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Guest Post: Hot Dog Day Afternoon

Today’s guest poster has written here before. And why not? He’s my husband. Stephen’s also the hottest hot-dog-lover I know. Here’s his take on the great dogs of the Westchester-to-Connecticut I95 Corridor. (And folks, he’s doing Weight Watchers with me. Stephen ate all this food in one day and still managed to lose weight that week.)

Stephen’s writing his own blog, too, these days, Peel Slowly. It’s devoted to movies and music, his two loves, and I’m completely impartial when I say that if you read his blog you’ll never watch movies the same way again. Seriously, my husband was a born film school teacher.

Rawley, Walter, Frank, and Pat. I love these guys. Why? Because they make amazing hot dogs. They do this in a stretch of restaurants and food stands between Westchester County, NY, and lower Connecticut. My eating buddy Blake and I decided to hit all of them in a single day (and then some), so last Monday, we skipped breakfast; hopped in the car; queued up a healthy playlist of Sabbath, Prince, and Clapton; and headed 90 minutes north of Brooklyn. It was time for Hot Dog Day Afternoon.

Our first stop was Rawley’s, a very unglamorous snack shack in Fairfield, CT. For the last few years, this has been my favorite adorned hot dog. They deep fry ‘em and finish ‘em on the grill. The Works is topped with mustard, sauerkraut, crumbled bacon bits, and their own relish. (I forego the sauerkraut.) It’s gorgeous to look at and tastes even better.

The relish is a little sweet/a little tart, which mixes nicely with the bacon. None of the condiments (which is an insulting word for these lively toppings) overpower or disguise the flavor of the dog itself. I supposed it’s that deep fried cookin’ that helps the dog keep up its end of the deal.

I chose Rawley’s first because I missed it so much (the last one I had was Father’s Day 2009), but it sure set a high standard.

Next, we continued north to Super Duper Weenie, also in Fairfield. This is probably the most savvy of all the places we went to, at least from the standpoint of contemporary methods (i.e. their website). They’re also the youngest place we ate (opened in 1992). And, frankly (pun intended), they’re the weakest of the bunch.

Their missteps are just my opinion, but they reflect everything that can be subjective about hot dogs. In other words, I don’t like them, but others do (and they do, too; that place is always packed).

All their big menu items mimic dogs from other cities, i.e. the “Chicagoan.” I had the Cincinnatian, which has Cincinnati-style chili, cheddar cheese & chopped onions.

Here’s what rubbed me the wrong way about this dog (and just about every other dog I had there over the years):

  • Too many toppings. According to their website, they use only “just the right cuts of beef and pork,” which is a great way to start, but every frank gets lost under a weight of toppings. (Can you see it in the picture above?) And the chili was fine, but nothin’ to blog home about.
  • Too much bun. Too doughy. And not toasted enough. There’s nothing among hot dog junkies more debated than the Bun Variable. I think too much bun throws off the crucial dog-to-bun ratio.
  • The cheese isn’t melted. This really rubs me the wrong way. If you’re not going to melt it to the dog, then please melt it to the bun.
  • Tough casing. Blake and I both had difficulties biting through the dog. Once, Blake pulled the balance of his out with his teeth, mid-bite.

I’ve given Super Duper Weenie’s dogs many chances over the years, but when I go again, I’ll try something else on their menu. Everything negative I said about their weenies has NO bearing on their fries, which are awesome.

Back onto 95, heading south now, we cranked up some Sabbath to get us to our next destination: Swanky Frank’s in Norwalk, CT. This is an ol’ skool style caboose-shaped diner, and the “Swanky” is ironic. More affordable than Rawley’s or Super Duper Weenie, this was my first split dog of the day. I think this is the best way to cook a dog, and Frank’s grill has been doing it since 1976. The bun is toasted on said grill (too toasted? Perhaps), and the mustard relish is a great touch.

With my stomach acclimated to years of diner grills, eating this hot dog is like going home. And the same goes with anything at Frank’s: unpretentious eats, great prices, friendly service. Are they “perfect”? Well, they too do not melt their cheese on the dog or bun, but that’s a constant sticking point with me, so I’ll let ‘em slide. (Next time I go, I’m going to ask them to melt it to the dog and I bet they’ll comply.)

Eric Clapton carried Blake and me into New York state (highway driving, hot dogs and white boy blues is a combo made in heaven). We went to Pat’s Hubba Hubba, a hole in the wall with barstools, in Port Chester, NY. For me, it was a trip back in time since this was my favorite late meal spot when I was in film school, 20 years ago. A few years ago, ownership changed hands, so it’s now known only as Hubba, but it’ll always be Pat’s to me. I ordered my usual chili cheese dog…

Gratefully, the chili recipe is the same as it was in 1990. It had Pat’s trademarks—spicy, greasy, crunchy roll—but as you can see in the picture, the cheese was off-center. Since they melt the cheese—God bless ‘em—placement is crucial. The chili was as hot as ever, though in a smaller dose than I remember.

To call Pat’s a “greasy spoon” implies the grease ends at the cutlery and food. Actually, it’s everywhere, as you can see after I moved my paper plate…

I enjoyed my Pat’s dog, but I was cheating myself of the full-on Pat’s Hubba Hubba Experience: a cheese dog, a chili cheese dog, and an order of chili fries. This is what I’d get regularly 20 years ago, after a full night of editing, and then I’d go to bed. And that type of insane eating is just not in the cards nowadays.

Our final destination was Walter’s in Mamaroneck. This take-out stand has been around since 1919 (the oldest we visited). My wife grew up nearby, and she eagerly brought me there when we were courting (in an effort to catch my heart and clog it at the same time).

At some point, in my stomach, mustard and relish collided with the mustard-relish, and cheese (melted and otherwise) went head-to-head with the onions, and the rival chilis duked it out, so that by the time I sat down with the last dog, I was feeling, shall we say, less than. But I prevailed because a Walter’s dog is that good.

Split down the middle, grilled in butter, with their own mustard/relish blend, it looks like it was run over by a kid’s bike. Blake and I sat in the outdoor picnic area, in the shade, and finally snapped off some pictures that weren’t exclusively of food. This is me, with Blake below…

We wound down the day like real men: we went to Mamaroneck’s Harbor Island park, looked at the boats, smoked some cigars, and talked about hot dogs. We were like two well-fed landowners. In my final assessment, Rawley’s is still my favorite; Swanky Frank’s and Walter’s tied for second, followed by Pat’s Hubba Hubba’s chili cheese dog. Super Duper Weenie was a distant fifth.

Hopefully, Hot Dog Day Afternoon will become an annual tradition. Does anyone have a suggestion for Super Duper Weenie replacement?

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. kipod

    great blog! you should yelp them all.

    one note: "cincinnati-style chili" sounds like a reference to a chain called skyline. the "coney" dog is topped with their signature (mild to sweet) chili, a fistful of shredded, unmelted cheese and raw onions.

    the quality of the dog casing aside, sounds like the topping situation was authentic, just not what you were looking for.

  2. marthaandme

    I can't believe you ate it all in one day! I love the idea of the split dog. I've only had a split dog pan fried by my grandmother and it was nasty, but I'll bet it's great grilled. I will have to try it!hryo

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