John Sets Himself on Fire at South Coast Coneys
First things first: I am only the second person in South Coast Coney’s 19-month history to accept and beat the Death Incarnate challenge. One simple hot dog coated with a hot habanero/ghost jolokia relish weighing in at a stomach-wracking 1.5 million Scoville units.
On top of that, I discovered a good place to get an authentic Coney–and then some.
With the exception of one lunch jaunt over to Windy City Eats, I literally have not set foot in a hot dog joint or stepped up to a cart in well over eight months. Part of it is the lack of joints in my area and part is that wintery hibernation period when the carts get tucked away. Recently, however, a private message hit my inbox on a local community message board, from someone who knows I do this dog-blog thang: “Have you tried South Coast Coneys in Middleboro?”
Why, no, I hadn’t. But immediately upon looking at their web site, loaded with photos of gorgeously meat-laden Coneys, bacon dogs, Hawaiian dogs and more, I knew my first trip of the year was imminent. Having seen the Death Incarnate Challenge on the site, filled with pictures of those who had given their lives attempting to scale this Vesuvian morsel, I knew I was doing that, too.
South Coast is a fairly small shop in a Hanaford’s shopping plaza on Route 28–easy to get to. There are eight or nine two-seat tables across from the long prep area. I spoke with Dennis, manning the counter on my trip. He’s a friendly guy who’s been doing this for 15 years in various locations. He loves what he does, but understands what a tough business this can be. (While I could still speak, before taking on the Death Incarnate, we talked about people who dive into the dog business figuring all you need is a weiner and a roll, only to realize they’re wrong.)
But on to the dogs. Some folks may take issue with what you see here–dogs on a roller. I’ll admit that seeing this worried me at first. Rollers tend to mean that the dogs have been spinning for an indeterminate amount of time, convenience-store style. (Ten minutes on a roller is an hour in dog years.) As much as I’d rather see a flat top, the Kayem dogs that came off these rollers were warm, still moist, not reduced and wrinkled to the point where only the most desperate and/or drunk of people would be able to put one down. The split-top rolls are perfectly warmed in a steamer. The meat sauce and other toppings are kept in small warming trays on the back counter. There is a microwave on premises, but on this trip we never saw it used.
Boy was with me; he naturally went for a pair of ketchup-coated dogs. I opened with a pair of Coneys and a Reuben. In retrospect I should have gone for three different dogs to check out the range, but in retrospect after that retrospect, the Coney sauce was so good that I’m glad I doubled down on it. The Coney sauce is a great version of your standard Greek/RI hot weiner sauce, just to the drier side of chili and packing deep flavors. I actually like my sauce at this consistency; Dennis said it’s usually a little less dry. Brown mustard, onions and a few shakes of celery salt over the top and these babies were downright delicious.
The Reuben dog was a test. This is one of my favorite ways to have a dog. I love Russian dressing, I enjoy sauerkraut, but you know what I like most of all? That’s right, regular readers: melty cheese. As Dennis put together my dog, laying a couple slices of Swiss over the top, I kept watching for him to make a move toward the microwave. I was ready to ding him for that–because microwaving a hot dog is a mortal sin, and microwaving my cheese is punishable by a horrible, lingering death. Instead, he disappeared around a corner, only to return a few minutes later with the dog shown here. Do we all see the slight browning on the bun? That undulating sea of molten Swiss? Whether toaster oven or broiler, the cheese had been melted properly. Not heartlessly nuked, but seductively loved by heat. The flavors all came together nicely.
And then…it was time. Three dogs in, and one round of savage self-abuse left to go. I ordered the Death Incarnate.
Dennis showed me where the sauce begins: a commercial product called Da’ Bomb Ghost Pepper Salsa. According to maker Original Juan, this only kicks in at about 5,800 Scoville units. By comparison, your average Tabasco sauce weighs in at 30,000-50,000 and a habanero pepper alone can go as high as 300,000, so it’s not the salsa itself that’s out to kill you, it’s whatever evil shit Dennis puts in there afterwards. That’s where Hell itself is hiding.
Let’s be clear about this: eating this hot dog is like asking someone to punch you in the face. Six times. The sauce launches its attack immediately, and it brings some serious rage. Don’t show it any fear. You do, you die. Once you’ve taken that first bite, you’ve already committed taste-bud suicide, so stopping there isn’t going to hurt you any less. With my second bite I got myself about halfway through the dog–just your standard, small, six-inch Kayem frank. That big bite was like asking for a kick in the sack along with the punch in the face. But I knew two things: first, that I was two bites away if I could just take a breath; and second, that it was just going to get worse once I was done. The capsaicin from the peppers was coating my mouth, as oils tend to do, and it’s not like it was leaving anytime soon. I could finish the dog, no doubt. But that’s really just buying yourself a ticket to the pain train. Then it’s a long, burning, what was I thinking ride to the end of the line. Take my word when I tell you that I was sweating for a good 20 minutes, my eyes were watering, I’d sometimes choke a little on what I can only describe as pepper vapor in my throat, and it was literally 45 minutes before the burn really started to subside.
And yes, friends, as a very dedicated chilihead (I make brownies with habanero sauce) I know that milk cools the burn, but Dennis didn’t have any on hand and I was damned determined to beat this thing on level ground. I waited about 10 minutes before asking for a cup of water, but that just slid the oils around without much help, so I nutted up and just rode the thing out, content in knowing there’s only been one other person so far who could take this beating. I wouldn’t go back for another Death Incarnate–but I’ll definitely be headed back to South Coast Coneys for more good, honest dogs. There’s a lot of variety left to try, and Dennis is doing it right.
South Coast Coneys
10 Merchants Way, Route 28