as the Small Chef at Large catering guru, uses her spacious commercial kitchen at the VFW Post just down the street to create batches of chicken salad, chili and other items.

But she's quick to emphasize that while prepared in the large kitchen, everything is cooked to order at the Wiener Wagon, where skillets are constantly sizzling and sending out wafts of seasoned scents toward the exits of The Home Depot.

"You think we don't do that on purpose?" she said. "Who can resist when they smell something cooking on the grill?"

The Wiener Wagon offers meatball subs, pulled pork sandwiches, fajitas, wraps, cheesesteaks, veggie burgers and Chef Sheri Pogue, who mans the wagon most days, will even assemble a chef salad for anyone who asks, Cornell said.

"We're flexible," Pogue said. "If I have the stuff, I'll make whatever someone wants."

"And where else can a contractor come by and get lunch for his whole crew for less than 40 bucks," Cornell said. "People have been really excited when they stop by because there's so much more than hot dogs."

Cornell, who's busy enough with the catering business and preparing the home-cookin'-type of meals for the VFW, took over the lunch cart for her father, Peter Cornell.

"My dad runs it in the winter when he's in town," she said. "It provides his Green Parrot beer money."

The elder Cornell is "a young 77 years old" and has been put to work by his daughter since she came to Key West 13 years ago.

But until Cornell returns from the cooler climes of Vermont, Pogue and fellow chef Tom Anderson have things well covered.

The cart also provides free water and treats for its four-legged customers, Cornell said.

Fountain drinks also are available and bucci is coming soon.

The Wiener Wagon is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, so there's no need to wait for Thursday. At Home Depot, every day is a dog day of summer.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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