Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Institutions: Part 1: Ode to the Hot Dog

As we make our way into the last lazy month of summer I think its as a good a time as any to reflect on some of my favorite summer foods. Of all the summer time treats to choose from I must say that two reign supreme over all others, the hot dog and the ice cream cone. To me, no summer is complete without a sizzling grill and the promise of sweet frozen bliss for dessert.

Let us set our sights on the magestic hot dog, snuggled tightly into a lightly toasted bun and smothered with an array of topings as varied and colorful as ones imagination.
To me, the hot dog represents all that is great and perverse in the world of food. A cacophony of ground meat parts and fat all stuffed begrudgingly into a synthetic or (if you're lucky) organic intestine casing, cooked to tenderness on a grill or in a boiling vat of water, and finally set to rest in a perfectly designed bun, ready to be topped and eaten with pleasure. As someone who values the purity of fresh ingredients and holds fine food in high esteem, the hot dog is my guiltiest of pleasures. The total opposite of anything I would herald as good food. However, what would this world be if not for the simple and cheap thrill of a hot dog at a ball game, or a Nathan's Coney Island hot dog eating contest, or even the steaming aroma of the corner Sabretti stand. As a New York girl, hot dogs are as much an institution as pizza or pastrami on rye. This being the case, us New Yorkers are very particular on how we eat our hot dogs.

Personally, I am a Hebrew National girl myself, comforted somehow by the promise of a higher quality of meat-filled casing. However, it has long been heralded that the Sabretti hot dog is the king of New York dogs. In a city filled with people that demand myriad choices and flock to the "new thing" in herds of crazed hysteria, we are all traditionalists when it comes to the hot dog. One curly line of bright yellow French's mustard down the middle. That's it. Toast your bun if you must, and in my case prefer, but mustard is all you need for a traditional New York frank. Of course the other classic toppings are available, ketchup, onions, sauerkraut, and relish are available at all sidewalk hot dog stands; however the real purists know one needs only a steady hand on the mustard bottle.

If you are looking for something a little more outlandish when it comes to your hot dog choice in NYC, then look no further than Crif Dogs located at 113 Saint Marks Place. Long has this Saint Marks institution been voted the #1 hot dog spot in the city, a serious honor and a well-deserved privilege. The hot dog joint was opened in October 2001 by two childhood friends and hot dog enthusiasts from New Jersey, Chris Antista and Brian Shebairo. A haven for late night eaters and East Village riff-raff, Crif Dogs is open Sunday-Thursday noon till 2am and until 4am on weekends. Crif Dogs offers a variety of gourmet dogs including (but not limited to) the chihuahua dog (bacon wrapped and topped with avocado and sour cream), the jon-jon deragon (served with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions, and everything bagel seeds), the morning glory (bacon wrapped and served with melted cheese and a fried egg), and the spicy red neck (bacon wrapped and topped with chili, cole slaw, and jalapenos). you can also create your own specialty dog from their array of exotic and traditional toppings. The possibilities are absolutely endless and positively delicious. Come on, who wouldn't want a bacon-wrapped-cream-cheese-filled-jalapeno-topped hot dog at 3am after a night of drinking in the Village?

If you happen to find yourself hungry for a quality hot dog in my neck of the woods however, there is one place that has stood the test of time as the best darn dog in Westchester County, NY. Do not be decieved by the Chinese pagoda, or the long counter line, Walter's Hot Dog Stand has been open since 1919 and hasn't changed the menu since. Walter Warrington opened his hot dog stand selling his special variation on a traditional treat: split down the middle, grilled in 'secret sauce', served on a toasted bun with homemade mustard. The business moved into the eye-catching and now historic landmark Chinese pagoda in 1928 and has remained at 937 Palmer Ave in Mamaroneck, NY, pumping out its signature dogs for the hungry masses. Don't be fooled by the decor, where Crif Dogs wins on originality, Walter's wins on simplicity. I grew up with these hot dogs, a staple at every soft-ball game and a treat that I find myself waiting in line for every summer. They are in a word, sublime. Juicy beyond belief, dripping with a sweet and salty buttery concoction, and made to order these hot dogs are incredible.

So there you have it, my shameful love for all things 'dog' broadcast over the internet. An ode to the perverted cousin of the sausage that will surely bite me in my ass one day when I have all but forgotten about this, my first food blog. Hot dogs will never be haute cuisine, it is not in their nature, nor would we all love them so much if they were. They are simple and cheap and almost surely a cause of some kind of cancer. Yet we as American's scarf them up during the summer months with such ferocity one would think they had magical properties.

And maybe they do. Maybe their power lies in the ability with one bite to transport us all to a simpler time, a time in our childhood filled with running through sprinklers and backyard cookouts. A time when we didn't care what was in it, only that it tasted good. A time when we could eat as many as we wanted because there was no fear of running out, there were always going to be more coming off the grill later.

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