Rich Carbone shows off the sausage he uses in his Hawaiian hot dogs. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

HAINES CITY – If there’s a classic meal, Rich Carbone has discovered, one with a very widespread appeal, it could be the All-American hot dog.
And since Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, a Hawaiian Hot Dog is, after all, an American hot dog as well.
Only, for hungry patrons, sometimes it sounds intriguing … and sometimes it doesn’t.
“It’s a quarter pound whole beef, and it comes on a larger Hawaiian sweet roll,” said Carbone, who works for Puka, a business that markets these specialized hot dogs in Central Florida.
Carbone was in Haines City today, where he set up a booth as part of the 4th Annual Ribs on the Ridge Competition. Held at Lake Eva Park in downtown Haines City, it’s an outdoor event that brings together food vendors, performances from local bands, and cooking competitions.
Carbone said he thought it sounded like a great place to introduce audiences to the Hawaiian Hot Dog.
“We cook them together,” he said of the hot dogs and those Hawaiian rolls. “We buy the hot dogs and we have the rolls cooked in Tampa. The sausage is a spicy sausage with pepper.”
What really makes them uniquely Hawaiian, he added, are the special spices and sauces that his business puts over them. They come in a wide variety of flavors.
“We have banana, coconut, Hula sauce – spicy – and pineapple,” he said.  “We even have pineapple mustard. It’s a Hawaiian motif.”
So if patrons wanted to try something a little different, they could, he added.
“You can do Hawaiian and have the Hawaiian sauce,” he said.
The 4th Annual Ribs on the Ridge Competition certainly attracted its share of notable food options. There were vendors on hand selling everything from gourmet cupcakes and mimi pies, to chocolate dipped strawberries, pork tacos, fried pickles, strawberry shortcake, gator puppies, fried mashed potato balls, and, of course, plenty of ribs and barbecued pork. There was probably something for every tastebud at the event.
But as Carbone noted, a lot of the folks in the Haines City crowd weren’t adventurous enough to go for the Hawaiian dog. They wanted the … well, the old-fashioned version instead.
Asked if patrons generally prefer the American version over the special Hawaiian one, Carbone said, “It depends on where we are. The venue here is more ‘Ketchup and mustard, please.’ But when we go to Winter Park, they all want the Hawaiian version.”
Puka was started by Doug Crovillion, who was stationed in Hawaii when he was in the Marine Corp. He discovered the Hawaiian hot dogs there, and decided to start a business back in Florida that markets them, Carbone said. But they had to change the company name.
“It used to be Hula, and what happened is someone in Hawaii had a Hula dog on the menu and registered the name,” Carbone said. So Hula was out, Puka was in.
As for the Ribs on the Ridge event, Carbone said it got off to a slow start on Friday evening, but by Saturday afternoon, more people were showing up for a hot dog lunch.
“It’s not too bad,” he said. “Better today than it was last night.”

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