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...

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  1. Love your blog.

    intents and purposes



    If you're ever in Chicago

    on me

  2. thanks, fixed my dumb spelling mistakes. I am always ashamed when I get caught on stuff like that, I have a degree in linguistics. I figure that should make me a badge carrying member of the Grammar Police. To save face I will blame it on the fact that most of these posts are written in a state of mild intoxication.

  3. Dinky dogs!!!! Mom already got the Hot Dog Charlie's sauce for New Year's Day linner (lunch/dinner) SexyBeast has been known for eating hot dogs smothered in meat sauce at 10 am

  4. I have never heard of this style of dogs! As always, your blog is fun and informative!

  5. Haven't had a Charlies dog since I moved out of the area in 92. Reading this has me web surfing for the mini dogs.

  6. Last time I was at Hot Dog Charlies in Rensselaer they were using Sabratt's dogs (gasp!) and not Helmbod's. I just got back from the Hembold store in South Troy with Brats, Polish Sausage, dogs (full size), breakfast sausage, etc. to load up the freezer. Store is aways from home so try to get up to the store once or twice a year to load up. Love all variations of their circular steaks. Everything cost me all of $25. What a deal! Mmmmm. Guess what I'm having for dinner, fish be dammed!

  7. I miss Charley's! And Gus's too in Watervliet. Is Gus's still around?

  8. Yup, Gus's is still there! It still has a fanatical following too.

  9. I have to go with the mini dogs. They look like smaller version of Hofmann's coneys that are the first things I go for when I'm back in Upstate New York (can't find anything like that where I live).

  10. Every Hot Dog is special, this look also great. Yumi, i probably make couple tommarow :P

  11. How can you talk about hot dogs and upstate NY without mentioning "New Way Lunch" in Glens Falls! It is also known as "Dirty Johns."

  12. While I agree New Way Lunch (both the Glens Falls and Queensbury locations) is very good and we go there every time we're in the area, this article focuses on little hot dogs. New Way Lunch doesn't make little hot dogs.

    Between the three little hot dog places we tried, we liked Famous Lunch the best, followed by Hot Dog Charley's. The buns at Gus' were too bready.

    Funny thing about the old newspaper articles on the walls at New Way Lunch and Hot Dog Charleys where they show hot dogs lined up the cook's hairy arm. There's a place in Boardman, OH called Famous Lunch that has a similar newspaper article...and their meat sauce is a lot like the stuff at New Way Lunch.

    Hot Dog Charley's sauce also goes good on Rochester-style garbage plates if you can't find Coach Tony's sauce.


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