One problem with franks for the masses is that edible casings are expensive, and really good so-called natural casings are very expensive. For me, no hot dog without the crunch of a casing is really worth salivating over. Because dawgs are often considered easy to prepare food for kids, the short-sighted wiener industry overwhelmingly produces bland, skinless, inexpensive products and shortchanges real hot dog enthusiasts like us. Even most Nathan’s now serve the cheaper skinless variety but still get the premium price.
For years, hot dogs were enjoyed at commercial venues, most notably Major League Baseball games, more than they were eaten in private homes. Hamburgers are made at home. But as attendance at baseball declined and fast-food burger places advanced, hot dogs lost favor with the American public.
Hot dogs are sold by the pound, just as in butcher shops, but the buns are sold by number. Commercial bakers re-tooled ovens and baking sheets to produce more hamburger buns when hot dogs declined in popularity. Since you can get sushi and nachos at the ballpark, it seems unlikely that franks will ever reclaim their former glory.
I once worked on a TV special for ABC called “Secrets Revealed,” and the mystery of buns by number, dogs by pound was to be revealed. But network bigwigs scrapped the idea, no doubt so as not to offend fast food advertisers.
Nominations by Salon readers for hot dog supremacy poured in. In Los Angeles: Pink’s on La Brea and the corn dogs at Astroburger. In Silverdale, Wash.: Polish hot dogs at the Price/Costco store. In Houston: the James Coney Island chain for its hot dog with “the works” (chili, melted cheese and onions). In Columbia, S.C.: local chains Rush’s and Zesto’s. Eric C. Sanders recommends the 7-Eleven chain for its Quarter Pound Big Bites with “the table wine of the South (Lipton Iced Tea).”
In Detroit: Lafayette Coney Island for its coney dog. In Canton, Ohio: Hegg’s Nut Shop. In Peoria, Ill.: cart vendors with their very hot mustard. In Chicago: the Superdawg on the Northside and Demon Dogs in the DePaul neighborhood. The “char-cheddar dog” at Wieners Circle. The “Chicago style” dog (cucumber slices, jalapeño peppers, onions, sliced pickles, mustard) at the Navy Pier.
Most nominated hot-dog emporium on the East Coast was resoundingly Rutt’s Hut, founded in 1942 in what was variously pegged as Nutley, Secaucus and Clifton, N.J.: king of the menu there is the “Ripper,” a “deep-fried” hot dog. Also recommended was Callahan’s in nearby Fort Lee.
In Pennsylvania: Smith’s Provision meats in Erie (Dan Dubowski says, “Best natural casing hot dogs in the world!”). In the Lehigh Valley: Willy Joe’s and Yocco’s (the Iacocca family). In Greenville: the Majestic Bar & Grill.
In New York state: Ted’s in Buffalo. Zweigle’s White Hots in Rochester. Heid’s in Liverpool, north of Syracuse on Onondaga Lake. In New York City: Katz’s Deli, Grey’s Papaya and kosher dogs from the pushcart at 96th Street and Central Park West.
In New England: Chick’s (open year around) on the beach in West Haven, Conn. Swanky Frank off the I-95 exit in Norwalk, Conn. Spike’s Junkyard Dogs (notably the Ruben Dog) in Providence, R.I., Wass’s in Rockland and Belfast, Maine. Flo’s Hot Dogs in Cape Neddick, Maine. In Massachusetts: Hot Dog Express & Grille in Worcester, Frank’s in Brockton and Simco’s on the Bridge in Mattapan.
Lauding the “excellent hot dog stands” in Toronto, Sara Gann of Arlington, Va., speaks, I’m sure, for thousands of aggrieved Americans when she declares, “I shouldn’t have to go to Canada for a good hot dog!” Robert Chappell, among others, rightly twits me, “I should remind you it was Ralph Nader who, in the late ’60s, led the crusade against the American hot dog.”
For reasons of space I must defer to the future the tantalizing remarks sent by readers about the glories of smoked sausages in Louisiana, of barbecue in Lubbock, Texas, and of Italian spiedie (actually one of my family’s specialties) in upstate New York — and also about the abysmal lack of good fried chicken in Boston.
Postscript: My conversation with Ingrid Sischy about the social tyranny of blonds appears in the December issue of Interview magazine. The BBC World Service is still posting piquant excerpts from its in-depth interview with me on “About Face,” which aired globally on Oct. 12.
Because of the vacation schedule, this is my final column of the year. My next column will appear on Jan. 17. Happy holidays to Salon readers everywhere!