Amsterdam hot dog review: THE CHUBBY!

Sometimes a food’s name says everything you need to know about it. Tucked away in the museum part of Amsterdam, the Lunch Kiosk is a mobile operation intended to feed the tourists in need of some fast grub. I was in that spot on my visit earlier this month, and I do like to sample a hot dog wherever I go. It seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

At the Lunch Kiosk, the Chubby Hot Dog on the menu caught my attention immediately. How could it not? The big dog is wrapped in bacon and cheese, making it (what I thought would be) an artery-clogging delight. I had visions of Vancouver and Reykjavik, which made me salivate all the more. After waiting in line for what felt like an eternity, I placed my order and waited some more. I took this as a good sign, too. After all, immediate doesn’t usually equate to culinary quality (not even with hot dogs).

When my order was up, I snatched it with excitement and headed over to the ketchup and mustard. The latter was particularly interesting, as Amsterdam tends to do mustard well (I do suggest smearing some on any of the local cheeses).

%Gallery-129180%



My first bite was nothing but … disappointment. The Chubby Hot Dog nailed the aesthetic, but it failed to deliver on taste. The dog was lukewarm at best, a risk inherent in eating hot dogs from vendors that have four wheels. It didn’t snap as much as hot dogs from the likes of Gray’s Papaya or even Banger Bros in London. And for flavor, it just held flat. At best, the Chubby tasted like lukewarm bologna. While I was able to tolerate the dog at first (I was incredibly hungry), I wound up abandoning it at the half-way mark.

Foreign hot dogs tend to be a role of the dice. Where East Anglia (England), Madrid and Amsterdam fell short, Stockholm, Reykjavik and Montreal came through in style. Though considered to be among the lowest forms of food, it’s nonetheless tough to master the hot dog. The Chubby just failed to execute on its delectable plan.

Manhattan hot doggery Gray’s Papaya set to raise prices (again)

New York City hot dogs at Gray's Papaya

It’s murder, I say! Murder!

Well, I don’t say it … Gray’s Papaya does. The Manhattan hot dog institution is about to raise its prices once again. This will be the third price increase since I moved to the Upper West Side in 2004.

There’s a rather dramatic sign hanging in the window at Gray’s Papaya screaming, “MURDER!” It continues:

WE ARE GETTING KILLED BY THE GALLOPING INFLATION IN FOOD COSTS
UNLIKE POLITICIANS WE CANNOT RAISE OUR DEBT CEILING AND ARE FORCED TO RAISE OUR VERY REASONABLE PRICES
PLEASE DON’T HATE US

Okay, it’s hard to hate the folks who sell two hot dogs and a drink for a modest $4.50, though I was much happier when it was a dollar cheaper, back in 2008. Seven years ago, one hot dog cost only 85 cents. Then it skyrocketed, on a relative basis, to $1.25 in 2005, inching up to $1.50 three years ago.

%Gallery-126040%The deal, which still returns change for a $5 bill, is called the “Recession Special,” which took real meaning in 2008, as New York City suffered the shock of the financial crisis. Since then, as we have struggled toward a recovery that never really seems to come, the Gray’s Papaya Recession Special has been a fantastic alternative to … well, just about everything.

But, where will the prices go next?

It’s hard to say. The notice has been up for a few weeks, but I have yet to see any indication of price change. The guy working behind the counter said he didn’t know where prices were headed and that they would probably take effect in early June. I walked by a few days ago and didn’t see anything different.

There is a lesson in all this: buy hot dogs.

If you bought hot dogs from Grays’ Papaya in 2004 at 85 cents each, they would have nearly doubled in value by 2008. With all the gripes were hearing about food inflation, it’s pretty safe to say that we’ll see another big spike in 2011.

Hot dogs are the new gold.

I guess the only problem would be storing them. I do suspect, though, that hot dogs are like Twinkies – they last forever.

If you find yourself in New York, definitely hit Gray’s Papaya. If the prices are higher than you expect, try not to complain. It still really is the best deal in town!

Note: The space in the window at Gray’s Papaya seems to be reserved for political messages, as it once endorsed Barack Obama for president. Now, the company is sending a message about government spending and deficit management. Who ever knew that a dog from Gray’s Papaya came with a free civics lesson?

Another note: when prices were raised in 2008, I stopped at Gray’s Papaya on my way to work for a hot dog for breakfast (it’s sick, I know). There were television cameras set up out front. I didn’t know why. Well, it turns out that MSNBC was doing a story on the price increase. And, a good friend of mine, now my roommate, wound up being interviewed about it. He’s in this clip.

Vintage Coney Island: postcard from 1938 Fortune Magazine

Coney Island
Summer has officially started and for many New Yorkers, summer is synonymous with Coney Island‘s boardwalk, beach, and hot dog eating contests. Fortune Magazine has just republished a story from their archives about Brooklyn‘s famous “island” (really, it’s been connected to the mainland for many years and is an island only in name, though technically it is part of Brooklyn, which is part of Long Island) when a day at the beach cost only 10 cents (round trip!) in subway fare.


The fascinating and evocative article chronicles the history and then-current status of New York‘s “nickel empire” after its 1920s heyday and at the beginning of its decline that led to the closure of most of Coney Island’s original attractions.

Back in 1938, there were sixty bathhouses where you could rent a locker, use the pool facilities, and even rent a bathing suit for fifty cents or less (nowadays you can try to change in a municipal restroom, but the only pool will be the overflowing sinks). Though it may seem a world away from the Coney Island of 2011 (men in white sailor suits cleaned the boardwalk each night!), a lot of parallels can be drawn about the waning popularity of urban beach resorts and revitalization efforts of Coney Island then and now.

Other highlights of the article include:
-The saga of Feltman’s frankfurters, who could once serve 8,000 meals at a time until a young upstart named Nathan undercut the hot dog business by a nickel and took over the market.
-Observations from chief lifeguard of 37 years John McMonigle on beach rescues: ” The fat dames is different. Hell, you don’t have to worry about them — can’t swim a lick — but they go in, dog paddle around two hours, an’ never touch bottom. By God you can’t sink ‘em.”
-The oddly intriguing practice of baby incubators on the boardwalk with a charge to view (Boardwalk Empire viewers will recall seeing this in 1920 Atlantic City). Turns out they were opened by a pragmatic and kindly doctor who treated poor and ill infants, using the admission fee to pay for the medical care and facilities.
-The difficulties of running a freak show, where acts included “The Spider Boy; Singing Lottie, Fat Girl (O Boy, Some Entertainer); Laurello, the Only Man With a Revolving Head (See Frisco, the Wonder Dog); Professor Bernard, Magician Extraordinary (He will fool you); Professor Graf, Tattoo Artist (Alive); and his star act, Belle Bonita and her Fighting Lions (Action, Thrills).”

Read the whole article (maybe on your way to Coney Island on the subway) here.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Albany_Tim.

New Hampshire hot dog review: Wildcat Inn

hot dog at the Wildcat Inn in Jackson, New Hampshire
Okay, if you follow my work, you know by now that I need to try a hot dog everywhere I go. Sometimes, it’s far more fun to eschew upscale and go right for the lowest common denominator. On my trip to the White Mountains last weekend, I wasn’t expecting to indulge. After all, the region, in New Hampshire, is only a few hours from where I grew up … how could I find something worth actually writing about?

Needless to say, my perspective changed quickly.

I walked down to the Wildcat Inn and Tavern from my hotel, the Christmas Farm Inn, in Jackson, NH. It was one of the few establishments within walking distance, and after a full day of driving (well, as the passenger) from the New York area, I couldn’t fathom getting back into a car. While the main menu looked good, it was the bar menu that caught my attention … I was in the mood for something simple and filling. In my hunger and haste, I almost missed a menu item that was made for me: the “Ripper”.

%Gallery-123848%At $6.95 ($8.95 for two), it might seem a bit pricey for a hot dog, but keep in mind that it is served with fries. The dog is modeled on one from New Jersey, which created a connection between origin and destination for this trip. It’s described as:

Our tribute to the Rutt’s Hut “Ripper” in Clifton, NJ – the greatest hotdog of all time. Deep fried until it splits wide open, served crispy in a fresh bun with french fries and a side of caramelized onions

So, I couldn’t resist: I ordered the “Ripper,” sipping a glass of the house Cabernet Sauvignon while I waited for the delicacy (of sorts) to arrive. What I saw impressed me immediately. The Wildcat’s Ripper was not small. It stretched passed the bun on both ends but was still thick. It was cooked well, with a blackened exterior to prove that whatever it had been was now ready for consumption.

The first bite was incredible … and not because I had seven hours of road trip in my not-too-distant past. It snapped crisply. The blackened exterior enhanced the flavor within, almost sealing it for an explosive initial chomp. Since it was so large, the dog could be consumed in large bites without leaving you feeling as though the experience was over before it started. Well-prepared and tasty, it was an unexpected delight while on the road.

Sure, the other menu items on the Wildcat Inn’s menu are tasty and enjoyable. It’s certainly worth trying the pizza while you kick back and listen to the local band, the White Mountain Boys. But, you should definitely make room for the hot dog – it’s one you won’t want to miss.

[photos by Laurie DePrete]

Japadog: The hot dog of choice in Vancouver

Japadog hot dogs VancouverFortunately, this delicacy isn’t far from the convention center. So if you’re in Vancouver on business, you can duck out easily for the best hot dog the city has to offer. Japadog, lauded by Anthony Bourdain, has no walls or roof. Rather, it consists of two hot dog stands – each with different menu items – on Burrard Street. I visited both stands, on Smythe and W Pender – and ultimately decided to dine at the latter. After all, the location on Burrard and Smythe didn’t have hotdogs made from the laziest animal known to man.

Kobe beef is interesting. If you order a hamburger made from it, you’re probably getting scammed. The fat, which is what makes the difference, burns off in the process, and you’re eating a burger that might as well have come from an athletic cow. I generally approach a kobe beef hot dog with this healthy skepticism, but time an again, I find that it just doesn’t fit with dogs the way it does with burgers. At minibar in Boston, I had a fantastic kobe beef hot dog, and the one I downed at Japadog in Vancouver just confirms it.

%Gallery-122843%The difference is flavor. These beef hot dogs don’t have the same snap as the pork-based dogs you find at places like Crif Dogs and Grays Papaya, but the explosion of flavor more than compensates. Tasty and rich, these thick hot dogs, served on sesame seed buns, are nothing short of delightful – and they live up to the $10.25 price tag. I was a bit concerned to let Japadog adorn my hot dog with spicy mustard and ketchup, as I didn’t want to bury the flavor of the dog itself, but everything came together perfectly. When you visit, don’t modify the menu items!


Though the Japanese influence is obvious, Japadog makes a concerted effort to connect with its Canadian home. Before munching on your hot dog, take a look at the decorations atop it. The kobe beef dog comes with three Canadian maple leaf shapes on it … a unique touch on an already unique hot dog.

The Japadog kobe beef dog was the perfect break from the conference I was attending with Corporate Secretary magazine. Even with plenty of free food available, as is always the case at a conference, it seems, it’s definitely worth walking a few blocks up the street for a memorable hot dog.

So, that’s the top hot dog in Vancover. Take a look at the best dogs in Montreal, below.

%Gallery-75814%