The Hot-dog, the American dream and the Greek connection.

Many have asked me about the involvement of Greeks in the Hot-dog business… I wanted to know as well so I searched to get the best information about it and this is what I came up with.

By Meathead Goldwyn source:

The story of our national food, the American Hot Dog, is the story of The American Dream. It starts at Ellis Island with waves of immigrants in the late 1800s and moves to Manhattan where European sausage makers, many of them Jews, brought their skills and recipes and started life on a shoestring selling Frankfurt and Vienna sausages on street corners and in butcher shops.

Hot Dog Stand in DChot dog sarbet

Waves of Greek and Macedonian immigrants also appeared on our shores. On rare days off they took their families to Coney Island, the great seaside amusement park about 15 miles south of Midtown Manhattan. There they tasted the Coney Island version of the hot dog and fell in love with it.

As they migrated west, many set up shop on street corners, developed their signature recipe, and with hard work and ingenuity opened a restaurant, then a small chain, and made a good living for themselves and their families. For them, Jews and Greeks especially, the American Hot Dog became The American Dream.

Although there are scores of recipes for cooking and dressing frankfurters, and hundreds of hole-in-the-wall hot dog stands have earned life-long followers with their unique house concoctions, many cities and regions have evolved a local design that has become their signature breed of dog. It has become part of their culture and the populace cannot stand to eat them any other way. For them the unique scent and taste of their tribal genre conjures powerful memories of home and childhood. They are devoted, even addicted, to their hometown dogs. This may be one reason why no national chain has been as successful as the national hamburger chains.

So join me on a cross-country Hot Dog Road Trip and explore this tasty bite of Americana. Sounds like a good theme for a party...



The Coney Island Hot Dog

Hot dog eaters on Coney Island Since it all started on Coney Island, that's where we start our road trip. Today, Nathan's Famous, founded in 1916 by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker, reigns over Coney Island and sets the standard for the New York Hot Dog: An all-beef frank wrapped with a snappy natural casing, cooked on a shiny flatiron griddle, and most often dressed with spicy brown mustard, sauerkraut, and griddled onions. That's all. No relish, chili, and especially, no ketchup. They offer other stuff if you want it, but a purist orders only mustard, kraut, and onions.

hot dog nathan oldJust up the Parkway and across the Brooklyn Bridge, about 10 miles away, we arrive in Manhattan where Sabrett franks are the iconographic street cart food. Sabretts are a garlicy all-beef frank in natural casing often simmered in hot water, a "dirty water dog", so named because the water becomes murky with flavor extracted from the sausages. It is served with mustard and sauerkraut, like Nathan's, but Sabretts have a sweet-tart sauce loaded with onions. If you've had a hot dog in Manhattan with onion sauce, chances are you've had Sabrett's Prepared Onions. Click here for a recipe for a similar onion sauce.

The Rhode Island Hot Wienerhot dogs nysystem

Original New York System Weiners in Providence Continuing north about 160 miles to Providence we find a dozen or more joints in Rhode Island that specialize in what they call New York System Hot Wieners, which are to hot dogs what sliders are to hamburgers, and, like sliders, they are often called belly busters. Named to honor the iconic New York hot dog by Greek immigrants, they are short skinny skinless orange pork wieners. Note that some places spell it Wieners (the normal spelling since the word is derived from Vienna), and some spell it Weiners.

The better short order cooks assemble the final product in an acrobatic show called "up d'ahm" frowned upon by the health department: They hold one arm out, line as many as a dozen buns from finger tips to shoulder, squeeze in the wiener (don't call it a hot dog), hit it with yellow mustard, spoon on the meat sauce (don't call it chili), place on chopped onions, and dust with celery salt. And it happens fast. At right, that's Chuck Mooney, a cook at Original New York System Hot Weiners at 424 Smith St. in Providence, founded in 1927.

The meat sauce is, as are so many others across the nation, a Greek immigrant innovation, greasy, slightly runny, and tinged with American chili powder, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. The drink of choice is coffee milk, which is cold milk darkened with sweet coffee syrup, named the official state drink in 1993.

The Connecticut Texas Wiener

Moving south along the north shore of Long Island Sound on I-95 we enter Texas Wiener country. We pass a few stands in Connecticut, and there are outposts extending through the lower Hudson Valley, but the greatest concentration is around Paterson, NJ, just a mustard squirt west of Midtown Manhattan. In Paterson they are deep fried beef hot dogs topped with spicy mustard, chopped onions, and a variation on the ubiquitous Greek flavored ground meat "chili" sauce that has migrated across the nation.

The breed extends as far south as Philadelphia, PA. They probably got the name Texas Wiener because the meat topping had no beans and somehow resembled Texas chili. Not.

The North Jersey Italian Dog

New Jersey has more hot dog variations than any state. They are either confused or just reflecting their multinational heritage. There are perhaps a dozen joints in North Jersey that serve what may be the nation's most unusual prep, the Italian Dog. This pup is griddled or deep fried and nestled into a bread boat that looks like a half a giant thick pita, topped with sautéd onions and sweet peppers as well as deep fried potato disks, mustard optional.

hot dogs garbage

The Rochester Garbage Plate

Nick Tahou's Garbage Plate Pointing northwest, in Rochester, NY on Lake Ontario, hot dogs are called "hots", and although there are several first rate producers, Zweigle's is the signature frank of this upstate city. Made from pork in a natural casing, the Zweigle White Hot is neither cured nor smoked, and the result is cream color, plump, and spicy. Zweigle also makes a standard colored frank.

But the real innovation in Rochester is the sloppy mess called the Garbage Plate. In 1918 Alex Tahou, a Greek immigrant, opened a hot dog stand in Rochester. During the Depression he started dishing out "hots and potats", a dish of hot dogs, baked beans and home fried potatoes.

His son, Nick, took his Dad's idea and went crazy. He divided a big paper plate into thirds: One third got covered with smashed baked beans, one third with home fries, and one third with macaroni salad. Then he took two fat hot dogs, split them lengthwise, cooked them on a griddle until they got nice dark crispy char marks on them, and nestled them onto the tri-colored pillow of beans, potatoes, and 'ronies. On top he swabbed Dijon-style mustard, sprinkled chopped raw onions on the mustard, and buried the whole thing under peppery, lard laced ground beef sauce with a kick of cinnamon.

Nick Tahou's now has two locations, including one in an old train station across the street from the original 1918 location, and his Garbage Plate has become so popular there are more than 50 restaurants around the area serving variations on the theme.

hot dogs slaw

The West Virginia Slaw Dog

West Virginia Slaw Dog. As we motor into the South, many hot dog stands offer coleslaw as a topping. Mounted with the optional topping, the final product is commonly called a slaw dog.
In much of West Virginia the slaw is required. The classic WV Slaw Dog is a tasty but improbable construct of bun with a bean less ground beef sauce sometimes forming a bed for the frank, sometimes forming a blanket on top (they insist it is a meat sauce and it is not to be called a chili sauce), yellow mustard, and finely chopped creamy sweat-sour coleslaw crowning it. Before you stick your finger down your throat, think of it as a New York Dog with a different form of cabbage replacing the sauerkraut. It is really surprisingly good, especially the contrast of hot and cold.

Similar slawdogs can be found from Alabama through Georgia into South Carolina and North Carolina (where the slaw is dressed with a weird mix of ketchup, hot pepper, and lots of vinegar).

What we have here is a cheap well rounded meal with two kinds of meat, veggies, and starch, all in one hand. Or two.

The Cincinnati Cheese Coneyhot dogs coneys

It is a short ride west to Cincinnati, where, in 1922 Tom Kiradjieff and his brother John, Macedonian immigrants, opened the Empress, a restaurant where they sold Greek food and hot dogs. But Cincinnati was German and business was bad. So he took his signature Greek lamb stew laced with cinnamon and cloves, switched to ground beef, added hot peppers and other spices, called it chili, and served it over spaghetti and hot dogs. It was a hit. Nobody knows if naming hot dogs "Coneys" was homage to the amusement park on Long Island, or if the name came from the other Coney Island amusement park, the one built in Cincinnati in 1886.

And nobody knows who had the bright idea of topping it with a huge mound of shredded cheddar cheese, but that's the Cincinnati Cheese Coney that is served all over town and at the ballparks: A pork and beef frank with a natural casing topped with mustard, then chili, then chopped onions, and an ungodly amount of shredded cheese mounded on top. 

The Detroit Coney

Walt's Detroit ConeyIt's a straight shot up I-75 about 250 miles to Detroit where we find a hot dog with heart. Literally. Beef heart. The first Detroit Coney Dog was created by a Greek sheepherder, Constantine "Gust" Keros in 1917. Soon after clearing Ellis Island he went to Coney Island and tasted a hot dog. Then he went to Detroit to seek his fortune on the auto assembly line. He didn't speak English, so he swept floors until he could afford a popcorn cart, and eventually he opened American Coney Island where he served hot dogs just like the one he tasted on Coney Island. Legend has it that one day a customer asked him to ladle some of his homemade chili onto the hot dog, and the rest is history.

Detroit Coney DogThe prototypic Detroit Coney Dog is a skinless beef frank from Koegle. It is top loaded with mustard, and then the chili made mostly from beef hearts, no beans allowed, and crowned with chopped onions. It is served all around the state in restaurants called Coney Islands. If you are in Detroit, check out the original American Coney Island founded by Gust and Lafayette Coney Island founded by his brother, both in downtown Detroit, right next door to each other.

If you stand out front looking like you're trying to make up your mind, the staff of one or the other may come out and drag you in. When you order, to get the real deal, make like a Buddhist monk and ask for "one with everything".

Most Coney Islands have their own recipe for the chili. Since Gust and many other Coney owners were Greek or Macedonian, theirs has an unmistakable Old World flair to the recipes, with things like cinnamon and oregano. Continue up I-75 about 60 miles for a variation on the Detroit Coney, the Flint Coney.

The meat sauce is less pasty and more crumbly since some of it is ground hot dogs. Oh the ignominy! 

The Chicago Hot Dog

An easy 270 mile drive west takes us along the south shore of Lake Michigan to Chicago, for the most elaborate hot dog of them all.
There is only one recipe for the Classics Chicago Dog, and little variation is tolerated in the huge city and its surrounds. The Chicago Hot Dog is so popular the newspaper estimates there are 1,800 hot dog stands in the area, far more than all the McDonald's, Burger Kings, and Wendy's combined.

hot dog chicago
What makes the Chicago Hot Dog special? Like Chicago's famous architecture, it is great design. It is a juicy, crunchy, sloppy combo that leaves your fingers fragrant for hours: A garlicy all-beef frankfurter, usually Vienna Beef brand, with a natural casing, simmered in hot water, never boiled, on a Rosen's bun studded with poppy seeds and topped with solar yellow mustard, kryptonite green sweet pickle relish, pungent chopped raw onion, juicy tomato slices, spicy hot "sport" peppers, a crunchy salty kosher pickle spear, and a sprinkle of magic dust: celery salt. The result is a sandwich with so much vegetation that it is called a "garden on a bun".

Hot Dougs signThe best place to get one is Hot Doug's "The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium", a colorful hole in the wall with long lines. Admittedly the Chicago Dog isn't the only draw.

Owner Doug Sohn is into all formats of encased meats and serves a dozen varieties from a kicking andouille to venison. On Fridays and Saturdays, the fries are cooked in duck fat. (Closed in Oct 2014)

While you're in Chicago, it would be a shame to leave town without trying a Polie, the local version of the Polish Kielbasa. It is said that there are more Poles in Chicago than any city except Warsaw.

Polies, or Polish sausages, are fat coarsely spicy ground smoked pork and beef link griddled until crunchy and served on a bun with griddled onions and mustard sold at most hot dog stands.

If you're still hungry, why not fill the hole with an Italian sausage sandwich, an uncured coarsely ground pork sausages in natural casing, flavored with fennel and crushed red chili peppers for some heat.

They're served in hundreds of "Italian Beef stands" on a crusty bun with sauté sweet peppers and onions, occasionally with tomato sauce and melted cheese.


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