Thursday, September 20, 2012

Today I Sensed A Great Disturbance in the Hot Dog Force, as if Millions of Deli Dogs Suddenly Cried Out in Terror...

 Hot dog roller? No steamer? What the heck...
So I walked into good ol' Stewart's Shop #176 (9w by the T-Way exit) and I smelled a peculiar (but very familiar) smell on the wind. I immediately knew what it was and to me that smell was about as welcome as that of a fart in church. It was the distinct aroma of hot dogs slowly cooking and turning on a hot dog roller! There was no hot dog steamer box to be seen and for a moment my life was thrown into chaos.

You see, Stewart's Deli Dogs are an item and experience that is very close to my heart. I have been eating them regularly (recently sporadically would be more apt as I have lost my young man's metabolism) since childhood. They are a cheap, comforting, expedient to-go food and I look at them as one of the anchor items of the Stewart's dynasty (if you are an outlander, browse all of these Stewart's labeled posts to get a feel for the establishment). 

Obtaining a pair of dressed Deli Dogs (two, always two) is something of a ritual to me. You walk in, fish the buns out of the steam box, take the buns out of the wrappers, kind of open up the buns to prepare them for the dog, pick up the tongs, try not to scald yourself opening up the hot dog compartment, carefully fish your dogs out (they will break if you don't have a tender hand with the tongs), slap those boys on your bun, apply mustard, apply meat sauce, carefully slide back into the aluminum wrapper, gingerly pick them up with one hand, pay....

All of that is part of my enjoyment of my deli dog experience. To be confronted with the fact that a very important element of my ritual had been removed was a bit jarring. I take things like this seriously, don't ask me why. This is not just an issue of a slightly different apparatus producing a reasonable facsimile of the original. Hot dog roller cooked dogs are a completely different taste and textural experience than a steamed bun/dog. 

Oh you beautiful alter of hot dog-iness. Where would we be without you?
Awash in darkness, that's where.
In a hot dog roller the buns are kept wrapped in a little drawer under the mechanism. I have seen steam drawers/warmers on the things but I don't think this one had that feature. Henceforth we are often confronted with a stale-ish and cold bread vehicle for our hot dog. Unsatisfactory. Steamed buns are superior. The steam box presents us with a delicate, fluffy, slightly moist bun that is perfect for the sausage it will carry.

You see, a steamed Deli Dog is something to behold. It is the exquisite texture that I fell in love with so many years ago. There is none of the traditional New York "snap" that I enjoy in many other sausages. A Stewart's Deli Dog is a soft, creamy, custardy affair of fatty emulsified meat. Couple this sausage with a proper steamed bun, mustard, and meat sauce and you have a sublimely "squishy" affair that reminds us that the gods of hot dogs still love us even in this wretched age.

Rolled hot dogs are not necessarily always a bad thing. They are just different. You get a browned wrinkly "skin" (not the good kind of hot dog skin...) and a stronger "hot dog" taste. The process tends to dehydrate the sausage and lends an altogether less pleasant character (in my opinion) to a workaday skinless frank. More assertive flavored, natural casing dogs do much better on rollers/griddles (heck, I even prefer this method in certain applications). That is all to say, when I want a Deli Dog I want steam.

I posted about this on the twitters and the Fuss-Meister-General instigated a conversation with @GaryDake (Stewart's Shops President) regarding the steamer vs. roller issue. As expected, Mr. Dake agrees with me and prefers a steamed dog. He further stated that this is not a company wide sea change, but that individual stores base the decision on sales. Apparently sales are higher with the rollers... As usual I am left shaking my fist at the masses for their inexplicable preference. Sigh. Also, Mr. Dake mentioned that there is the added opportunity (with the roller) to sell other items from the genre of strange and wonderful hot dog roller cuisine (another of my strange obsessions, see here).

This is all well and good -- I thank Mr. Dake for addressing the issue, and I understand the issues at hand... But I need you to help me out folks. My personal Stewart's is store #105 on Elm Ave. in Delmar (T/Bethlehem). They still have the steam box (I know because I checked) and I want it to stay that way. Mr. Dake mentioned that Stewart's really does pay attention to customer input. Let us test this. Next time you are in there how about you drop some comments with in hearing range of the employees to the tune of -- "Golly geez, these steamed deli dogs taste so good right out of the steam box!" or "Sure would hate having to eat a sad wrinkly hot dog off of a hot dog roller," you know, stuff like that.

I am sensing a theme to my musings lately. I am getting older, it scares me, and rapidly accelerating change in the world is accentuating the feeling (even little things like hot dog apparati). I just want to share all the good things (or at least some of the good things) from the world of my childhood with my own wee 'uns... I keep seeing things getting lost behind the horizon and I am worried that soon there will be nothing left.

I don't know what to do so I will just keep documenting things here on this crappy blog so that at least I will be able to remember.


  1. Perhaps this creates a delicious opportunity... if they've committed to replacing the steam box, would they sell it to you? Imagine having Deli Dogs in your kitchen!

  2. I'm glad I could help. Aren't you glad that now you know it's not a corporate initiative? And that the president is on your side?

    Instigator indeed!

  3. All the Stewarts' in Saratoga use the hot dog roller, which I personally am fine with, but I'm intrigued to taste your custardy meat. Del Mar is a bit far to schlep for this experience. @GaryDake, if you're reading can you point me to a nearby store that steams them?

  4. Tell corporate, not the shop workers (unless maybe it's the manager) -- the clerks won't pass on your comments anywhere.

    @Otis, that sucks: I know the ones in Milton and West Milton had steam boxes when I worked there, but then again, that was ages ago.

  5. Found it! At the corner of Circular and Broadway, not my favorite Stewart's because it's where the high school kids hang out and smoke when they're supposed to be in school. The endearing steamed dogs were waiting for me, poking up out of the steamer like little, well....

    I minded Mr. Dave's warning and was careful with the tongs but still cracked one of them a bit. I was happy to try the change of pace and gum rather than chew my food, though I think I still prefer the roller version. (And I also like to treat myself to one of the rollered Polish dogs, dyed a toxic shade of atomic red.)

    @KB, you worked at Stewarts? You should do a post about your experiences there!!

  6. Bummer! They took mine too! New Scotland and Whitehall has a spanking new roller. I've been getting a steamer every Saturday forever. I think a trip to Delmar is in order tomorrow.

  7. I bet this has a lot to do with the new format of Cumberland Farms stores in the area, each complete with a variety of roller goods. Stewarts doesn't want to risk falling behind the times, although I prefer the steamer as well!


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