A Few Hours with Larry Joe
I’ve been keeping a secret to myself and it’s time I let you all in on it. In the town of Mendon, Massachusetts, settled in the parking lot of a hardware store, you’ll find a hot dog that’s not only the best in New England but one that represents what may be Massachusetts’ most historical hot dog. Ladies and gentleman, meet Larry Joe and his New England Firepit:I came across Larry Joe’s a couple of years ago when he was in Bellingham in a truck that later, most lamentably, burned down. Larry Joe’s was shuttered for the better part of a year while he was custom building his new truck, which is a real beauty. Now I’ll be entirely honest: I don’t think there’s any other reason why someone would have traveled to either Bellingham or Mendon unless they needed one of two things: to get home, or to devour one of Larry Joe’s hot dogs.
With the exception of the ladies of Snappy Dogs located about a 15 minute drive away, there’s nothing else around here that would draw your attention. Which is why you should be impressed: I’ve traveled the hour-plus it takes to get to Mendon and did it with a huge smile on my face, ’cause I knew what a treat I was in for. I’m planning on doing it again. In fact, when I was prepping to write this blog the thought burst into my mind–why not just drive down again so I can refresh my memory?
And this, of course, is the reason why. Look at that beautiful mess! This dog is topped with a blend of three mustards, a sweet BBQ sauce, chopped fresh onions, a mild no-bean chili, tomato salsa made that morning, a spicy hot pepper salad, and a jaw-droppingly delicious (not to mention expensive, the ingredients cost about $50 a gallon) relish.
The dog itself is a lovingly marinated half-pound all-beef Pearl, smoked over hickory and basted with some of Larry Joe’s secret marinade. You can also choose what Larry Joe calls a “Carribean Dog” which I have to admit I’ve never had, because the original is just too damn good. In the realm of hot dogs, this is king. As his sign states, it’s a “hot dog taste destination.”
With the many layers of flavor going on, it’s a difficult dog to describe properly: the savory flavors are predominant, with sweet levels throughout due to the BBQ, mustard, and relish. Alongside that travels an undertone of vinegary tang which, paired with the fresh vegetables, brings the dog back from the brink of being almost too deep of a flavor. Top it off with a slight heat from the pepper salad, the smoke of the hickory, and the big beef flavor of the dog and you’ve got yourself a flavor profile that I could go on about for at least a few more paragraphs.
Ah what the heck, let’s take another look at that beauty queen:
By now I hope you’re wondering what I meant by this being Massachusetts’ most historical hot dog. Well, Larry Joe is carrying on a tradition–a tradition that, for many years, was kept by the legendary Boston’s Speed who set up in Newmarket Square. The tradition goes earlier than that, however, to the time of FDR–as in Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The short of it is that the President was entertaining guests from across the pond–guests who knew a good frankfurter when they had one. So, in order to impress them, FDR decided to have his White House chefs cook up a frank that couldn’t be beat–and do it big, just like we in America are so fond of. At the time, the chefs were predominantly African-American and in love with BBQ; they whipped up a dog that was marinated, smoked, and slathered in toppings similar to what you’ll find at Larry Joe’s.
If you’d like to learn more about the history that Larry Joe shares with Speed, check out the Hot Dog Man’s videos on YouTube. You won’t be sorry to watch it, Larry Joe tells a great story.
The second time I came around I brought some of my co-workers and friends, who had no idea what they were in store for. Look at these dapper men! Too bad they’ll soon end up with half of those dogs on their shirt fronts.
Larry Joe may be the most dedicated hot dog truck operator in Massachusetts, keeping it open year round unless there’s some truly horrific weather or a really good football game to watch. He’s also one of the most talkative, holding court at his stand for as long as you’ll listen. I’ve gone twice and spent almost three hours there each time, learning about the dog’s history, his cooking techniques, the time that he spent in the military as a nuclear technician, his wide-ranging and fantastic taste in music, etc.
To top off the fact that Larry Joe makes the best dog in New England, he’ll also treat you to a song at no extra charge. Here’s a couple of songs I recorded, the first being the iconic “Hoochie Coochie Man” and the second Larry Joe’s tribute to Pinetop Perkins, who had died the day before my first visit and was promised to be played the next time I stopped by.
If those aren’t reasons enough for you to drop whatever you’re doing and drive to Mendon, then what the heck are you reading this blog for?