Monday, September 02, 2013

Hot Dogs: New Jersey, Home of the Brave

Hot dogs get no respect. That is sad. While many people think of hamburgers as the ultimate stereotype of American food, the truth is that this is far from true. For one thing, take out Chinese food far outsells any other fast food in the USA, including MacDonald's and all the other crap meatwads masquerading as hamburgers.
In days gone by, the humble hot dog was the ruler of the roost in the American fast food pantheon, and unlike hamburgers, hot dogs still come in an astonishing variety of local variations each with its own baggage of cultural identities. Hot dog stands and shops take on the role of local shrines, attracting pilgrims and foodies alike, along with local celebrities and their attendant Food Network video crews. No hot dog joint exemplifies this more than Washington DC's Ben's Chili Bowl.
Located just outside of the posh downtown of DC in the U street neighborhood that is quickly gentrifying and becoming swamped with excellent Ethiopian restaurants, Ben's specialty is the Washington Half Smoke. Offered by dozens of overpriced vendor trucks around Washington's federal district, Ben's is universally held to be the best. A half smoke is a fat smoked frank of mixed beef and pork, usually served topped by a mixture of chili sauce, mustard and chopped onions. Ben's has the reputation of being something of a tourist draw, although it always seemed to be full of locals, but Fumie insisted we try the chili dogs. Obama likes them. Bill Cosby likes them. And her friend Lisa liked them. So to Ben's we did go. Opened in 1958 by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian Muslim immigrant who proudly claimed to have never tasted his own creation (pork being forbidden to Muslims.) As fat franks go, it was excellent.
The chili used is classic diner sauce chili, not the stuff you eat in south Texas or in bowls ordered at diners and truck stops around the American Midwest. Yes, you can order a bowl of it, but it is just a ground meat and tomato sauce with some spices, not a real Texas chile. I believe the original hot dog chili sauces were invented by Greek diner owners in the distant past and they have rather thin relationship to anything ever made by Texas speakers of Spanish. Back in New Jersey the hot dog has a long tradition. Where New York has the beef "dirty water dog" sold from carts or the crispy skinned rotary grilled dog sold at delis and at Grey's Papaya stands, Jersey is home of the deep fried hot dog known as the ripper. Clifton New Jersey seems to be the epicenter of the deep fried hot dog, as it is home to Rutt's Hutt. We never got to Rutt's Hutt. We wound up at Hot Grill. We were driving around the back end of Paterson and Clifton with our buddy Bob Godfried, musician, accordion repairman, and tireless explorer of the less documented ethnic neighborhoods of the New York area. After cruising "Little Lima" - the Peruvian section of downtown Paterson... how completely awesome that they even have a Peruvian section of town! - we wound up visiting the water falls on the Passaic River, which oddly, I have never seen up close.
Actually, I hadn't seen a lot of Paterson up close, which is odd considering I used to live a ten minute drive away from here, and, in fact, used to work a mere five minutes away (in my defense, being a garbage collector for the city of Hackensack doesn't provide much access to the splendors of Paterson. Most of our away time was spent at the magnificent garbage dump further south in Lyndhurst.) The falls themselves were impressive to someone who, like myself, lives in a very flat land bereft of waterfalls. Also impressive was the fact that the park area surrounding the falls was home to a huge population of woodchucks.
They were everywhere. In broad daylight. Also impressive to someone who lives in a country where wildlife seems to be restricted to the occasional hedgehog crossing the road at night. In Jersey we were constantly surprising herds of deer in back yards, there was a flock of wild turkeys roosting in my parent's neighborhood, and one evening, all of four miles outside of Manhattan, we heard a coyote howling in the nearby swamp. Waylaid by our impromptu encounters with nature in downtown Paterson, we got hopelessly lost getting out of Paterson, and were hungry by the time we cruised across the town line into Clifton... and there it was.
Hot Grill... Home of the World's Tastiest Texas Wieners. Apparently, Paterson calls them Texas wieners... and this was some kind of aggressive incursion into the homeland of the Clifton rippers. The Hot Grill was all you could wish for in a Jersey hot dog joint: cheap, cheap, and surprisingly, cheap. And the counter staff  - all surly teens with greasy disco haircuts - seemed to be speaking Albanian, always a plus when ordering hot dogs slathered with that south Balkan "chili" sauce. Albanian speaking counter staff are just one of the charms that can be discovered driving around central jersey on a sunday afternoon.
Now, look carefully at that photo. Is that not, I ask you, the most unappetizing food presentation in the entire culinary universe? The chili dog is never going to win any beauty contests. Except for the color of the bun, it will look exactly the same regardless of its state in the digestion process. They are also very messy to eat. Did I mention they taste good? The place also has a string of local TV advertisements that are classics of the genre. These fairly scream "New Jersey!" Our final destination was in nearby Fort Lee, New Jersey, a town that is known for dozens of excellent Korean and Japanese eateries. Fort Lee was also once home to Palisades Amusement park, a classic roller coaster and freak show empire that was located atop the Palisades cliffs and attracted New Yorkers who would take the ferries across the river to be bused up the cliffs to a paradise of rides and attractions.
The park closed in 1971 to be replaced by a series of river view high rise luxury apartments. Two legendary hot dog stands used to flank the entrance to the park: Hiram's and Callahan's. Customers were hotly partisan: you were for one, and against the other. Due to the fact that both served beer on tap and were located across the street from each other, fights actually used to break out. Callahan's served dogs with sauerkraut... therefore Hiram's would not. Eventually attrition accomplished what shouts and lobbed hot dog buns could not when Callahan's finally closed in 2006, leaving Hiram's alone to wave the flag of the Jersey deep fried dog closest to Manhattan.
Hiram's remains to serve the deep fried hot dogs of Jersey's mysterious past. In High school, my crowd were fans of Callahan's to the extent that we never, ever ate at Hirams. In fact, we didn't really eat there... not in the sense of fine dining, anyway... we drove out in our used cars to drink draught beer. The hot dogs were merely an excuse, an afterthought. Now all we have left is Hiram's.
The dog is still there, the beers are all still on tap and local. One thing you immediately notice, though, are the American flags. They are everywhere. In fact, they are omnipresent at every hot dog stand in New Jersey. The New Jersey Cult of the Giant Waving American Flag grew in the months after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and, unlike a lot of other areas in the USA, it never waned. It ended up representing the world of the assimilated New Jersey Dutch and German and Italian emigrants in the once run down Jersey towns that are now booming in a world newly populated by Koreans and Mexicans and people from places in south India with too many engineering degrees and a taste for fresh green chilis.
It is like some kind of reactionary announcement that these places are serving authentic, non-ethnic, absolutely 100% retro white trash American food. You will find no cumin here, no red pepper tapanades, no fancy soup noodles, no stir fries, no rolling 'r's, no rice pancakes, nosiree, buddy, we are red blooded Americans here and we eat hot dogs with mustard and relish and cheese and bland balkanized chili sauce and Bud light. If you want award winning sushi or authentic Oaxacan food you just keep driving down the road, Mister. We're all Americans here. You want that dog to go?

11 comments:

AC said...

Let’s face it. Americans love their pork. Where else in the world can you buy bacon-flavored candy canes to hand out at Christmas or bacon cologne to dab on before a date? Want to clean your teeth? Try bacon toothpaste. Of course, there's also bacon-scented shaving cream and if you cut yourself shaving, don't worry — it's nothing that a bacon strip band aid can’t fix.

All of that before watching grown men throw around the old pigskin while chomping down on a bacon donut or slurping on bacon-flavored soda.

Thanks to a bullets manufacturer in Dalton Gardens, Idaho, gun enthusiasts who also happen to hate Muslims can purchase "Jihawg Ammo" rounds coated with a pork-permeated paint.
The idea is pretty simple (and sick). Point the gun at a Muslim (you know — the stealth jihad, creeping Sharia, America hating, pork fearing, terrorist kind) and shoot them until they’re dead.

But killing their physical bodies isn't enough. This ammunition is apparently so badass that it prevents their souls from reaching Heaven. According to the company, Muslims shot by the bullets will go "straight to hell."

The new bullets aren’t the first time a un company smack dab in the middle of white, conservative America has used pig products to try to deny Muslims entrance into Heaven. In 2011, Midnight Rider, a company in Courtland, Virginia, advertised “Silver Bullet Gun Oil,” which lined bullets traveling down the chamber of a firearm with pork grease. The oil came packaged with stickers that read "One shot, one soul," which were to be placed on dead Muslim bodies.

This would all sound pretty stupid if South Fork Industries, the company behind the bullets, wasn't pulling in record sales from the product. That's alarming.

It's not implausible to believe that these bullets may easily show up in the chambers of guns carried by civilians. It's also not far fetched to see how angry Tea Partiers and far-right racists who abhor the presence of Muslims — or anyone with a remotely foreign connection — in our society may actually try them out. But here's the thing: How do they really know that the pork in the bullets has prevented a Muslim from going to Heaven? They don't. But that's not their point anyways.

The point of the whole thing is actually much simpler: dead Muslims. And who knows, maybe this ridiculous Idaho company will team up with the manufacturers of these bacon coffins to ensure that this deed is really done and that death by pork bullets is followed by a burial that would surely rule out eternal afterlife.

http://www.policymic.com/articles/50541/company-sells-pork-laced-bullets-designed-to-send-muslims-to-hell

AC

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyable post Bob!

I rarely ever eat pork, but after reading this, I wanna get me a chili dog.

To AC: I'm not sure what an article on food has to do with ammo and Muslims, but if you think America has a fascination with pork, you should try Hungary, or pretty much any Eastern European country:)

AC said...

To - Anonymous commenter:
I moved to Transylvania 14 years ago (after I married a local Roma girl); and I have lived in the US "Bible Belt", for approximately 7 years (so yeah, I'm familiar with Eastern Europe and the good ol USA)...

Don't get me wrong, I do agree: Eastern Europeans have a predilection to food items made from pork (as a primary or secondary ingredient); but outside the culinary world, pork is not really used for anything else (the only products I can name, are some protective gear items made from pig skin, gloves in particular).

In contrast, the mighty US advertising and PR industries have pushed the popular bacon in the most unexpected products and places...
And by the way, Bob Cohen's current blog entry is not just about food (pork in particular); he also mentions, what he calls the Cult of the Giant Waving American Flag & retro white trash - hence my comment about some uniquely American pork products (including the infamous pork bullets, used by flag waving "patriotic" right-wingers in the US).

AC

Anonymous said...

AC,

Well, I am a flag waving patriotic right winger, but I think the record sales of ammo have more to do with new federal policies and less to do with pork products:)

Anyway, the last thing I take away from a nice write-up like this one is politics. What I took away from it was a desire to get a hot dog, without the need to dig up Nathan Lean quotes:)

AC said...

Dude, you can't separate brain and stomach!
Your brain dictates the content of your stomach; so yeah, pretty much all dietary trends are determined by some sort of ideology/belief system:

- Asian food is characterized by the balance of flavors (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory/umami) in predominantly Buddhist arias; and Shintoist traditions heavily influenced traditional Japanese food preparation methods and culinary trends.
- Vegans don't eat animal products for purely ideological reasons!
- Halal, Kosher, etc, originate exclusively from religious doctrine.
- And Bob's current posting adeptly highlighted the stark contrast between the habits of conservative and liberal areas around NY...

As to the bullets controversy:
Dude, tourists visiting Transylvania who carry around sharpened wooden sticks laced with garlic, have a severe case of vampire phobia; and folks who use pork bullets are Muslim hating xenophobes.
The inscription on the bullets in question, is VERY explicit about the purpose: "Put Some Ham in Mohamed"; and the brand name (Jihawg) is a combination of 2 words: jihad and hog...

'Nuff Said!

AC

Anonymous said...

OK, personally I find those bullets idiotic, and I am not crazy about the fact that there are tools in my country that would even believe in that nonsense (it brings us closer to tools in certain other countries that believe in other nonsense). But hey, it's a big country.

What I hate even more, however, is when an exception is used as a rule. That is a sign of low IQ. Branding Americans as pork-obsessed-Muslim-hating white men, just because of a handful of hicks selling questionable products, equivalent to those advertised on late-night public TV, is pretty weak.

I honestly had no idea where you were coming from with that claim, until I realized that it was just a copy-paste job from a well known Huffington Post contributor with some questionable views. The IQ comment is directed at that author, not at you.

Personally I love Indian food (as well as a nice cut of steak), believe in live and let live, and in America still being THE place to escape to when things suck in your own country. So I will continue to wave that big @ss flag:) I'm not sure where that puts me using that clever brain-stomach formula.

But I'm gonna run now and tell all my Sikh friends and colleagues that they are now liberals, cuz, you know, they are Indian with all them crazy degrees, therefore liberal, as opposed to conservatives, who are only white. I'm glad the world is this simple!


In all seriousness, the garlic-laced stake thing is hilarious, I had no idea people still believe in that:) I learned something new today.

It's all good.

BM

AC said...

BM, the source of my first post was clearly indicated (in the original post). I'm not sure how you missed it...

And, holy... crab, where did you dig up your straw man army (one straw man argument marching after another); is it Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Alex Jones?!

You guys are gone coo coo for cocoa puffs!
You spate pretty much all the ridiculous conservative tropes, crying with giant crocodile tears about how unjustly and curly victimized you guys are.

And why on earth did you have to even mention the Sikh?
After the Sikh temple massacre, the subway murder, etc, just leave them alone!

But whatever.
Our conversation is senseless, and is rapidly degrading in ad hominem attacks, so I'm out of here...

AC

Anonymous said...

Relax AC, nobody is attacking you. Reading comprehension - apply it.

Nobody is crying crocodile tears and nobody feels victimized, except Nathan Lean whom you happily quote.

I mean no harm AC, but when you quote a BS op ed piece in response to a blog post about food, you should expect some responses that you may not like. That's just how it goes. But really, it is all good.

Back to food, or better yet, music!

BM

PS: I don't have a high opinion of any of the people you named, and I don't watch TV.


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