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.