Mike’s Stomach is Soothed with Hot Dogs
Last year ’round about this time, I was recuperating from a nasty bout of pneumonia and Sam was at the end of her rope–having had to take care of me, our new puppy Wee-Bey, and shoveling at least a foot of snow on what seemed like a daily basis. Thus, we decided to take the winter off and head down to Mexico for a culinary vacation where we would learn to make traditional dishes in a beautiful open air kitchen and lounge by the pool side in Tepotzlan, about an hour-and-a-half south of Mexico City. The joke was on us, however, as it was in the 60’s in Boston while we were away and for another reason, which I’ll get in to in just a sec.
First, a quick bit of info about Tepotzlan: it’s a very small, independent town which cleaves to its native Nahuatl culture and is considered the birthplace of the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl. It’s also known for its pyramid dedicated to Tepoztecatl, the god of pulque (a fermented, viscous alcoholic drink made from the maguey plant), drunkenness, and fertility–my kinda god! The town is a popular place for tourists from Mexico City over the weekend but during the week is pretty laid back with the notable exception of firecrackers going off whenever a local wants people to notice him.
It was Carnival during the week we stayed so there was a lot going on in town, including hordes of young men walking around with what looked like slurpees, having been filled up too high and their red, syrupy contents slopping down the sides of the cup’s rim. We later found out that what looked like big gulps were instead Micheladas: these were made with a healthy scoop of clamato, a forty ounce of cerveza, pepper sauce to rim the cup, and a large straw covered in tamarind with which to slurp it all up with. They cost about three dollars to enjoy and almost every young guy tried to look cool, strolling through the crowd with an arm draped around his girl and a noxious big gulp in his hand.
A beautiful and strange place, no? Well, unfortunately Sam & I didn’t get to experience much of it because of the offending tacos above. Yes, my friends, I (and the others who stayed at the villa with us) succumbed to that most original of tourista ignorances, eating food from a taco stand–and I’ll qualify stand by telling you it was a coleman cooler, lined in foil holding hundreds of tacos, sitting on a fold-up table with a patio umbrella to shade the owner. I can’t take total blame for this lapse in judgement because the chef we were staying with treated us to the tacos, and they truly were delicious. I ended up eating three of the chicharron tacos, a mix of pork rinds and refried beans, and having had more of this than anyone else in our group, had the distinction of being the first in our group to begin praying to the porcelain god.
It wasn’t all bad, however–we had at least two days to enjoy ourselves until the toilet festivities began so before then we learned (and enjoyed) some traditional cuisine such as mole. Sam joked that the first lesson she learned was how to rock out an apron.
So at this point you’re probably asking what the heck this all has to do with hot dogs, right? Well don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. When we got back to the States we were just starting to reacquaint ourselves with food. I figured what better to get us back in to shape than a hot dog? We were staying with Sam’s sister in Jersey so on our way back I figured we’d try to hit up another iconic Connecticut hot dog stand. Being a fan of the excellent Connecticut Hot Dog Tour documentary, I remembered there was an iconic stand along the road back home–Frankie’s, home of the famous footlong. Unfortunately I made the mistake of trying to go to the original stand and found out it was closed for the winter (even though our winter has been bordering on a constant Spring-like temperature range) but we were in luck because Frankie’s has opened a franchise just down the road . . . .
Frankie’s offers regular foot longs or specialty dogs, about six or seven different types. I certainly wasn’t in the mood to try their Mexican dog so I went with the Irish instead–a dog covered in strips of bacon, exactly what this boy needed to settle his stomach and quicken his heart. Sam went with some chicken strips and we decided to share a side of curly fries. From the picture above you can probably deduce that the dogs are done in the typical Connecticut style: a quick dip in a bath of hot oil and finished on the countertop grill. They had a condiment stand with the usual suspects–some ketchup (shudder), mustard, relish and raw onions–as well as hot relish (a la Blackie’s) and cooked onions. I’m a sucker for the hot relish so added that and some mustard to the naked dog and a bit to the Irish dog as well.
Sam was, as usual, a fan of the curly fries and I think was happy to be back in the States, where she could put on a few of the pounds we had lost down in Mexico by dining on chicken tenders.
As for me, I think you can see from the obligatory chow shot that I’m an ugly American at heart and wouldn’t trade my hot dog for all of the tamales in the world. Honestly the dogs weren’t the best that Connecticut had to offer–the relish was a little tame and the atmosphere was nil–but I bet that’s due to this being a franchise and me not getting to visit the original stand. Regardless, it was a solid lunch and one that was well enough welcome after a long trip back home after an even longer vacation. Who knows, maybe hot dogs are my version of chicken soup, that which soothes my soul after a long trip and an even longer vacation . . . .