Friday, December 19, 2008
The Capital District's Hot Dog Micro-Region. Hembold's Bockwursts with Hot Dog Charlie's Meat Sauce! Woot!
In the Wikipedia entry for Hot Dog Variations, there is a section entitled "New York State (especially Upstate)" with a description of the various hot dog styles of the Empire State. Of special interest to myself is the passage that states-
"The Capital District area (Albany, Troy, Schenectady) is home to a small hot dog. At about 3 inches in length, these are usually served with mustard, onions, and a thin 'meat' sauce. The best known purveyors of these dogs are Gus' in Watervliet, Hot Dog Charlie's at multiple locations, and Famous Lunch in Troy. A local manufacturer is Hembold's in Troy, NY. In Buffalo, New York the hotdog of choice is Sahlen's made by Redlinski meats."
I guess that I never realized that this style of hot dog was unique to our own neck of the woods. I grew up on Hot Dog Charlie's little dogs with cheese sauce and I always took it for granted that this was a pretty standard hot dog configuration throughout the nation. So when a few of the necessary ingredients for the "Capital Region" style dog fell into my hands I immediately felt the need to evangelize about it on the internet.
I got some Hembold's 3 inch Bockwursts (unfortunately, the storied Hembold's company of Troy, NY was recently bought out by a larger meat conglomerate). This is somewhat of a departure from the standard 3 inch Frankfurter style dog that Charlie's would have used, but these Bockwursts are pretty much shortened Rochester Whites which are my undisputed favorite wieners (click for a certain meat fire I started last summer).
I did not have a nice, greasy hot dog roller handy so I decided to brown the Bockwursts up in a skillet. You don't really see too many poached/boiled hot dogs in this part of the state, mostly hot dogs are crisped up a little before meeting the bun.
The next hallowed ingredient is the Hot Dog Charlie's meat sauce.
This a simple but pungent meat/chili sauce that is my absolute favorite. The primary flavors in this stuff are vinegar, sugar, onion, and paprika. It is a tart/sweet/savory (just the slightest bit of chili spiciness) symphony that is simply unrivaled in the hot dog world. It is not so much a "chili" per se, as it is a sauce, a condiment if you will. It does not overwhelm the hot dog, rather it elevates it to an epic level. Even the unsettlingly colored grease that rises to the top of the warming chili does not bother me, it is nectar of the the hot dog gods which our forefathers worshiped in strange ceremonies behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, I could not lay my hands on any 3 inch buns so halved Freihofer's buns made do for the bready vehicle.
There you have it folks. These delicious morsels were for all intents and purposes locally produced (albeit, heavily processed) and enjoyed in their own terroir. One of the things we often forget while living in post-modern American society is that we really do have local food traditions. I know a 3 inch hot dog with runny meat sauce is not exactly on par with Cassoulet or some other French farm house dish, but it is something we grew up on, it is a tradition. As someone who has spent a lot of time away from his home, in far flung corners of the country (and world), I can tell you that it is things like this that you will miss the most. Simple things like a hot dog (I remember my mother buying them for me at Crossgates mall when I was small) can conjure such nostalgic waves from the bottom of my soul that I can hardly keep myself from bawling. I remember being able to polish off about 3 little dogs at Charlie's by the time I was three, with a large mountain dew. They were my reward for behaving while my mother (minus many a gray hair) shopped for pants suits...