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Hot Dogs: A Tale of Two Cities, Part Two

By: Scotty Harris

Yesterday we briefly examined the history of the hot dog, and looked at the real difference between red hots, white hots, Buffalo’s hot dog havens and Rochester’s hot dog hot spots. Click here if you somehow missed it.

Where it gets interesting is with the hot sauce. At Ted’s it’s a sweet-hot sauce that I have been best able to approximate at home with a mix of commercial chile sauce and Weber’s Hot Piccalilli Relish (to taste). Rochester’s hot sauce is a whole different animal. Based on browned, ground beef (preferably chuck) it is seasoned not only for heat, but also with sweet spices – allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and even nutmeg in some combinations. 

Now, as a former Dean of my law school used to say, “Stay with me people!” In fact it was in law school that I had the revelation that led to this discussion. A red-headed nursing student with whom I was “involved” introduced me to Cincinnati Chile. This is not Chile con Carne in the Tex-Mex sense, but rather a “bowl of meat and spices”. It is usually served “two-way”, meaning over spaghetti.  I had it “five-way” with cheddar, onions and beans as well. As often as I have taught my kids to answer any question of how something tastes with the word “chicken”, Cincinnati chili tastes like Rochester hot dog sauce.

Coincidence? No. But to understand how this occurred requires a return to Coney Island, via the Mediterranean. Yep, the sea that gave us heroes, gods and monsters (as well as Atlantis–cue the Donavan LP) is also home to a myriad of cuisines which pair sweet spices with savory ingredients.  From the tagines of North Africa, to the kefte and shawarmas of the Middle East, to the simplest tomato sauces of Greece, the kiss of those sweet spices is present.

Charles Feltman was German, and Nathan Handwerker from Poland. If they had a special sauce on Coney Island, and I am not sure they did, it was likely similar to the tomato/onion sauce on carts all over NYC to this day. At some point there was an influx of workers from Greece (or Macedonia or Armenia) who added those sweet spices and ground beef, creating Coney Island hot dog sauce.

It leaked across the Hudson to New Jersey. Yes, they occasionally deep fry the dogs, and they are among those who call this concoction “Texas sauce”, but it’s a cousin of the Greek-inspired sauce of Coney Island. Greek workers from the hot dog stands of New York traveled to Providence, Rhode Island and created New York System Wieners–smaller sausages traditionally lined up on the preparer’s arm and anointed with condiments, including that special Greek sauce.

It is surely no coincidence that Strates Fentekes opened a remarkably similar eatery in Troy, New York called Hot Dog Charlies. At Heid’s in Liverpool, you usually get a Hoffmann’s dog “snappy” with their housemade mustard, but order it as a “Texas Hot” and you get The Sauce.

Nick Tahoe seems to be from the Med, and his sauce follows. Neither Don, Bob, Bill or Tom seem to have been Greek (see yesterday’s story), but they all use The Sauce. In a bizarre twist, Bob was the heir of Zwiegel’s Hot Dogs, which now manufactures a hot dog sauce (made in Buffalo) which is closer to the Ted’s sweet/hot sauce.

Ted Liaros was Greek, but eschewed The Sauce. I don’t know if the Turcos of Louie’s Footlong are Greek. If you order a dog there with “the works” you get a Ted’s-style sweet and hot sauce. Order it “Texas style” and it comes with The Sauce. The other Louie’s is unabashedly Greek, but I find their version of the sauce a weak relative of the others. Reid’s of Lockport is the outlier. There otherwise very reasonably priced dogs are topped with a concoction called LeFrois sauce manufactured in Brockport. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi: You will never find a more wretched taste of scum and villainy. Stick to mustard, onions and relish.

I have never had a Steve’s in Cleveland (made famous by actor/comedian Drew Carey), but it could be the sauce. And as for Cinci, that Chili can be served on a split dog with some cheese. Going full circle, it is called a cheese coney.

So which do I prefer?  You can decide. There is a Ted’s just south of Main on Transit, and a Bill Grey’s around the corner on Main just west of Transit. Oh and try the Chocolate Almond Abbott’s Custard at Bill Grey’s.

Remember, life’s too short to eat bad food!

—-

Scotty Harris is a recovering
attorney, occasional caterer, food blogger and full time dad.  He has
cooked at DACC’S, Warren’s and Fredi. None of them are still open. You
can find him at cookingintheory.blogspot.com

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