Summer means hot dog season. I happened to be travelling around Western Mass., which is a hotbed for certain kinds of dogs (where New England intersects with the upstate New York types), so I stopped by a few well-known shacks.
In the Pioneer Valley, the foot-long dog rules, served of course in top-loaded New England style buns. Tom’s Hot Dogs in Whately, Mass. offers a steamed-foot-long, as shown above. I had one with yellow mustard and onion, one with ketchup and relish. Their homemade baked beans are also superb, redolent of molasses and flecked with pork and spices.
Not far away, in Leeds, Mass., is Scotti’s, housed in a long, twin-peaked roadside building. Scotti’s serves the same steamed franks (what brand are these?), but the recommended toppings here are chili and cheese:
The cheese is just very slightly melted from contact with the hot dog and the hot chili. The bun is not heated, grilled or steamed at all (very different from what you’d find in coastal New England). It’s absolutely delicious, the dog’s natural casing bursting with a crisp snap, and the aromatic chili and cheese just folding right in.
About an hour away, across the hills into the Berkshires, you can find the highly idiosyncratic Teo’s Hotdog Restaurant. Located off the highway in a difficult-to-find, nondescript strip mall, Teo’s is actually a super-real blue collar bar that also serves hot dogs. MINI-hot dogs:
It’s normal to order 6-8 of these, and wash them down with an ice-cold Bud served in a chilled goblet. All the other diners gave every impression of having eaten there every Thursday for the past 20 years. The dogs came in top-loaded buns (which surprised me this close to New York State) with a fine, bitter chili and onion topping.
When I returned to the city I found myself possessed with the desire to make hot dogs. For some reason I bought top-loaded buns (which I do love) but Sabrett’s hot dogs. Sabrett’s are classic NYC all-beef wieners, the kind you get from stands around the city. When I first moved to New York in the ’80s, Gerard, who had been living here for a couple of years, had become a hot dog connoisseur, and explained to me that the stands mainly sold two brands: Sabrett’s and Golden “D”. He preferred Sabrett’s, as do I, and told me that the brand on the stand’s umbrella could be misleading: you need to look at the brand on the sticker on the side of the stand. I’m not sure whether this rule still holds. In fact, I’m not sure that Golden “D” hot dogs are still made. I still love Sabrett’s dogs, and unlike most of my friends and co-workers, am happy to get a “grey-water dog” from a stand around town, loaded up with brown mustard and sauerkraut and served on a steamed side-loading bun.
ANYWAY, I decided to grill the buns in butter like we do in Eastern Mass. and in Maine. Loaded ’em up with the Sabrett’s dogs, which you cook by dropping into boiling water, bringing back to a boil, covering, and letting sit off the heat for 7 minutes. The first toppings I used were French’s yellow mustard, ketchup and sweet relish, plus a side of bread and butter pickles:
Although the St. Peter’s ale washed them down just fine, there was something schizophrenic about having a salty, garlicky all-beef New York hot dog with yellow mustard, ketchup and relish in a buttery, grilled New England roll!
Even the best hot dogs are really condiment delivery systems, so I pulled out everything I had in the fridge, including an extra large sack of super-adulterated, heavily flavored Sabrett’s sauerkraut:
(Actually I forebore from pulling out European mustards, including two superb Irish ones that Fiona gave me – just seemed the wrong place for them.)
The magical combination for these dogs turned out to be the Sabrett’s sauerkraut with Mr. Mustard’s HOT mustard:
Love the design of that Mr. Mustard label. And of course, I steamed the buns this time – simply by putting them into a steaming steamer for about 45 seconds and then removing them with a pair of tongs.
This has been a brief survey of just a couple types of Northeastern hot dogs. There are of course many, many varieties nationwide, from Coney Islands to Michigans to char polishes. Serious Eats is doing a nationwide survey of them. I’m just going to name and link some of my favorite places:
Boston: First place mention has to go to the legendary Speed’s Hot Dogs. But I’m also a huge fan of The Wieners Circle on North Clark. It even has its own Wikipedia entry now. Just heaven (and basically an entire salad) on a roll – one that magically holds together with perfect proportions and explosions of flavor.
Los Angeles: California dogs are wonderful. My favorite in SoCal was Tail o’ the Pup, located in a building actually shaped like a hot dog. With typical lack of respect for their cultural heritage, the Californians have actually evicted the place. The structure has been put in storage for now. WTF? It’s not like they don’t have enough space down there. Not that New York is much better about this kind of thing (see: Gino’s Italian Cuisine closing… to be replaced by a cupcake place called Sprinkles???!?! O tempora, o mores…)