Happy National Hot Dog Day!

Since it’s National Hot Dog Day I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite hot doggeries around the country. One of my favorite historic hot dog restaurants, and tops in the country for original vintage decor, George’s Coney Island in Worcester, Mass, was one of my first blog posts a few years back.

 

George's sign

 

The hot dog was brought over to the U.S. from European immigrants, but its European origins are disputed. Sausage dates back to the 9th century BC (mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey), while the type of sausage used for hot dogs is similar to Weinerwurst or Vienna Sausage, which originated in Austria. However, the city of Frankfurt, Germany, claims it invented the frankfurter or “dachsund sausage” in 1497. Yet another claim is that a butcher in Coburg, Germany, invented the hot dog sausage in the 1600s and brought it to Frankfurt.

 

hot-dogs-hats

 

In any case the American hot dog on a roll is what we are concerned with here, which was reportedly already a German custom to eat sausage on a roll. It is a fact that hot dogs were first sold in New York City, either by a German immigrant from a cart in the Bowery in the 1860s or by Charles Feltman, a German butcher who opened the first Coney Island hot dog stand in 1871 (his employee, Nathan Handwerker, started Nathan’s in 1916). In 1893 hot dogs became popular at baseball parks and sold like hot cakes (or rather like hot dogs) at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (sold by a pair of Jewish immigrants from Vienna who later founded Vienna Beef, Chicago’s most popular hot dog manufacturer). Also in 1893 the oldest mention of the term “hot dog” on record occurred in a Knoxville newspaper. (For more hot dog history visit the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s web site, where I sourced this info).

 

photo by The Jab, 2003

Superdawg, Chicago – photo by The Jab, 2003

 

Which city has the best hot dogs: New York or Chicago? People will argue this forever, but based on my experience Chicago wins hands down for best hot dogs in the country. Then there are the arguments within Chicago about who has the best hot dogs. We won’t go there because there are so many different types of hot dogs in Chicago (likewise, for pizza). There’s the classic Chicago dog “dragged through the garden” that is a steamed all-beef frankfurter on a poppy-seed roll with sliced tomato, raw chopped white onions, yellow mustard, bright green sweet relish, pickled sport peppers, celery salt, and a pickle spear (but never ketchup), reportedly invented at Fluky’s in 1929 (sadly, the only Fluky’s left is at a Wal-Mart in Niles, IL). Then there’s the char-grilled “char-dog”, which is terrific at Weiner’s Circle, where they only serve hot dogs cooked that way. And until it closes this October, the always busy Hot Doug’s serves dozens of hot dog specialties.

 

photo by The Jab, 2003

photo by The Jab, 2003

My favorite hot dog stand in Chicago is Superdawg. My Chicago friends may not agree, and I admit the hot dogs at Weiner Circle and Gene and Jude’s are great also (Wolfy’s is another one that comes out on top in polls), but I love the all-original drive up with car hops that is SUPERDAWG! Opened in 1948 by Maurie and Flaurie Berman, who have been represented on the roof of the restaurant as caveman and girl “dogs” since the beginning, it hasn’t changed much and, amazingly, it is still owned by the Berman’s, who run it with their children. They still have the same ordering system as in 1948: you drive in to the parking lot, order from your car into a mic/speaker, and your meal is brought to you on a tray in a very cute vintage looking box, which you will want to take home as a souvenir (mine still sits in my kitchen). This is one of the last restaurants in America that still has car hop service.

 

Superdawg with fries - photo by The Jab, 2007

Superdawg with fries – photo by The Jab, 2007

 

In addition to the Superdawg™, which is a spicy dog that comes fully dressed and includes a pickled green tomato wedge, they also offer a Whoopskidawg®, which is a Polish-type sausage on a roll with special sauce, grilled onions, and pickle, and several other sandwiches. Their crinkle-cut super fries are excellent.

 

photo by The Jab, 2003

photo by The Jab, 2003

 

In New York City your best sources for hot dogs are the many hot dog carts around the city and the bargain Papaya-drink-and-two-hot-dogs stands which started in 1932 when Papaya King opened on the upper East Side of Manhattan (still on the same street corner of 86th St and 3rd Ave, and in several other locations in NYC). Although it originally only sold fruit drinks it started serving hot dogs because the neighborhood was predominantly German-American at the time. In the 1970s and 1980s Gray’s Papaya and Papaya Dog copied the concept, but Gray’s is down to only one location. Which is the best? I’ll let you be the judge as I’ve only been to the original Papaya King.

 

photo by The Jab, 2005

photo by The Jab, 2005

 

If you’re in Georgia, the town of Macon is worth a detour for Nu-Way Weiners, open since 1916 (their sign was misspelled in 1937 and they kept it that way to this day) and still in the same location (plus several other locations). Their specialty is chili dogs, which are made with their special homemade chili sauce (no beans, just the way I like a chili dog).

 

photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

 

My favorite hot dog stand in greater Los Angeles closed and was demolished in 2011. Papoo’s Hot Dog Show (yes, it was more than just a stand, it was a SHOW!) opened in 1949 in Burbank, across the street from Bob’s Big Boy designed by Wayne McAllister in the Googie style in the same year (and still open).

 

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photo by Terry Guy on Flickr

 

You can see Papoo’s in the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

 

InvasionBodySnatchers

 

Inside Papoo's - photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

Inside Papoo’s – photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr

 

Lastly, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, I’ve been disappointed by most of the hot dogs I’ve had (they are usually lukewarm, not hot). My favorite was the old Kasper’s on Telegraph Ave at Shattuck Ave, which closed “for remodeling” way back in 2002 and never re-opened. Kasper’s was started by Kasper Koojoolian, from Armenia, in 1930 at the corner of Fruitvale Ave and MacArthur Blvd (old US 50). Partners invested and It expanded into other locations in the 1940s, but in 1955 Kasper’s brother Paul split off, continuing as Kasper’s, while the rest of the partners started a chain of hot dog restaurants called Casper’s. Today there is still a Kasper’s on MacArthur Blvd (not in the same location as the original), in addition to others in Castro Valley, Hayward, and Pleasanton.

 

Kasper's, MacArthur Blvd., Oakland - photo by The Jab, 2013

Kasper’s, MacArthur Blvd., Oakland – photo by The Jab, 2013

 

Casper’s continues with 8 Bay Area locations, and most have the original 1960s modern look in bright oranges and browns. Since 1989 the company has made its own frankfurters under the Spar Sausage name. I like the hot dogs at both Kasper’s and Casper’s, but Casper’s has the edge for taste and for decor.

 

photo by The Jab

Casper’s, Telegraph Ave., Oakland – photo by The Jab, 2013

 

I leave you, dear readers, with this photo I took on the road in Georgia in 2005, and a video of an amazing neon sign at Taylor Brothers Hot Dogs in Visalia, CA (where I need to go!). Please check the linked web sites for location, addresses, and open hours of the above establishments.

 

photo by The Jab, 2005

photo by The Jab, 2005

 

 

 

Kane’s Donuts, Saugus, MA

To continue our Boston area tour, just north of Boston on U.S. Highway 1 lies Saugus, MA. The highway is a crazy, hair-raising stretch through Saugus. Six lanes wide, but with driveways and cross-streets, and the traffic moving at 50 to 60mph while cars are trying to make left turns across the highway! The stretch is lined with neon signs that make it well worth the drive at night, including the famous Hilltop Steak House’s huge neon cactus (erected in 1964), the spectacular Kowloon Polynesian restaurant, and the Prince pizzeria with a neon leaning tower of Pisa. For dinner I skipped the Hilltop because the interior is updated and nothing special, and instead headed for the Kowloon with much excitement. Unfortunately, it was a real letdown. Greasy, bland food, watery tropical drinks with cheap rum, and inattentive service. The decor is a mishmash of cheesy, cheap decorations, ugly art, and the lighting is too bright for a tiki establishment. I’m a big fan of tiki bars and Polynesian Pop restaurants, but despite my usual lowering of standards I was disappointed.

I felt better just walking in to Kane’s Donuts, in the old part of Saugus since 1955. In 2010 Bon Apettit magazine put Kane’s on their list of the top 10 best donut places in the U.S., one of only four older donut shops on the list (the others are in St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Round Rock, TX). I ordered up one of their famous honey dipped raised donuts and a PB & J donut, frosted with peanut butter glaze and filled with black raspberry jelly that was better than any jelly in a donut I’ve ever had (more like a jam consistency instead of the usual cornstarch-filled, gummy texture). Both donuts were super delicious!

P,B & J donut

Kane’s Donuts
120 Lincoln Ave, Saugus, MA 01906
(781) 233-8499
Open Mon-Fri 3:30am – 8pm, Sat 3:30am – 5pm, Sun 3:30am – 1pm

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George’s Coney Island, Worcester, MA

During my recent first-time trip to Boston I used a coupon from National car rental for a free day to drive around the outskirts of Boston to see some historic sites. The free days are easy to earn by renting on National if you join their Emerald Club. It’s free to join and you get discounts (which you can combine with coupons) and use of Emerald Aisle, which lets you skip the counter and go directly to the lot and pick any car you want. I used to work for the company in college and I still think they are the best rental car company around.

Anyway, I was looking to visit a real, original diner and my friend Elker suggested the Miss Worcester diner in his town of Worcester, which has stood on the site since 1948 across from the Worcester Lunch Car Company, one of the biggest diner manufacturers. The factory is closed but the diner lives on. I ate a light breakfast there to save room for the next stop.

My friend also told me don’t miss George’s Coney Island, and am I glad I took his advice! This place is an amazing time warp, mostly unchanged from 1940. The restaurant opened at its current location in 1918, but in 1938 George Tsagarelis purchased it and remodeled it in Streamline Modern style, adding a huge 60-foot neon sign designed by Romanoff in 1940. It’s still in the same family, and this is the look that remains today!

On the right is the luncheonette, which is a large room with a counter you order at and several wooden booths. I ordered their specialty, a hot dog with the works (mustard, chili sauce, and onions) and a beer. Delicious! Total cost: $3.82. (The franks come from Kayem, opened in 1909 in Chelsea, Mass., and still owned by the same family.)

Even more amazing was the bar next door! Practically unchanged since 1938.


I wished I had time to go back at night to see that enormous animated neon sign in all its glory! Next time… Meanwhile, there are pictures on their website, and a video, though it’s not dark enough to see it well.

George’s Coney Island
158 Southbridge St, Worcester, MA 01608
508-753-4362
Open Sun 10am – 7pm
Mon, Wed, Thu 10am until around 8pm
Fri, Sat 10am until around 9pm
Closed Tuesdays

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Ken’s Steak House, Framingham, MA

You have probably seen Ken’s salad dressings in the supermarket before. This is where they originated. Ken and Florence Hannah opened Ken’s Steak House in Natick, MA in 1935 and moved to its current location along Route 9 in Framingham in 1941. Ken’s son Timothy and his wife Darlene now run the restaurant – it’s still in the same family!

Florence’s salad dressing recipes and baked goods became locally famous. The breads, rolls, cakes, and pies are still baked in-house. The Fireplace Room opened in 1941, The Lamp Post Room in 1945, and The Hickory Room in 1957. This place is huge! There is also a bar which has been remodeled.

Fireplace Room?

Lamp Post Room?

I had lunch in the front dining room (The Hickory Room?) that had dark wood walls with great stained glass windows of local fauna. Nice vintage chairs, too. My Delmonico (rib-eye) steak was good, cooked just right but a bit on the thin side. The fresh house-made rolls and breads were excellent, but the other sides weren’t particularly memorable. The prices are reasonable, so the food was a good value. But don’t go expecting upscale steak house fare. Lower your expectations a bit and you won’t be disappointed.

Hickory Room?

Ken’s is the last old business on a strip lined with chains and big box retailers, so go while you still can!

Ken’s Steak House
95 Worcester Rd (Route 9), Framingham, MA 01701
(508) 875-4455
kenssteakhouse@rcn.com
Hours: Sun 1:00pm-9:00pm, M-Th 11:30am-9:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-10:00pm

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Parker’s, Boston

Image from the Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places, 1955

The Parker House (now the Omni Parker House) hotel opened in 1855 in the heart of Boston, making it the oldest continuously operated hotel in the United States. Parker’s restaurant, which dates way back to 1832 when Harvey Parker took over Hunt’s Cafe, introduced or popularized many now famous recipes, including Parker House rolls, Boston cream pie, lemon meringue pie, and Boston baked scrod (arguably it is not a specific fish, instead it is the best local white-fleshed fish available, though often it is cod).

In the second half of the nineteenth century, many notable writers and intellectuals met for dining and drinking at Parker’s on the last Saturday afternoon of every month. The men-only Saturday Club included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Francis Parkman, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and many others.

Very fresh, tender Baked Boston scrod with soft & fluffy Parker House rolls

Many famous politicians and stars of stage and screen have stayed at the Parker House, but perhaps the most notorious guest was John Wilkes Booth, who stayed there and ate at Parker’s a few days before he assassinated President Lincoln (his brother was a successful actor in New England and was appearing at the Boston Theater). More trivia: Ho Chi Minh (future leader of Vietnam) baked Parker House rolls in the bakery in 1911-13, and Malcolm X was a busboy at Parker’s in the 1940s.

Boston Cream "Pie"?

On my recent visit for a late lunch (to a nearly empty restaurant) I enjoyed the delectable baked Boston scrod with Parker House rolls (which I could not stop eating!), but I was somewhat disappointed after ordering Boston Cream Pie when the waitress brought me their new, single serving version of the “pie”. She assured me that the ingredients are the same, but this was more like a cold, dense vanilla cake. I looked up the recipe online and the basic ingredients are sponge cake, vanilla custard, and a chocolate glaze, which didn’t seem to be the recipe served here. Is this the original, which has been modified over the years?

A brief history of the Parker House and restaurant.

Omni Parker House
(617) 227-8600
Parker’s Restaurant hours:
Breakfast M-F 6:30am-11:00am, Sat 7:00am-12:00pm
Lunch M-F 11:30am-2:00pm, Sat 12:00pm-2:00pm, Sun – bar only
Dinner Mon-Th 5:30pm-10:00pm, Fri & Sat 5:00pm-10:00pm, Sun – bar only
Brunch Sat & Sun 11:30am-2:00pm

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