Gourmandiary, July 2004
At the risk of seeming obsessed with pureed meat stuffed into tubes, this
month's gourmandiary is all about a food from my youth. I was born in Troy, NY
and grew up just across the river in Waterford. Troy is famously known as the
birthplace of Uncle Sam, but less well known is its odd culinary contribution to
American Cuisine, the three inch hot dog. For those not in the know, allow me to
introduce you to the food that defines Troy, NY.
Is it that they're cute? Is it
that this food is what is
special about the place
where I grew up? Is it that
they're tasty? Perhaps it's a
that makes me crave them
so each time I travel back
home to visit my family.
What are they? How are
they made? Where do you
Sure you can buy them in the markets around Troy, NY and make them at home,
but the best way to enjoy this signature food of the 'Collar' city is to go to any
one of the three classic purveyors of these dainty dogs, order them with 'The
Works' and eat them one half dozen at a time.
purveying puny pups was
Famous Lunch opened in
1932. Not much about
either the food or the place
has changed since then.
Even the prices seem old
A favorite of kids from Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute just up the hill, it is reported that 38
members of the RSE frat once consumed 810
dogs in one sitting. A feat not yet matched!
Man, that's like 21 a piece! No wonder the grill
is always fired up and full!
We had to cross the Hudson to find our last dog merchant. Celebrating their
fiftieth year in business, Gus's Hot Dogs on 25th Street in Watervliet, NY is
the third member of this tummy triumvirate.
and, (it just so happens), on the way
to my parent's house, it is a
must-stop-joint for this Beantown
transplant looking for that first taste of
Aren't these just a chili dog by another
slightly suggestive of the southwest
about these canines. So just what do
they taste like? Well it depends on
where you go. It was tough work, but
the Gastromancer made it to all three
dog pens this past July and has this to
product from another? ...the meat sauce.
Consulting with the other members of my cracker-jack tasting team,
Mini-Gastromancer and Brother Gastromancer (both shown above
approaching the Altar of Gus), we determined that all sauces were made from
beef but that Gus's was most aggressively flavored with garlic and paprika
dominating the blend. Charlie's sauce was positively mild and tasted mainly
of the beef and onions from which it seemed to be made. The 'Zippy Sauce'
at Famous seemed to be the middle ground between the two. Faintly tinted
red with paprika like Gus's, but with discernible chunks of onion and herbs
(thyme, oregano?) like Charlie's.
If the owners of Charlie's, Gus's and Famous are the priests of the church of
the Troy-dog, then the Pope would be Walter Pohlmann, owner of the Troy
Pork Store who delivers his encyclicals each day to Charlie's and Famous
lunch. Y'see, Pope Pohlmann makes all the hot dogs these shops use. As
soon as we saw the store around the corner from Famous, a visit was
"Salt, Pepper and Mace are your base" Pope Pohlmann told us when we
asked him just what makes his itty bitty pork and beef hot dogs taste so
good, "then you start adding garlic and cardamom depending on what
direction you want to go in". Cardamom?! I would have never guessed that!
I sure got a lot out of my audience with his most porky grace.
Though I didn't rigorously research the Greek connection between each of my
three dog joints, anecdotal evidence and local gossip has informed me that
each store is owned by the brother or cousin or uncle (or something like that)
of the owner of one of the other places. I hope this is true for it would be
fitting and proper for the Greeks to conquer the city of Troy yet again, this
time through the use of a little dog instead of a giant horse. I know no
Hector that could keep this Achilles from his lunch!
|Thanks again for spending some time with me this month, and remember,
Eat thoughtfully for full pleasure!
Gus's Hot Dogs
212 25th Street
Watervliet, NY 12189
Dogs are .50 cents a piece. Greekburgers (with Onions and Meat Sauce) are .85
cents. Meat Sauce to go and Gus's apparel are also available. Got me a shirt!
Charlie's Hot Dogs
626 2nd Avenue
Troy, NY 12182
There are also two mall food-courts that feature Hot Dog Charlie's, the biggest is
Crossgates Mall just off I-90 outside Albany, NY. Dogs are .61 cents per pup. Sauce
can be bought at the dog shops, the local supermarkets, and on-line! Click here for
Charlie's home on the web.
111 Congress Street
Troy, NY 12180
This is a great breakfast place too! Dogs are .60 cents each. Zippy Sauce is always
available to go!
Started in 1922, "Hot Dog
Charlie's" is the originator of
Troy's midget dog. It was
Greek immigrant Strates
Fentekes who decided that
the signature dog at his
"New Way Lunch" counter
would be three inches long,
slathered in yellow mustard,
sprinkled with raw onion,
then doused with meat
sauce. Patrons nicknamed
Strates "Charlie" (wouldn't
you?) and the restaurant's
name-change soon followed.
department frowned on this type of food/skin contact, and my father reports
(with a tinge of naughty sorrow) that the dogs never quite tasted the same once
they made Charlie cover his arm with a metal shield.