John Doubles Up on Fairfield
It was like this: Imagine you’re sitting in church when the guy in the pew next to you leans over and says, “Yeah, this god is pretty good, but if you’re looking for the real god, he’s just down the street at a different church.”
I was passing through Fairfield, CT, with the family and lunchtime had rolled around. I got the wife to give in to my irrational need to stop at Super Duper Weenie for a couple of dogs. I’ve been once before, back in 2007 when I came across it by accident on my way to Philly. I had learned about it in the PBS hot dog special, so I knew I had to stop there. Now, when a trip takes me that far south into CT, I try to time my departure to put me in Fairfield around lunchtime.
Because my astute colleague Brooklynalex recently wrote about Super Duper, I won’t go into the details of my visit other than to say I had a Dixie and a Cincinnatti, and they were yummy. But the moment that mattered came when I was returning from the bathroom. My wife, never one to shy away from a random conversation, had got to talking with the couple next to us. The husband was a hot dog lover, too, and he had a word of advice:
“You want a really good dog,” he said, “you go down the road to Rawley’s.”
First off, if we were t0 grade HDJs on some combination of charm/funkiness, Rawley’s would easily top the list. It’s a small red shack in the middle of downtown Fairfield, relatively nondescript save for the sign out front. And even that, as you can see, is a humble little thing. The bottom line on the sign says “Roessler Hot Dogs”–a local brand. As far as I can tell from combing the interwebtubes, the Roessler brand may have shuffled off the mortal coil several years back. Thus, I’m not sure what they serve here now. But the memory remains.
Walk through the front door and you’re in a narrow take-out corridor that I have to imagine gets insanely packed and tight during heavy traffic. A narrow rail and a few stools accommodate the hungry. There’s a small sit-down room at one end with about five booths, and you’ve just got to see it. Every inch of the wooden walls and beams are carved, scratched and engraved with years of “So-and-so was here” marks, and the booths have been liberally Sharpie’d with the autographs and pithy quotes of a stream of visitors.
But what about them hot dogs?
Rawley’s claim to local fame is that they deep-fry the dogs before a quick finish on the griddle. This, they say, gives them a little extra snap and flavor. While I can’t say my dogs seemed any snappier than usual, I can say that Rawley’s turns out an honest, tasty dog.
I ordered a pair: their go-to signature dog with sauerkraut, relish, mustard and a scattering of crispy bacon, and the “Chihuahua,” with mustard, onions and the locally crafted “Dave’s Hellish Relish.” The wife ordered up a chili-cheese dog.
While I wasn’t blown away by the Rawley’s dogs, I can definitely see (and taste) what brings folks back. The signature dog has a nice blend of flavors–the kraut is tart and plentiful and squares off against the smoky bite of the bacon. On the first bite I had a total bun malfunction–a full-on seam rip along the bottom, but I soldiered through it. The Chihuahua just needed one thing more, though I couldn’t tell you what. It seemed sparse, and the “Hellish” relish, while tasty with a good sweet flavor on the dog, didn’t live up to its fiery moniker. A nice tang, but nothing to cry to mom about.
The wife let me snag a taste of the chili on her dog, and it made me wish I had ordered the same rather than the Chihuahua (curse you, hot pepper addiction!). Deep brown, smoky in flavor, meaty and saucy–I’d gladly sit down to a bowl of this stuff on its own!
We shared a delicious side of thick hand-cut fries, many of which were happily wolfed down by my 4-year-old daughter.
Back in the car, discussion naturally ensued as we got on the highway to head for home. We decided that we both preferred Super Duper, but only by a slim margin, although it was tough to say exactly why. For pure character, it’s all Rawley’s. Along with the good food, the sit-down service was quick and friendly–I think all three guys in the kitchen stopped by our table to ask how everything was–and the place just exudes that no-BS, been-here-forever feel. It’s the place people from here come back to when they’ve been away. Everyone needs a place like that. And that, I think, is about the highest compliment you can pay a HDJ.
As for me… I don’t get down that way often (although I do have a jaunt planned for later this month). It’s a three-hour haul. When I do, however, I now know how to play Fairfield’s hot-doggin’ two-fer:
One on the way down, one on the way back. Super Duper and Rawley’s or Rawley’s and Super Duper. Order doesn’t matter. Either way I know that I’m definitely in for two very good hot dog meals.