Packo’s Hungarian Hot Dogs
Holy crap, I am the most shame-faced hot dog blogger alive. It’s been nearly two months since traveling cross-country to Yellowstone with my lovely wife, and yet here I sit without having finished this blog post. Many thanks and kudos to my earnest colleagues John, Milkbone and Alex who have been holding down the fort while I dither and dally, stuck in the sisyphean trials of paperwork that is the home-buying process. But let me write no more of my shirking responsibility–it’s time to talk hot dogs!
While on the first leg of our journey to Yellowstone, Samantha and I were bound to our first night’s stop in Toledo, Ohio. We were a little stymied with where to eat while in Toledo, so Sam pulled out her iPhone and searched “best restaurant Toledo”–wonder of wonders, it returned a hot dog joint! And not just any old joint, but the famous Tony Packo’s–home of the Hungarian Hot Dogs made famous by everybody’s favorite military cross-dresser, MASH’s Corporal Klinger. Packo’s is also known for it’s faux-buns, volumes of which are encased on the walls after being signed by celebrities. The celebrity list seems to reach pretty far, because there weren’t any names I recognized in this entire lineup that was next to our table (above picture). I guess Pink’s has a one-up on Packo’s just because Toledo ain’t LA.
I didn’t take long at all to decide on what I’d be eating–two of Packo’s dogs with a bowl of chili, but Sam’s decision was a little delayed because eating here was about as unhealthy as being the world-champion eater of Crisco. Check out the menu and you’ll know what I’m talking about–hell, just look at the appetizer list where four of the six items are smothered in chili, and the other two are fried or butter-laden. I grew up in the Midwest and dearly love it, but it’s a land where no remorse is shown for downing more calories in a single dish than would be in a month’s-worth of meals in the Third World.
I started with what would prove to be the best part of eating at Packo’s–their spice-laden chili. It was a little disappointing that the meal peaked so early, but this dish was more than worth the twelve-plus hours drive. I ended up buying a couple of cans of the chili, sold in their in-restaurant store, and haven’t yet eaten them because I don’t want the dream to end. The paprika-heavy chili was heavy on the heat, with chunks of meat throughout. A very satisfying cup-full that I wish would have changed magically into a bowl, or at least be bottomless . . . .
For the entree, I went with the Packo Hot Dog Combo #2, with two dogs and a side. Now I love German potato salad so when I saw hot German potato salad on the menu I decided to give it a go–never had it hot before, so it intrigued me. But you know what curiosity did to the cat, right? It did the same to the potatoes–it was a hot mess of vinegar and sickening sweetness, so after one bite I was done. I have to give kudos to Stephanie, our wonderful server, who warned me that it might not be what I was expecting. I gave her a shot, by the way, of hot dog greatness when I offered to take her picture and put it on the blog. She politely declined and it made sense to me when she explained she wouldn’t want the only picture of her on the ‘net to be of her time as a hot dog waitress. Fair enough!
Packo’s hot dogs are not your traditional frankfurters–they’re more like kielbasas, which have a sharper flavor with a fatty aftertaste (best way I think I can put it). Since pretty much everything on the menu is for sale in their store, you can also buy the Packo Hungarian hot dogs, but I passed up the chance because I didn’t want to be bothered with keeping them on ice for the next 2,000 miles of our trip (yes, our trip took us 2,500 miles west of home).
Since my good friend Hank is a fan of the Ohio method of topping hot dogs–loaded with cheese, onions, mustard and coney sauce–I decided to go with mine loaded. I’m not sure how I feel about the shredded cheese–I’m more inclined to agree with John in that hot dogs need hot cheese in order to bring out the flavor. Now I don’t want to rag on this dog more, but it just didn’t live up to the hype. Maybe it was that the restaurant is now a chain, rather than a lovingly-maintained joint run by a hot dog enthusiast, but the dog was just so-so. The bun was really soggy, the coney sauce didn’t have the same mind-bendingly awesome flavor that the chili did, and the Hungarian hot dogs tasted more like fat than any spices or flavoring. Add to that an unappealing side dish and you get a guy who was bummed his dinner peaked so early.
But worry not, Packo enthusiasts! You still have one of the best chilies I’ve ever tasted. I bought two cans of that stuff to take home, and am waiting for that “just right” moment to break them out–maybe on our wedding anniversary? Yes, it’s that special . . . .
Just as a sidenote, Sam ended up going with the chicken paprikas, which didn’t turn out to be a healthy alternative at all–it came on a bed of dumplings, which were very similar to spaetzle. Satisfying all the same, but with that special guilt that comes from eating in the midwest.