Maybe it's twice a year at this point. I go to Home Depot to buy (toggle bolts, toilet flapper, whatevs) and then on the way to my car I see it: Sabrett hot dogs paired up with a can of soda and bag of chips that you can buy with some linty cup holder change. Must have dog. With onion and mustard, eaten at the speed of sound, all evidence removed from the automobile before the car is back in the garage.
Maybe my New Year's resolution should be to get it down to once in 2014. There are the nitrates, the salt and fat, and some probably terrifying ingredients to boot. Garey Joaquim and Jim LoBianco found a way to help a sister out. Last spring LoBianco (formerly of St. Petersburg's Happy Shack and Luckie B's) took a trip to Atlanta and swung by Delia's Chicken Sausage Stand (hand-crafted, locally sourced chicken sausage with a cult following). Hmm, he thought. The Tampa Bay area could use a healthier alternative to hamburgers and traditional hot dogs. He spoke with his friend Joaquim, who had done hot dog concessions in Ybor City the past few years, and they started looking for space.
In mid November, Jimbo's Joint debuted in the burgeoning Grand Central District. At the site of a former used-car dealership, the build-out looks like a labor of love, with cheery yellow walls, checkerboard red and black linoleum tile and a passel of freshly stained picnic tables topped with butcher paper. It's an order-at-the-counter place with a loose 1990s movie theme (heavy on The Big Lebowski and Pulp Fiction) and an eager young staff still learning the ropes.
The menu ties into two national trends: artisanal dogs and East-West fusion dogs. I'm going to say right up front that there are a lot of good ideas here but the execution requires some tinkering. First off, buns from the LeBon bakery are a great idea (yeah, local!), but it's way too much bun for the dogs. The traditional steamed ballpark bun is a better ratio and is supple enough to wrap and corral all fillings. Jimbo's buns make the overall effect somewhat dry.
The chicken sausages and meatballs themselves have great flavor, nicely herb-flecked, but on a couple of visits, they, too, were a little dry. That's the trouble with chicken — too lean. A lot of sausagemakers get around this by subbing in a little potato for the missing fat.
If you're going to go so lean on the dog and heavy on the bun, there's got to be a lot of razzle-dazzle with the condiments and toppings. At Jimbo's, Sriracha is a biggie. (I like spicy, so it worked for me, but we witnessed some customers unprepared for the heat.) This worked on the Chinaman dog ($6.75) topped with kimchee as well as a sweet mayo-ish slaw and a slather of sweet hoisin, but the Double Feature dog ($6.50) with queso, jalapeno and corn chips was just too fiery without something sweet to balance things out.
I like that a range of toppers are offered for free (cuke, romaine, tomato, etc.) and another array for $1 extra (mashed potato, a very solid chicken chili, spicy salted caramel sauce). This makes it easy to customize and tinker, and that caramel sauce is a surprisingly eloquent foil for a corn dog ($6). Beyond the dog pack, Jimbo's offers fairly straightforward salads ($4.50 to $6) and some guilty pleasures that seem like a good idea late in the evening: disco fries ladled with gravy and cheddar cheese sauce ($4) and kitchen-sink fries called Big Johns ($5.50) with chili, Sriracha, cheese and lots of other excessive behavior. I would say that with any fries that must soldier on under a mantle of sauce, extra-crispy is the way to go. Jimbo's waffle fries were a little pale and soft to endure the onslaught.
The dogs are ably supported by a short beer list and housemade desserts (red velvet whoopie pies) and shakes ($3.50). Though Jimbo's definitely fills an untapped niche in Pinellas County, and it's wonderful to see Grand Central filling up with so many new concepts, it will require a little tinkering before Jimbo's commands Delia's rabid following.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.