The Pup-si Challenge: Hotdog, We Have a Weiner!
The history of New York City is rich and hotdogs certainly add to its flavor. German immigrants are credited with first introducing the “dachshund” sausage to the U.S. Served on a stick, they were sold from pushcarts on New York City’s Bowery as early as the 1860s. These were the fledgling days of the wiener, as these dachshund sausages had yet to become the dogs we know and love today. Legend has it that in 1867 a man named Charles Feltman delivered freshly baked pies on his pie-wagon to the inns and saloons that lined the beaches of Coney Island. His clients also wanted to serve hot sandwiches to their customers. But Chuck’s wagon was too small to make a variety of sandwiches. He thought that perhaps something simple like a hot sausage served on a roll might be the solution. Feltman recruited the guy who had built his pie-wagon to build a tin-lined chest to keep rolls fresh and rig a small charcoal stove inside to boil sausages. Thus, the NY street tradition of the (dirty water) hot dog was born.
In his first year of business Feltman sold an impressive 3,684 sausages in a roll for a nickel each. He soon opened his own restaurant, the imaginatively monikered Feltman’s, which remained a Coney Island institution until 1953, where he sold millions of dogs. In 1915, Feltman, not content with simple glory of being the Godfather of the hotdog, materialistically raised the price of his dogs from a nickel to a dime. Little did he know that his greedy flight on wings of wieners would spawn the NYC legend that led to his demise.
Enter Nathan Handwerker. Nathan abandoned a restaurant management position in Manhattan to grill dogs by the sea after he spotted a help wanted sign while spending the day at Coney Island. After being in Feltman’s employ for about a year, Handwerker jumped ship to open his own hotdog stand. In 1916, with $300, some encouragement from singing waiter Jimmy Durante and his wife Eda’s recipes, he opened Nathan’s Famous. He sold his hotdogs for a nickel, undercutting Feltmen’s by 50%, but it would be a long six years before people believed there was no Fido in his frank.
New York also claims the honor for creating the name, “hotdog.” Supposedly it was coined during a Giants baseball game at the Polo Grounds in 1902. On a cold April day, concessionaire Harry Mozley Stevens (1855-1934) was losing money trying to sell ice cream and ice-cold sodas. He sent his salesmen out to buy up all the dachshund sausages they could find and an equal number of rolls. In less than an hour, his vendors were hawking hot dogs from portable hot water tanks while yelling, “They’re red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!” In attendance that day was “Tad” Dorgan (1877-?), a newspaper cartoonist for the New York Evening Journal. As he was nearing his deadline and desperate for an idea, upon hearing the vendors ballyhoo he hastily drew a cartoon of a frankfurter with a tail, legs, and a head, so that it looked like a dachshund. Not sure how to spell the word “dachshund” he simply wrote hotdog!
But that’s history. What about today? Where does one go in NYC for the best hotdog? Here at FANCY we found that to be a very difficult query. After all, just what is a hotdog anyway? Is it a way for big business to sell the unusable parts of animals to unsuspecting and gullible consumers or is it a genuinely gourmet item crafted by learned butchers? Well, it’s both. It depends where you shop for your dogs. But where does one begin? There are so many yet there are no road maps to steer one in the right direction. We shleped uptown, downtown, Eastside, and to the Westside. We trekked to the Bronx, and sailed to Staten Island only to realize there are two kinds of NYC hotdogs: ones you find at a butcher and the other on the run. Due to a combination of an overwhelming amount of data, a lack of space and quite frankly enthusiasm, we will concentrate on the homemade franks here and continue the discussion of NYC’s best street dog in the next issue of Fancy.
We set out to do the impossible. Provide our readers with a comprehensive guide to NY wieners. A pup-si challenge, if you will. But what makes a good wiener? The taste? The snap? The length? The width? The over-all girth? We hit a lot of butchers. Tasted them all and we still could not come up with the “ best dog”.
Instead we created four categories to discuss:
The Top Dog: goes to Lobel’s. Located on Manhattan’s upper eastside, this Austrian butcher has been serving New Yorkers for over 50 years. This all beef dog packed in all natural lamb casing provides a memorable snap followed by a crunch. The texture is smooth, yet firm and dense. The spice although strong, does not veer into anything too stylized. With an appealing brick red color this lowbrow treat goes gourmet at $ 14.99 lb. Lobel’s is located at 1096 Madison Ave. 1-866-595-6235
The Spiciest: was from the German butcher Schaller & Weber. Established in 1937, it is also located on the upper eastside. Their pork & beef frankfurters are in a natural sheep casing and have a distinctly spicy flavor. It rivals Lobel’s in snap and texture. It is similar in size and color, but at half the price one would not hesitate sharing this delight. Also available from S & W are traditional German wieners and peanut franks. Schaller & Weber 1654 Second Ave. 212 -879-3047
The Smokiest: though we all enjoyed all beef wieners from Ridgewood meats, an Armenian butcher in the Ridgewood section of Queens, they strayed from the traditional hotdog flavor we all grew up lovin, as the smoky flavor was more reminiscent of a holiday dinner at a strange relative’s rather than a day at the ol’ ballpark. It’s a hardy, more robust dog so one is enough satisfy your appetite. The mild spice and rich smoky flavor easily makes-up for its lack of snap. At 4 bucks a lb. it won’t break you either. Ridgewood Meats, 516 Senaca Ave., Queens 718-381-0686
The Monster: a pork/veal frank in a natural casing from Kiszka, a Polish butcher opened for 30 years located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This pinkish/tan gem is so large we needed to purchase a hero roll to support its enormity. Each weighs one-half pound! We dare you to eat two. This monster is so tasty it is sure to tempt even the most die-hard meat-is-murder tofu pup eater. Undeniably delicious! Kiszka also make their own bacon, cold cuts, and keilbsa. Kiszka Naussa Meats, 915 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn 718-389-6149
Please stay tuned for the next installment of NY hotdogs where we will continue our discussion with the best dog on the run. If you know of a good cart or hotdog joint in your neighborhood, give us the lowdown so we can include it in the next issue of FANCY.