Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hot Diggedy Dog

Here in NYC, the hot dog is practically a cultural icon. Oh sure, other cities like Chicago have their dogs, but from my research on the web, the first hot dogs were sold in 1867, by one Charles Feltman, a German butcher, from a stand in Coney Island; he is also credited with the idea of the warm bun. And then, wouldn't you know it, one of Feltman's ex-employees went into competition, undercutting his former employer by 50% - that's right, charging a nickel to Feltman's dime - his name was Nathan Handwerker, and thus was born Nathan's Famous; the rest is history. (By the way folks, you're not really having a Nathan's hot dog when you buy one at a rest stop on the NJ Turnpike - it's gotta be in Coney, honey.)

Hot dogs are available everywhere in this town. Of course, there are dirty-water dogs, lukewarm and at a corner near you...usually Sabrett's, but other varieties abound. I haven't had one of those in a long mother effing time - I just don't trust 'em, not because they're Sabrett's but because of the dirty water. There are the dogs at Shake Shack - with all sorts of toppings, etc. Feh (meh?). I mean really, once you've taken the plunge for a hot dog, do you really want a salad on it? Shake Shack's for burgers, dude. There are dogs from vendors at the stadiums (although this year they'll probably cost $10 a pop) - usually warmed only by the residual heat of the surrounding air. Pass on those.

Don't get me wrong - there are some damn good dogs too. For instance, Crif Dogs, on St. Mark's Place, rocks. But to really enjoy the hot dog, you gotta enter the inner sanctum, that of PDT, where you can enjoy a deep-fried beauty with one of Don 's, John's, Jim's or Johnny's great cocktails. And who can forget Katz's, where the dogs are griddled - perhaps my favorite method.

Back when I was driving a cab, there was a great bar on the corner of Main and Roosevelt, in Flushing. Hot dogs and draft beers (Schmidt's, iirc) were a quarter each - and when you ordered a hot dog with mustard and kraut, the barman would call out - 1 Frank Sinatra, fully dressed. Those were the days.

Fast forward to today (well, yesterday) and one of the best bargain dogs to be had in the city. Yes, it's...

at Broadway and 72nd St. There are at least 3 Gray's Papayas listed on Menupages, and another 2 Papaya Kings, and I'm sure there are many more. I don't know if Gray's is a spinoff of Papaya King, or vice-versa, but this location is my favorite. If you're wondering about the name(s), they offer a papaya "drink" with many purported health qualities (rich in Vitamin A) . I love Gray's, and not because it's soothing and calming inside...

because it's not. But where else can you get a deal like this...

The recession special = 2 hot dogs + 1 drink ( not including pineapple or orange juices, freshly squeezed, or so we're told). But seriously, 2 dogs and a drink is $4.45...and that's after a raise in the base price of the dog from $1.25 to $1.50. And what a dog it is - griddled, as I like them, and just check out the griddle in action...

That's some serious dog action folks (from my count, about 100 dogs at any one time), along with steaming vats of some sort of onion product and sauerkraut. And when you can't decide how to have your hot dog, you gotta go both ways. Or, as I like to say, 1 Frank Sinatra fully dressed and 1 with mustard and onion. Half naked, or something like that. Bon App├ętit.

Addendum: Some (one) commenter wonders why I like Gray's (well, other than the reason I stated in the comment immediately following Miami Danny's, i.e. the price). Basically, my favorite dog is a natural casing griddled dog - Katz's, Nathan's, Gray's and many of the older delis all cooked their dogs like this (let's leave kosher dogs out of this for now). It's snappy and it's crunchy and it's garlicky - and gets some flavor from the browning process, as opposed to the poached or boiled dog, i.e. the dirty water dog.

But it's often hard to tell the difference between Katz's, the various "papaya" places, Sabrett's, etc. and there's a reason...
They're all the same dog, manufactured by Marathon Enterprises, of East Rutherford, N.J., the parent company of Sabrett. They may vary in size, preparation and condiment selection (and Papaya King has Marathon add a secret spice to its mixture), but they're the same ol' dog. In fact, until a few years ago, Marathon made Nathan's hot dogs.
Read the whole story in this NY Times article, by that great Serious Eater, Ed Levine.


  1. Oh man, I want Gray's so bad now! And I feel like you should start a bar called Frank Sinatra Fully Dressed that sells just such a dog with your cocktail of the evening.

  2. Nice! Dude, when were you up in my 'hood?

    Next time you're there, you should go next door and get a piece of the pizza bianca with cauliflower at Grandaisy.

  3. There is a giant Sabrett cart around the corner from my office on 55th and Madison. They have a big old griddle that they grill their dogs on, and a big box of steaming hot knishes. I've eaten lunch there twice this week. God help me.

  4. It's not god that you'll need, dear. It's TUMS.

  5. Yes Mitch Papaya has been afavorite place for a good deal hot dog and papaya drink. But bottom line is Nathan's at Coney Island plus their fries are still my all time favs.

  6. Agreed - but it's a much longer subway ride than to the upper west side!

  7. 1)The Clam Bar-Schlitz or Ballantine or Rheingold-no Schmidt's, grampa
    2)So you would eschew Nathan's simply because it is a "much longer subway ride"? In fact, it is only about another 12 minutes by subway (according to the MTA's website) from your home base on East Broadway. You lazy bastard!
    3)I'm shocked, shocked(!), that you didn't stop off and see Kinsey
    4) So what's so great about the Gray's dog, anyway?

  8. Miami Danny -

    1. I still think it might've been Schmidt's. Aren't you the one who thought all moussaka had bechamel?

    2. Anyone who reads and actually believes the MTA's website hasn't lived in NY or ridden the subways in a LONG time.

    3. Kinsey is not technically in that nabe...he lives further uptown on 104th St.

    4. 2 Dogs + 1 Drink = $4.45.

  9. 1)Yes. I'm a douche. But I'm rarely wrong about booze-see if you can locate Hank-I think he still drives that 2002-maybe he remembers.
    2)Let's just say I believe the MTA as much as I believe wikipedia. But irregardless, as RK used to say, you're still a lazy bastard.
    3)Kinsey is also a lazy bastard, irregardless of where he lives.
    4)Thank you. And yes, I do prefer everything I eat to be covered in bechamel. Including hot dogs.

  10. Now you are talking! Beautiful hot dogs. I'm frankly appaled by some of the things that pass under that name. Ever had a Vienna beef hot dog in Chicago. Revolting! It's got to snap, Coney Island all the way.

    Ken, Brooklyn Born Native

  11. True, Ken, true. That's another reason the Chicago style dogs at Shake Shack are not to my liking.