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a summer wasted with weenies (or, how i learned to stop worrying and love the hot dog)

December 16, 2011
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Now this just ain’t fair.  For all I know, since I’ve been ignoring y’all Alex has gained several hundred pounds as he’s had to do all the heavy lifting (of his food trough and/or stomach).  This summer was a busy one, with a lot of traveling and I’ve been trying to hunt down weenies wherever my travels take me.  So, prepare yourselves for what may be the most epic post on this blog (that is, if you’re a complete newbie to the blog and haven’t read Alex’s gut-busting experience at the 6th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff).

We begin our journey by going all the way back to the early days of June, when men wore short shorts with abandon and sidewalk barbeques at Formaggio Kitchen were in full swing.  This also happened to be the bachelor party for my good friend Hank, who made the wise choice of allowing us to begin our day with a healthy fortification of Vitamin BBQ and HD.  These are the things that keep boys going when we’re planning to kayak the Charles and then guzzle gallons of beer while watching the unmentionable things that happen behind a door that only opens with a $10 cover.

Father and son go at the Sidewalk BBQ specialty, the Pearl-in-the-Hole.  I opted for the day’s special, which I haven’t seen before or since: the Pastrami Dog, which was a house-made dog with pastrami spices nestled in a hearty rye bun and topped with mustard and sauerkraut.  My only complaint was that I ordered the last one and nobody else in line could have had one.  Amazing!

Flash forward to early July when I went down to NOLA for that greatest gathering of librarians, the ALA Annual Meeting.  I spent my day among a cavalcade of introverts and the extroverts who love them, amazing author talks, and stampeding librarians trying to get to the latest book giveaway.  My nights were by far the highlight, however, in what may be my favorite city in the States.

I could spend a whole post talking about the great moments this city has to offer but I’ll just give you a few of the highlights like Preservation Hall . . .

the Backstreet Cultural Museum (just around the corner from where we stayed in the Treme).

Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel . . .

and yes, even a hot dog!  Taking a lunch break while at ALA I strolled down a few blocks to Cochon Butcher, which has found a place in my heart since a bit of cholesterol from the hot dog lodged itself.  Honestly, a restaurant that makes all of its own house-cured meats is an experience to be desired.  I, of course, got the house-made hot dog, more like a traditional German frankfurter with very subtle smoky pork flavors, topped with a black-eyed pea chili and coleslaw.  The black-eyed pea is my favorite of legumes and I honestly couldn’t get enough of the chili made with them, just jaw-droppingly amazing.  I could have eaten the spicy pickles by the handful but decided to restrain myself and use a fork to shovel them into my mouth.

In the attempt to be a little even-handed with our diet, Sam & I decided on a side of quick-pickled garden vegetables.  Sam paired these with a succulent cubano sandwich with some of the most savory pork I’ve ever tasted.  New Orleans knows how to do it right because this was one of the first meals we had an each subsequent meal seemed to outdo the one prior.

I did run into a little problem while down south however–my Whole Foods-bought deodorant seemed to throw up its hands in defeat the moment I stepped out into the 95-degree heat with 90% humidity.  I’ll warn you, don’t ever buy a deodorant that advertises itself as an “improved European formula”–bring out the big guns and get some of the extra fresh scent above.

Being superfans of David Simon and all things he does, Sam & I decided to stay in the Treme at what turned out to be the best B&B we’ve ever stayed.  If you go to New Orleans, do yourself a favor and stay at the Monrose Row and take some time to talk with Cindy; every suggestion she gave ended up turning into a highlight from our trip.  Talking about highlights, we ended up with a view of DJ Davis’s house from the Treme.  When I saw David Simon talk at ALA I got in line to get his signature and ended up telling him about how we were staying across the street from where they film; he told me where the “real” DJ Davis lives, and said “go knock on his door and piss him off!”  Turned out he was just joking; apparently Davis Rogan would have invited me in and offered a couple tokes regardless of what time it was.

Thanks to Alex, we made our way to Willie Mae’s Scotch House.  What looks like a hole in the wall in the middle of a block of half-abandoned, half-rundown houses turns out to be one of the greatest soul food restaurants in America (even garnering a James Beard award!).  The fried chicken was . . . transcendent.

We followed that up with a trip to Bullet’s for Kermit Ruffin’s standing Tuesday night gig.  It poured buckets when the band started with, appropriately enough, “Pennies From Heaven” and then rolled along into one of the most memorable shows I’ve ever seen.  After a couple of hours and one or ten Budweisers, the band wrapped up and everybody spilled out of the cramped bar.  Throughout the night the people running a food truck outside were delivering food to patrons at the bar; by the time we stepped outside and realized that the wait for a taxi was going to be a long one, I did my thing and started talking to the people milling about.  As if the hand-painted truck’s side wasn’t enough to tell you that the food is going to be interesting (I’m still trying to figure out what the heck the plate on the right is supposed to be), one man was particularly insistent that I should try the “patented hot sausage” after we got to talking about hot dogs and other ground and encased meats.

I did what I do and asked for them to make me one of them patented sausages, and top it however they usually do, and this is what I got–an alcohol-combating followup to a night well-spent dancing while the man played his horn.  Topped with cheese, lettuce, pickles, mustard and ketchup, the spicy sausage cut right through the beer-induced fog.

So what was a typical day for us in New Orleans?  In the morning we’d walk down to the French Quarter and begin with a plate of beignets and some chicory coffee at Cafe Du Monde . . .

And after escaping the heat with a trip to the museum, we’d head back into the Quarter for a couple dozen oysters at the Acme Oyster Bar . . .

Then we’d hit up a couple of bars, again under the guise of staying out of the heat, and pick out which restaurant we’d want to stop by for dinner.  I believe that Sam’s favorite meal was at Boucherie, where I finally got to experience the cajun hot sausage in the form of some fried boudin balls; the bits of finely ground pork with rice and congealed blood made me wish I grew up Creole.

Not wanting to let go, I convinced Sam that we should bring back a bit of New Orleans with us in the form of a muffaletta from Central Grocery.  We unwrapped this wheel of bread, cheese, Italian meats and marinaded olives on the airplane and dug in.  Turned out the cabin smelled of it for the rest of the trip back home, not sure if that made us any friends but I couldn’t tell because I was otherwise occupied.

After the gastro-tour of New Orleans we laid low for a little while but eventually found ourselves traveling north on Route 1 and at one of our favorite friend’s place, Yank’s Franks.

Yes, the man knows how to advertise!  If I found myself driving behind this jeep I’d follow it wherever it was going.

We sat down at a picnic table outside and tucked in.  The angry dog (pictured above) was spicy, sweet, and oh-so vinegary.  The buttered New England split-top bun smoothed out the flavor with the Hummel dog doing its best to stand out.  Yank also makes a great chili dog, with a hearty beef and bean chili with onions and spicy mustard undertones.  Again, the buttery bun won out on this dog.  Last, but certainly not least, is Yank’s answer to the Chicago Dog: Yank’s Frank.  I’m a total slave to vinegar and this one was perfect for it.  Add the angry dog sauce to it and it might just pull out ahead as one of my favorite dogs of the summer.

Other highlights from Mike’s endless summer included seeing George R. R. Martin, whom I unabashedly geeked out on . . . .  Thanks to Tyson, my wonderful librarian coworker who convinced me to start reading the Saga of Ice and Fire; he’s the guy standing in front of the camera with his back turned.  Tyson, this is your shot at internet fame!

Speaking of coworkers the next few shots are due largely in part to them.  The first set were taken at The Dog House, a small roadside stand in Medfield, Massachusetts run by Ross Scanlon.  I don’t have any reason to travel through Medfield but a few of my coworkers do on their way into work and immediately informed me of the new HDJ in our neck of the woods.  It took me a while to finally make it out there but I’m glad I did, because I met another hot dog enthusiast who knows how to put a messy set of condiments on a dog–or rather, underneath it.

Ross doesn’t just stick to hot dogs but does a swift business with breakfast as well–a smart thing, being that he’s parked in front of a hardware store.  Because he worked in construction before taking to the hot dog business a couple of years ago, I’m assuming he had the insider’s knowledge of how a pack of hungry guys tend to descend on the hardware store, looking for some cheap eats.

I went with a selection from his “loaded dogs,” which are any of the specialty dogs he makes.  Now, the hotdog man went with a Hawaiian dog when he visited but I’m just not that much into the super sweet flavors that pineapple has, so I went with the chili dog instead.

It was a fantastic dog for $5, and I’m sure it’s a bargain for all of the hungry laborers who stop by because after one I was barely tempted to eat another–but, of course, I did.  Even though the chili comes from a food vendor I thought it was pretty decent and the oversized bun really made up for it; it was fluffy on the inside but didn’t suffer from a bun collapse with all of the condiments piled underneath the dog.

Next up is one of my favorites, Snappy Dogs of Hopkinton.  I saw on their facebook page that they were going to be on a local news channel and, since I’d been promising another coworker (Jonathan, below inserting a sausage into his gob) we’d make the trek I thought it was perfect timing.

Again, I had to have two dogs because these ladies make ’em right.  For my second dog I went with an assortment of condiments: watermelon rind chutney, Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce, and a corn relish.  AMAZING!  Teresa and Lisa knock themselves out to make a superior dog and it shows, especially in their house-made relishes and condiments.  I took a jar of the watermelon rind chutney home with me and have been enjoying it ever since.

And keeping with the theme of library-land generated hot dog quests, catching up with my good friend Sean from the Lowell Public Library led me to the Lawrence Dog Haus (formerly Lawton’s), which is the location of one of those stands that have been around for what seems like forever.  This one has a sad story, however, because it’s been falling into the river which had led to a series of closings and new ownership.  It’s a sad story that follows, but you can read more about the misfortunes of this building and its previous owners/operators here.

When Sean and I visited it was pretty quiet at the dog haus, so it gave me a bit of a chance to talk to the young woman running the frier.  She didn’t have much to say about the goings-on but did tell us that they were going to start offering more in the way of dogs–at the moment they’re only selling these long franks (below) which significantly overhang the bun.  I loved ’em, however; they were the dogs they’ve been selling here for the past 80 years and it was great to experience the deep-fried taste of history.  Very snappy dogs with a fine sheen of grease, these frankfurters were perfectly paired with the typical New England condiments–mustard and relish.

Now this ain’t no dog, but it is a beautiful bit of meat wrapped in pastry.  While attending Hank’s wedding in Traverse City, Michigan (you’ll remember Hank from that first picture) I had a run in with my second pastie (not to be confused with the other, more popular pasties).  These were sold out of a food truck standing in the parking lot of a shuttered tire shop on the main drag, with a big sign advertising “the traditional U.P. recipe.”  For those of you not familiar with the yoopee, it’s the thumb of the hand that is the state of Michigan.  From what I could tell, the traditional U.P. recipe had some major root vegetables going on, such as turnips, carrots and potatoes, as well as onion and spices mixed in with the beef.  I stopped by there to pick up one for each guy in the groom’s wedding party, which we devoured before subjecting ourselves to a grueling hour’s worth of pre-wedding photos.  It was just the thing Hank needed before walking down the aisle, to steel himself for the big event.

Now this is a dog–in fact, it’s the dog.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for the obligatory cute puppy photo of Wee-Bey playing with a tennis ball.

And last, but certainly not least, I try my own hand at hot dog creation.  As an amateur I cannot hope to enter into the realm of greatness with the likes of Larry Joe, Speed’s, or Hot Doug’s, but I can at least attempt to satisfy my hunger.  The dogs below were compliments of our friends at Pearl Meats.  They’re hot dogs, alright, but in burger-like form.  Imagine a five-pound hot dog that’s sliced into disks and this is what you end up with.

I decided to try basting a couple in some spicy BBQ sauce from Blue Ribbon and leave the other two unadulterated.

I put them on a couple of rolls and and ladled on the condiments.  The dog on the right features the BBQ sauced dogs topped with Snappy Dog’s watermelon rind chutney and extra sauce; the one on the left has a New England-style piccalilli topped with mustard.  The dogs were fantastic, with the strong beef and garlic flavor that Pearl dogs are so well known for; the only thing that was missing was the snap of the casing but I found it was an even payoff for the opportunity to try a disk dog.  The piccalilli was compliments of Sam’s coworker and I gotta say, it was the best I’ve ever had.  In addition to the sweet and vinegary flavors was a nice undercurrent of ginger.  Thanks for the great relish, Ann!  The BBQ dog was excellent as well, as the sweet chutney melded with the spicy BBQ sauce and the hearty beef dog.  Thanks to Pearl for letting me have a go at making the dogs!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2011 6:18 pm

    Epic!

  2. brooklynalex permalink*
    December 17, 2011 12:36 am

    You are a world class gastronomer my friend! That was badass!

  3. December 23, 2011 3:49 pm

    Great article, Mike. Thanks for incuding Yank’s Franks. Hot Diggity and I were in New Orleans two days ago. It was one of our stops during our annual Texas roadtrip (we’re in Texas now). I wish I had read this artice before, we would have a couple more spots to try. We did make it to Cafe du Monde and were thinking that Yank’s Franks needs to open for breakfast as Cafe du Yank…Beignets at the Beach! Sounds delicious.
    Happy Holidays to everyone at “The Hot Dog I Ate”

    • December 23, 2011 4:51 pm

      Yank, I saw your travels on facebook–was going to make a suggestion or two but it seemed that you were moving out to Texas a few hours after posting so I didn’t want to give you any regrets 😉 Bring back some brisket for us, alright? And have a great holiday yourself, looking forward to seeing you in the Spring!

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