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Old Dogs

August 3, 2009

In the spirit of sharing more of the unique culinary offerings of the Albany area, last week I wrote about the form of fried fish (called Fish Fry) available only in these parts.

I promised that this week we would talk about hot dogs.

Hot dogs are delicious.  And there are tons of regional differences to the form.  Of all places, the Huffington Post had an extensive, if not entirely thorough piece on the variations that can be found in a simple tube steak.

I have eaten many of them: The Nathan’s Famous, the NYC Pushcart Dog, the Detroit Coney (both Detroit and Flint style), the Chicago Dog, and the Corn Dog.  And I would not even consider myself to be a hot dog lover.  But I certainly do enjoy a good wiener on occasion.

Perhaps on my upcoming trip to San Francisco I will luck into an encounter with the bacon wrapped hot dog pushcart.  Or maybe I’ll be even luckier and avoid it.

The one critical dog that is missing from the regional run-down is the Capital District’s own variation, which seems to fall somewhere in-between a Flint-style Coney and the Rhode Island Hot Weiner.
For lack of a better name, much like Fish Fry, they are commonly known as mini hot dogs with meat sauce.

And sure, just like Fish Fry you can buy them at every seasonal ice cream stand.  But if you are serious, you go straight to the source: The old line institutions that have been banging out these dogs for the better part of a hundred years.

Meet Famous Lunch.  This place has been around forever.  1932 officially.  And if you want to walk into history, this is where you go.  One reason Troy is such a remarkable city is because places like this still exist.

In the window is a man standing behind a griddle filled with mini hot dogs.  You walk in, and you can sit at the counter or in a booth.  Really, you just need to know how many dogs you feel like eating.  Let’s say three, because it’s snack time.  So, you ask for, “three with the works.”

The grill man will take three mini buns and pull three mini dogs off the griddle, drop a smear of yellow mustard on each, a sprinkle of raw diced onion, and a spoonful of zippy sauce.

None of this feels very manly, does it?  Maybe that is the trick to try and encourage you to eat a dozen of these little treats.

But you are still probably wondering what is zippy sauce.  Well, it’s a meat and onion sauce.  It’s stewed with chili powder and other spices.  But the cooked onions really come through and make really a nice juxtaposition against the bite of the raw onions underneath.

Honestly, I was surprised that eating these did not make me sick.  But I was fine.

There are two other mini hot dog institutions in the area.  Right across the Hudson River from Troy is a town called Watervliet.  That is where you will find Gus’s.  It’s a joint that people flock to from miles around.  It’s less of a restaurant and more of a shack, as you can see.

Also back in Troy is the original Hot Dog Charlie’s, which had been making mini hot dogs for even longer than Famous Lunch.  That is, until it recently burned down.  Still, Hot Dog Charlie’s has a few other stores around the area.  Plus you can buy their meat sauce prepackaged in shelf-stable jars at the local Price Chopper.  But I wouldn’t recommend doing that.  Mr. Dave on the other hand swears by the stuff, and writes about making these dogs at home.

Mini hot dogs?  Long skinny fried fish?

Say what you will about these local delicacies, but they are ours.  And if you live here long enough, quite assuredly, you will miss them when you leave.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jerry permalink
    August 3, 2009 10:26 am

    I’ve never understood the mini-dog; I’m more of a foot-long lover myself. The meat sauces are usually disgusting (I’m a kraut guy). One exception: Greeker’s Wieners, open randomly in Ballston Spa: his sauce contains cinnamon and some other special ingredients that makes it taste a cut above. Problem is, he’s usually closed.

  2. August 3, 2009 12:35 pm

    Mike’s 1st Prize in Sch’dy is still the best in my book for all yr hot dog needs

  3. Jill permalink
    August 3, 2009 5:25 pm

    You *must* try Dirty John’s hot dogs in Glens Falls. Not mini / not foot-long, but great. (or at least that’s what my nostalgia says)

  4. August 3, 2009 8:27 pm

    I need a mini wiener tour. Like, now.

    Aw, and they’re so cheap, this is actually some place I could go and feel all important and nice about picking up the tag. Sweet. I am so taking some family there this weekend.

  5. August 4, 2009 7:06 am

    Down here in Texas we don’t have Dog Carts like you have up there. We do our dogs at the Ballpark or at home. At our house we prefer Bryan Sausage Dogs or Beef Brats. Once you’ve had that smoked sausage type ‘hot dog’ it’s hard to go back to plain old wieners. We will even eat them on a stick with out a bun if we have to. And if you ever get the chance to attend the State Fair of Texas, don’t pass up the Fletcher’s Cornydogs! Food of the Gods!

  6. December 20, 2009 6:03 pm

    Very small word of warning about Famous Lunch — which is two blocks from me, is excellent, and is always a better choice than Gus’ (sauce is sweet): the onions.

    I think what they do is grate a bunch of white onions in the morning and, the longer they sit, the more they oxidize and the sharper and more metallic they taste. That’s what raw onions do. Fifteen seconds on the flattop would fix ’em right up, but I’m not gonna ask those guys to change their game for me. Wouldn’t be cool.

    Next time you go for Famous Lunch, get at least one dog without onions and see what you think.


  7. April 5, 2010 3:55 am


  8. kat permalink
    May 4, 2010 12:00 pm

    They are called Michigans!!

    At least, that is what we call them in the “real upstate New York” where the border can be reached in less than the time it takes to get from Saratoga to Albany during rush hour.

    The meat sauce for a Michigan, though, is never sweet. Think of chili without the beans. Spiciness varies. The hot dog is regular sized, and the onions are “buried” under the hot dog.

    This makes me miss Nitzi’s in Plattsburgh!

  9. August 31, 2010 6:54 am

    ooh, i grew up on charlie’s hot dogs from 2nd ave. in troy <3 — fond memories of that place. those are the mini-dogs that are closest to my heart, i hope they really do reopen after the fire :( every time i drive past famous lunch they are closed. i guess they are named appropriately, anyway.


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