I’ve been keeping a secret to myself and it’s time I let you all in on it. In the town of Mendon, Massachusetts, settled in the parking lot of a hardware store, you’ll find a hot dog that’s not only the best in New England but one that represents what may be Massachusetts’ most historical hot dog. Ladies and gentleman, meet Larry Joe and his New England Firepit:I came across Larry Joe’s a couple of years ago when he was in Bellingham in a truck that later, most lamentably, burned down. Larry Joe’s was shuttered for the better part of a year while he was custom building his new truck, which is a real beauty. Now I’ll be entirely honest: I don’t think there’s any other reason why someone would have traveled to either Bellingham or Mendon unless they needed one of two things: to get home, or to devour one of Larry Joe’s hot dogs.
With the exception of the ladies of Snappy Dogs located about a 15 minute drive away, there’s nothing else around here that would draw your attention. Which is why you should be impressed: I’ve traveled the hour-plus it takes to get to Mendon and did it with a huge smile on my face, ’cause I knew what a treat I was in for. I’m planning on doing it again. In fact, when I was prepping to write this blog the thought burst into my mind–why not just drive down again so I can refresh my memory?
And this, of course, is the reason why. Look at that beautiful mess! This dog is topped with a blend of three mustards, a sweet BBQ sauce, chopped fresh onions, a mild no-bean chili, tomato salsa made that morning, a spicy hot pepper salad, and a jaw-droppingly delicious (not to mention expensive, the ingredients cost about $50 a gallon) relish.
The dog itself is a lovingly marinated half-pound all-beef Pearl, smoked over hickory and basted with some of Larry Joe’s secret marinade. You can also choose what Larry Joe calls a “Carribean Dog” which I have to admit I’ve never had, because the original is just too damn good. In the realm of hot dogs, this is king. As his sign states, it’s a “hot dog taste destination.”
With the many layers of flavor going on, it’s a difficult dog to describe properly: the savory flavors are predominant, with sweet levels throughout due to the BBQ, mustard, and relish. Alongside that travels an undertone of vinegary tang which, paired with the fresh vegetables, brings the dog back from the brink of being almost too deep of a flavor. Top it off with a slight heat from the pepper salad, the smoke of the hickory, and the big beef flavor of the dog and you’ve got yourself a flavor profile that I could go on about for at least a few more paragraphs.
Ah what the heck, let’s take another look at that beauty queen:
By now I hope you’re wondering what I meant by this being Massachusetts’ most historical hot dog. Well, Larry Joe is carrying on a tradition–a tradition that, for many years, was kept by the legendary Boston’s Speed who set up in Newmarket Square. The tradition goes earlier than that, however, to the time of FDR–as in Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The short of it is that the President was entertaining guests from across the pond–guests who knew a good frankfurter when they had one. So, in order to impress them, FDR decided to have his White House chefs cook up a frank that couldn’t be beat–and do it big, just like we in America are so fond of. At the time, the chefs were predominantly African-American and in love with BBQ; they whipped up a dog that was marinated, smoked, and slathered in toppings similar to what you’ll find at Larry Joe’s.
If you’d like to learn more about the history that Larry Joe shares with Speed, check out the Hot Dog Man’s videos on YouTube. You won’t be sorry to watch it, Larry Joe tells a great story.
The second time I came around I brought some of my co-workers and friends, who had no idea what they were in store for. Look at these dapper men! Too bad they’ll soon end up with half of those dogs on their shirt fronts.
Larry Joe may be the most dedicated hot dog truck operator in Massachusetts, keeping it open year round unless there’s some truly horrific weather or a really good football game to watch. He’s also one of the most talkative, holding court at his stand for as long as you’ll listen. I’ve gone twice and spent almost three hours there each time, learning about the dog’s history, his cooking techniques, the time that he spent in the military as a nuclear technician, his wide-ranging and fantastic taste in music, etc.
To top off the fact that Larry Joe makes the best dog in New England, he’ll also treat you to a song at no extra charge. Here’s a couple of songs I recorded, the first being the iconic “Hoochie Coochie Man” and the second Larry Joe’s tribute to Pinetop Perkins, who had died the day before my first visit and was promised to be played the next time I stopped by.
If those aren’t reasons enough for you to drop whatever you’re doing and drive to Mendon, then what the heck are you reading this blog for?
Welcome to the first post of January 2013! Although technically I visited this place around the very end of December 2012. Since Armageddon was postponed, Ali and I decided to follow through on our winter vacation to the Poconos. So what better way is there to cap off the year with some R & R including skiing, hot tubbing, and hot dogs. One night after Ali fell asleep, I did what any man in a long, committed relationship would do with free time and privacy. I grabbed my google machine and looked up hot dog joints. A preliminary search of joints in the area turned up empty, but a search of hot dog stands in Pennsylvania turned up Cat’s Incredible Dogs in Stroudsburg, only 15 minutes away! With the discovery made, the trip to this new place was inevitable.
We drove down Main Street in Stroudsburg PA, a Christmas lit and snowy stretch of small town Americana. When we found Cat’s, there were a number of burly looking dudes hanging outside. It turned out they were on line for the Killswitch Engage concert at the Sherman Theater right next door. I was really surprised that 1) I had no idea the theater existed, 2) that a popular band like Killswitch Engage was playing there, and 3) that the folks at Cat’s had the great fortune of having a hot dog joint right next to a music venue. I hope they are able to capitalize on this.
Cat’s Incredible Dogs is run by the husband and wife team of Cat and Steve, two really nice people who moved the business from an even further corner of northeast PA. When you walk in, you are met with an abundance of photos on the wall of celebrities, movies, celebrities eating hot dogs, and hot dog ephemera. There’s also a red picket fence, a condiment “grooming” station with a ton of mustards, a bookshelf with all manner of knick-knacks (like an action figure of Jerry Only from the Misfits), a mysterious spinning wheel, and about 40 different combinations of hot dog possibilities. I had considered what to get before we got there, but when I stepped inside, my mind went blank and I had to start from scratch.
Cat’s uses all-beef Sabrett’s skinless dogs, a white bread bun (I don’t know the brand), and about a gazillion toppings of your choosing. And these are not the unrecognizable gourmet toppings I usually like to indulge in. Cat also has her own homemade sauce, which was kind of like a coney sauce, though I’m not completely sure because I don’t live in coney sauce country. But it is a beef and beer sauce, not chili, with a sweet and tangy taste (as they state on the website). It has a unique flavor to it, like a sweeter sloppy-joe, and works well on the dog with brown mustard and chopped onions. I got one of these, along with The Buffalo, which was topped with blue cheese dressing, chopped celery, and Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
The glutton in me wishes that the dog was actually dipped in buffalo sauce and then topped with blue cheese. But I liked the tangy cheese flavor combined with the Red Hot, and then celery for crunch. Cat’s dogs are easy 3-4 biters, which makes you want to order more. So I did.
Now I’m not like our fellow blogger John, who likes to snuggle up with habaneros and scotch bonnets for a long winter’s nap. But I do like some heat now and then. The Mt. Fuji called to me with its chili, diced potatoes, crushed red pepper, and Frank’s Red Hot sauce. I felt this was something I could handle, and I think other heat novices out there can handle it too. If you like to gargle with chile extracts, then you’ll probably scoff at this. But I like that you get the taste of the crushed red pepper and Red Hot without killing the Sabretts. The potatoes add more bulk, and the chili, which seems like a similar consistency to the Beef & Beer sauce, is flavored differently. All around, lots of flavor with a manageable amount of heat.
One of the fun aspects of this joint is the wheel o’ hot dogs. It can be hard to figure out which combination of toppings you want, so you can give it a turn and leave it up to fate.
I forgot to mention that they only charge $2.50 a dog. So when you’re lined up for a show at the Sherman, or in town for skiing, or go to college in East Stroudsburg, then you have another place in the Poconos to try some dogs!
Cat’s Incredible Dogs 526 Main Street, Stroudsburg PA
I’ve been very pleased to have various family members be excited to make a contribution to the blog. But this one has special significance for me. This one is written by a guy I refer to as ‘my dad’ but we can call him Mr. Vega. What you will read is an account of an ex-pat New Yorker, and even though he has lived in New Jersey for a longer amount of time, we can still see his loyalty to the NY style frank. For me, this is a fiercely NY perspective, occasionally at the expense of other areas of the country. So what do you have to say, Mr. Vega?
The first thing is that for 66 years no hot dog has ever been better than a Hebrew National. Not only is that a cultural phenomenon, but a source of pride for New Yorkers who absolutely could not accept an all meat, lips and whatever-other-garbage was put into a casing that approximated something almost edible. You don’t put anything on a grilled hot dog (Not boiled. That’s for people in every other state of the union that didn’t know jack about hot dogs. If it looked like a hot dog they ate it. No discriminating tastes. Just that boiled crap that the underclass ate). New York Hebrew National were priceless for they snapped when you ate them. No mush. Real meat. Mustard-the deli type that came from wooden barrels and made fresh was de rigueur, and maybe some sauerkraut. But no ketchup, catsup or other crap.
Reading the blog only confirms the heresy of the hot dog. Those of you who write in with all your tasty abominations and desecration of the hot dog should be fined, sent to Devils Island (if it still exists) and tossed into overcrowded jails for defaming the one pure piece of Americana (invented by a German guy) other than jazz that has not been desecrated.
Up until now.
I yield to my son and the rest of you who claim that there is more to a hot dog than what I just described. On Monday October 1, I had a life changing experience at DBGB on the Bowery in Manhattan. Vicki and I went for dinner at this restaurant through the graciousness of Alex and Ali with a gift certificate.
Now while free normally tastes great, it is not an absolute.
However, the Hot Dog Trio at DBGB were absolutely the best hot dogs I have ever eaten…bar none. This is such a soul and culturally wrenching experience that I am still suffering through the shock and awe of it all. We even met chef Eli Collins to rave about the 5th food group. Nothing of the tubular-encased-meat-stuffed-into-a-roll such as this has ever passed my lips on the way to my stomach. Where did this anomaly come from? Who thought about how to put this together? How did Hebrew National not notice this upstart?
Life, as I knew it gastronomically, is over. The 20th century is dead. Welcome to the 21st. I praise the sausage makers who have defined the art for future generations to behold. As I now have high tech products and have met the challenge of an old dog learning new tricks, I applaud my kids for opening my eyes to the eighth wonder of the world.
DBGB Kitchen & Bar 299 Bowery, NYC
Locals and those ever popular and growing Food Network shows swear that the place for Dogs in Pittsburgh is the cult favorite “The Original Hot Dog Shop” on Forbes Avenue, and while I love the fact that the The Original is open 24 hours and serves seven-inch dogs, it’s hard not to rank Wiener World as the top joint in Pittsburgh after spending the last six months evaluating most of the Pittsburgh joints.
Wiener World, located at 626 Smithfield Street, is smack dab in the middle of the business end of Pittsburgh just steps away from the US Steel Building and the Convention Center and how can you ignore those giant neon letters (always reminds me of the Seinfeld episode with Kenny Rogers Roasters sign.)
Wiener World has a selection of all-beef hot dogs, Kielbasa, and my favorite, the natural casing wiener. They sit up on the grill and crust up for the extra snap that sets the natural casing dogs apart from the regular all-beef dogs. The place is a little messy, but for some strange reason that adds to the city atmosphere of a good joint. Their focus isn’t on cleaning up a napkin dropped by some patron, they’re focused on serving dogs and telling bullshit stories in between or complaining about Pirates or Steelers. That said, I still love the place and it’s close to my top 3 hot dog joints at the moment, possibly the #1. I’m not one to venture to far out of my comfort zone, so every dog I have had here has been ordered the same way: mustard, onions, and sauce… completed with a side of gravy fries. I didn’t realize how much I missed gravy fries living in Ohio until I found them on the Wiener World menu. It almost looked like a beam of light streaming in from the side window guiding me to “GRAVY FRIES” on the menu board. It’s the icing on the top that makes this close to my daily lunch.
Close up of the goodness. Note how the natural casing has a nice split in the middle from being on that flat top for some time. One visit they pushed one aside on the flat top assuming I wanted a more fresh one… I stopped them with a hell no, don’t throw that out, give me that older crusty one.
Grumpy at the register checking to see how much loot he’s pulled in today. The overall grumpiness of the staff is actually a little entertaining, especially if someone pulls out a credit card to pay (cash only here) and they direct you over to the ATM inside the place with a nice $3.00 surcharge. Come prepared; bring cash.
There counter isn’t big, but it works, complete with a mirror to see if anyone is sneaking up behind you.
I love this place and having eaten many dogs from both Wiener World and The Original, Wiener World is by far the best dog joint in Pittsburgh. Sorry Food Network, sorry locals, it isn’t The Original or Franctuary, it’s Wiener World.
I have some pretty awesome friends, who in turn have awesome family. Case in point: Tim (of Texas Wieners fame) and Janelle (who wrote about the fantastically-named “Mustard’s Last Stand”) have a cousin Mike, who recently returned from a week-long Icelandic vacation with his lovely family. Before they left I talked with Mike, with whom I not only share a first name but also a love of hiking and the outdoors, about their plans for the trip. After discussing the virtues of Iceland’s many natuarl beauties, I jokingly asked if he was planning on bringing back any of the fabled hot dogs that Icelanders are so obsessed with. Little did I know what Mike had in store . . . .
About a month ago Mike and his family had returned from Iceland and I got to talk to him about the trip–which was, of course, amazing. I asked if he enjoyed the hot dogs and he started in on how he brought back an entire Coleman cooler filled with vodka and hot dogs. Holy crap! He had brought over a couple of packs for us to try out but this was just the tip of the iceberg, which consisted of ten or so different packets of hot dogs.
One of the packs of dogs (hereafter referred to as pylsur, the Icelandic word for hot dog) came from Germany, which was a bacon wrapped weisswurst and the other was pure Icelandic pylsur: a mixture of lamb, pork, and beef with subtle seasonings and just a bit of smoking. We topped the dogs with the condiment mixture I mentioned in my last blog post: the CaJohn’s spicy and sweet mustard with some sweet beet and horseradish mustard. I know this isn’t the usual toppings one would have in Iceland but they worked just fine anyway, and still allowed the very unique flavorings of the pylsur to come through.
The main event, he told me, would happen when he had a big cookout later in the summer. After having a taste of the two types of pylsur he had brought over, I was ready to clear my calendar for the rest of the summer in anticipation of the cookout.
The notice came about a week ago: Janelled texted me to get ready, Mike’s doing the cookout next weekend and you have to come. My response? Hell yeah!
Not only did this mean an opportunity to try the full range of pylsur that Mike shipped home, it also showed me how a real man grills. When faced with an assortment of tongs, spatulas, and other grilling implements, you toss them all aside and turn the hot dogs with your hands. This is the man whom I will be facing in Tim’s annual BBQ smoke off next month and I’m a little intimidated because this is the most intense thing I’ve seen at the grill–ever!
Mike kept pulling packets of pylsur out of the cooler, piling them on the grill, and I kept drooling. We had no way to know exactly what these pylsur were–best we could do is tell whether they were imported from Germany of were Iceland’s finest. Some were regular wiener-sized (never thought I’d say that) and some were in the range of half-pounders; some were wrapped in bacon, others were white sausages speckled with pepper. Every once in a while Mike would pull out a pack and we’d puzzle over the cryptic writing, trying to grasp what deliciousness resided within.
Mike was joined by Dougie, Janelle’s brother and the other half of their smokeoff team. What he lacks in the ability to keep buns from burning on the grill, Dougie more than makes up for in his charm. Since there were so many pylsur, Mike had to keep the fire going on two grills but he handled it with the cool calm of an expert pitmaster.
I got to taste four different types of pylsur in all, which meant that there were another four or five I didn’t get to try. I had one of the larger half-pounders, which tasted very much like a knockwurst but with a bit more sweetness. Another one I had was a regular-sized pylsur but it was white like a weisswurst and had pepper sprinkled throughout–very spicy! I also tried a couple of the regular pylsurs but couldn’t really tell the difference between the two.
So what goes on top of an Icelandic pylsur? Well according to a few websites I’ve read, the condiments are mustard, raw onions, french fried onions, ketchup (more about this in a second) and a remoulade-like relish. We didn’t have the relish but all of the other bases were covered, thanks in part to Nick Loeb who sent me some of his amazing product: Onion Crunch. While visually resembling its more humble cousin, French’s Fried Onions, Onion Crunch is about 100% more delicious. I’m a sucker for a green bean casserole at Thanksgiving and know I’ll be busting out the Onion Crunch for the topping this year.
The other condiment that we would have been without is mustard. Now you may be thinking: what, you don’t have mustard? What kind of crazy guy are you? Well, let me rephrase that: without Mike, we wouldn’t have had Icelandic mustard. You may notice a gravy-colored sauce on the pylsur; that’s the pylsusinnep that is Icelandic mustard. It doesn’t have a very strong flavor, it’s slightly sweet and very thin. I couldn’t bring myself to put ketchup on the bun (Alex, you may have something to say about that) but paired it instead with some good-old yellow mustard.
With all of the toppings in place, I could understand why these are all the rage in Iceland. The sweetness of the lamb pylsur and the pylsusinnep, combined with the savoriness of the Onion Crunch made for a perfect pairing. I wish I would have had more room left in my stomach for more than the four pylsur I tasted but I know everyone went home from that cookout happy, whether they tasted the hot dogs or downed a few of the Icelandic vodka and tonics. Thanks to Mike and his wonderful family for hosting–you guys truly are amazing!
Hello hot dog fans, sorry I’ve been away since last month but I’ve got quite a lineup in store for you. These past few months I’ve had the pleasure of traveling, eating new hot dogs, and getting some wild new condiments mailed to me by people wanting me to try them out. I’ll be following up this post with a couple of the reviews, which I’ll have later this week, but in the meantime let me describe how my summer came to be consumed by condiments.
Back in April, Samantha and I flew in to Milwaukee and met up with my parents, who told me of the fabled sausage maker, Usinger’s. Knowing their son has an unhealthy obsession with encased meats, they picked us up at the airport and drove into the downtown area.
After stopping by the Usinger’s storefront and feasting my eyes on coolers full of sausage, hot dogs, and other cured meats, we crossed the block so we could hit up one of the many beer halls that serve Usinger’s products. I’ll be honest and say that stepping into the Hofbrauhaus we were greeted by an empty bar, which made me a little nervous. The polka music was playing, however, and they were serving up a great draft line of Hofbrau, so we settled in and ordered up a round of drinks.
Imagine my pleasure when I looked at the menu and realized that ordering a beer entitled me to a free lunch. Yes, please! Sadly, ordering consecutive beers does not entitle you to more delicious sausages, but you can’t argue with a free meal. Since the family was ordering a round of beers, the bartender set us up with a large plate of sausages (cut so we could taste an assortment), samplers of the side dishes, and a steaming bowl full of sauerkraut.
Amazing! If I lived in Milwaukee I’d certainly be drinking for lunch because it’s a hell of a deal. We got to taste the smoked bratwurst, knackwurst, weisswurst, and a weiner–and they were all huge hits. If pressed for an answer, I’d probably have to say the smoked bratwurst was the best of the lot but I loved them all.
Samantha, on the other hand, found the fried cheese curds to be the highlight of her day. Of course, when we got to Madison (and my sister’s house) later that night, we went out and ate some more for dinner. Sweet jesus, I’d be a fat bastard if I lived out that way.
And here’s the reason why we visited Wisconsin–my sister’s first child, who is very cute, cuddly, and amazingly coiffed (she’s had a thick head of black hair since the day she was born). I tried to get her started early on sausages but she wasn’t eating solid foods yet, so I let her suck on my finger in preparation of a lifetime as an encased meat enthusiast.
After eating several rounds of sausages and fried cheese curds we decided to get healthy and headed out to Mineral Point, an hour west of Madison, to locate one of the icons of Wisconsin cuisine: the pasty at the Red Rooster Cafe.
While eating in the restaurant, we made friends with a lovely German couple who had moved to town decades ago but still retained their thick accent. After a while the 70-ish woman asked if we liked Betty White. “Who doesn’t, but what the hell is she getting at?” I wondered. Turns out Betty White’s husband grew up in Mineral Point was is buried there, so she gave us directions to the cemetery in case we wanted to have a brush with the local celebrity-dom.
Ah, the pasty! An amazing tradition of combining all of the important elements of a healthy diet: meat (ground beef), starch (potatoes), and more starch (a buttery crust). That’s all you need in my book!
On our way back to Madison we stopped in Middleton and checked out the Mustard Museum. Who knew there was such a thing? Well, it may not factor high on people’s “must-see” lists when visiting the area but you’d be silly not to stop in and spend a little bit of time. There’s the obligatory educational aspect and a room lined wall-to-wall with jars, divided into the states and countries they originated from.
Best of all, however, is the ability to taste any mustard that they sell in the museum, which is literally hundreds of mustards. Well, I’ll amend that statement: best of all are the employees of the museum, because once I told them that I write a blog about hot dogs they pulled out all of their favorite mustards and gave me an enthusiastic culinary tour of all the many forms the humble mustard seed takes. The cucumber, garlic and dill mustard above comes all the way from Clovis, France (the city ring any bells, anthropology majors?) and was one of the standouts; while the garlic was the obvious overtone in the flavors, the subtle blending of cucumber allowed the dill and mustard to stand out. Not necessarily a hot dog mustard, this was too mild to stand up to a beef or heavily smoked encased meat, but extremely enjoyable.
I have to apologize to the lovely women who were working the tasting stand that day because I was so caught up in their excitement about mustard that I didn’t ask their names. One of them in particular was so enthusiastic about the two mustards in the picture above. She told me a story about how, after working a long day at the museum, she was driving back home through a blizzard that was just beginning and heard her phone ringing. Just minutes from home, she answered the phone and the summons of one of her co-workers: come back to the museum, because I’ve found an amazing condiment combination. She turned around and drove the twenty minutes back through an ever-worsening blizzard and told me she would have done it again, this was such a great pairing. Well my friends, she was right: the CaJohn’s “Dog on Good” mustard is a spicy, sweet thin yellow mustard with chunks of hot peppers; and the Terrapin Ridge Farms sweet beet & horseradish mustard is a thick condiment due to the whole mustard seeds blended with deep red sweet beets and a spicy horseradish. I can’t properly describe how deep the flavor profiles of these two mustards go and when you pair them, the dual sweetness and spiciness form something awesome and powerful for the palette–not to mention the beautiful colors. You can buy a tiny hot dog for a dollar at the mustard museum and put any mustard you want; I ended up eating two done up with the mustards.
After buying one of each (which I’ve since consumed entirely–I’ll have to put in another order through the Mustard Museum!), the ladies were telling me that I had to talk to Professor Mustard (his name is Barry Levenson, but everyone who worked at the Museum referred to him as Professor Mustard). Even though he was on his way out, the ‘fess took some time to sit down and we had a great conversation. He told me a bit about their annual worldwide mustard competition, which is ultimately judged by some of the best and biggest names in Chicago hot dog-dom, with greats like Doug from Hot Doug’s tasting and judging. Oh, to be invited to a soiree like that! I’d be in heaven.
The ‘fess and I also discovered that we shared someone we knew in common: having grown up in the Boston area, Barry still had family back home–one of whom was a librarian who I had worked with on the Reference Desk at my last job in Wellesley. How crazy is that?
A quick aside, if you’d like to learn more about what would drive a man to dedicate his life to mustard, read about the Museum’s history on their website. Want the reason condensed into two words? Here it is: Bill Buckner.
Please note that if you have read any of my “John and Boy” posts in the past, this entry contains a shocking moment that may not be suitable for those of weak constitution or with a history of heart problems.
Boy and I had two things on our mind when we got in the car at ten to seven on a Saturday morning: pinball and hot dogs. No, wait, three things, because we were also going to hit the legendary Cyclone at Coney Island. So pinball, hot dogs and roller coasters. But on that first day it was pinball and hot dogs. We were off on our second annual jaunt to the Silverball Museum in Asbury Park, which meant two days of hot dog hunting as well.
I had scoped out some options, but proximity became a priority, especially after spending way too much time trying to get over the George Washington Bridge. I decided that our first stop would be the legendary Jersey Shore spot called Max’s.
I had never really driven the “Shore” part of the Jersey Shore in the past, so I was sort of caught up in the amazing ocean views and quiet, un-Jersey like aspects of it. Max’s almost took us by surprise when it popped up before us. It’s been here since 1928, getting its start as a stand and now turned into a pretty sizable sit-down joint. They serve grilled Schickhaus dogs, a nice beef-and-pork blend that takes on a nice snap. The casing splits beautifully in spots. Max’s has a pretty standard-issue set of offerings in the dog department.
Here, a slight bit of miscommunication happened. I’m not a one-dog kind of guy. I asked for a chili dog and a sauteed onion dog. The waitress became quite focused on my chili request. “You want something to drink?” No, thanks. “That chili’s hot.” Excellent! “No, it’s really hot.”
I chose not to mention at this juncture that I am one of the few demi-god-like dog eaters to face down South Coast Coneys’ Death Dog challenge, and just reiterated–no drink. So in her confusion–and this is why, along with only having so much cash on me at the time and not feeling like waiting for change, I grievously undertipped her–she brought me the chili dog with sauteed onions.
As it turns out, this was an acceptable mistake. The bun-spanning-and-then-some dog was delicious, still glistening with grill grease. The chili was of the full-on variety, with chunks of tomato and onion, and beans. That stripe of simple yellow mustard brought on the vinegary counterpoint, and the sauteed onions were so tasty I almost ordered another. I didn’t, largely because my attention was being taken up by the unusual circumstance happening just across the table from me.
Boy had said something. I had to make sure he’d said what I thought he said. And he had. He had ordered…a bacon dog.
(You may, at this point, choose to hear either Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or Orloff’s “Carmina Burana” in your head. Whichever best helps you grasp this momentous occasion.)
My boy, my ketchup-only boy, had ordered a bacon dog. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s his breakfast meat of choice, and at home during summer vacation he had perfected his own recipe for “barbequed bacon,” but for him to put this and only this on a hot dog? Shake the pillars of heaven. And as you can see, Max’s doesn’t mess around on the bacon dog. It’s three or four perfectly griddled stips of bacon, just to the chewy side of crispy, boy said, tossed on top of that monstrous dog. We both dug in.
Fueled by the power of legend, we got back in the car and continued down the Shore Road to Asbury Park. After several wrist-wracking hours of pinball, we took a dinner break. Right next to the Museum is a stand called Mayfair Grill. Boy decided to take a pass on the dog in favor of a burger, but I ponied up for a quick weenie by the sea.
While I don’t declare myself a dog expert, I’d have to guess, based on size and taste, that this was another Schickhaus dog, something of a Shore tradition, I am lead to understand. I kept it simple with a splatter of mustard. As dogs go, it’s just a good, honest dog. Naturally it tastes better when you’re sitting on the Asbury boards on a perfect August night, sea breeze in your face and the span of the Atlantic laid out before you.
Then we played pinball for another five hours.
With Day Two finding us at Coney Island for the first time ever, there was really only one choice.
At this stage of the hot dog game, there’s not a lot to be said about Nathan’s. I mean, it’s Nathan’s. But Nathan’s at Coney gets the same location-based amplification as the Mayfair Grill did, but then you also bump it through the “legend” filter. (A filter some might disagree with.) I’ll say this much for Nathan’s at Coney Island–they know what they’re facing and they get it done like a finely tuned machine. The majority of the free world had joined us on the boardwalk that day for lunch, but things were moving.
Nathan’s is a toppings-simple place. Boy reverted to his ketchupy ways. I ordered one with chili, and slopped the classic brown mustard on the other. I also ordered a big cup of their Orangeade, which was sort like pounding down a big chug-a-lug of diabetes-on-demand. We ate standing at a metal table, joined by a trio of Germans taking chomp shots for the trip-to-America photo album. With two rides on the legendary Cyclone, one on Soaring Eagles, and a pair of iconic dogs in our system, we took to the road home, looking forward to next year’s ride and the dogs ahead.