“A Connecticut Hog Dog Tour” documentary airs July 2, kicks off National Hot Dog Month

There’s a month for everything in America, it seems, even if it’s cancer. But as a nation, we can really get behind hot dogs. We love hot dogs; we’re obsessed with them. That’s why the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (for reals) has declared July National Hot Dog Month. Who knew?

Such obsession with pre-formed meat products can only lead to one thing: a search for the ultimate weiner. Filmmaker Mark Kotlinski took on the challenge and discovered that Connecticut is a veritable hot dog paradise. In his film, “A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour,” Kotlinski documents his road trip to some of Connecticut’s most interesting–and delicious–hot dog stands.

Whether steamed, grilled, or deep-fried, Connecticut’s got ‘dogs for days. Highlighting the history, house specialties, and local hot dog lore, “A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour” is Kotlinski’s tribute to an American favorite. In the film, he visits renown Connecticut hot dogs stands including:

Rawley’s Drive-In (Fairfield), for their famous bacon dog with “The Works”; Weiners on Water (East Haddam), a hot dog boat on the Connecticut River featuring chili cheese dogs with a view; Bobby’s Place (Old Lyme), located on the beach, for their monster dog; Capitol Lunch (New Britain) for a hot dog with the works and their famous meat sauce, and Top Dog Hot Dog (Portland), a hot dog-shaped trailer located on Route 66, to sample their spicy Cajun Dog.

Inspired by Kotlinski’s findings and in time for National Hot Dog Month, Connecticut will debut it’s very own, official Hot Dog Trail that maps out these hot dog hot spots (the state is already home to a Wine Trail, Ice Cream Trail, and Beer Trail…and hey–why is there no pizza trail leading to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven?). For Trails and tourism info, click here.

“A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour” will air on July 2, 8 p.m. ET/PT on the Documentary Channel (DOC).

[Photo credit: Flickr user Scout]

The Port Authority hot dog

I don’t think anybody enters a bus station looking for an unforgettable culinary experience – at least not a good one. But, when you’re in transit, you need to eat, especially if you’re staring down several hours on what is quite possibly the most unpleasant form of transportation. So, before dashing down to see the in-laws on Christmas Eve, I stopped at Villa Pizza, in the southern part of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, to grab a bite. I saw hot dogs wrapped in pizza dough and knew my problem had been solved.

I didn’t have high hopes for the dog – c’mon, I picked it up at a bus station. And, because there was dough instead of a traditional bun, I realized I’d have to eat it sans ketchup and mustard. As I rode the escalator down to my gate, I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake. I was about to chomp into a nude Port Authority hotdog. There were no condiments behind which to hide. I’m committed to my unique brand of hot dog blogging, though, so I had no choice but to follow through.Once I got settled into my seat at the back of the bus, I finally took a look at my meal. The hot dog from Villa Pizza was thicker than most, and it was still hot (lukewarm dogs suck).

The hot dog lacked the snap characteristic of the fare of New York’s better hot dog shops (such as Gray’s Papaya), but it was decent on flavor. Like most dishes in a pizza place, it was a tad too greasy, but I was able to live with that. The pizza dough in which the dog was shrouded added a dimension – a texture not normally found in a hot dog experience.

I wouldn’t rush back to Villa Pizza for a hot dog. In all fairness, it isn’t the joint’s focus, and there are many dogs in the city that are far superior. When you have a bus to catch, though, your range of choices shrinks drastically, and you could do worse than to pick up a dog from Villa Pizza.

Hotdogs: the Montreal and New York taste test

It was fun to bring Montreal food insider Katerine Rollet into the world of hotdogs. Her refined palate is more accustomed to the culinary masterpieces she unearths in her home town, and she has the impeccable judgment that a food-illiterate like me can only admire. But, for a moment in New York and a moment farther north, she decided to come down to my level and explore the world of hotdogs.

Katerine and I formulated a fun plan. When she was in New York last month, we met for a hotdog at Chelsea Papaya, on West 23rd Street and Seventh Ave. This is one of many hotdog-and-papaya joints in the city, and I chose it because of the contrast with the surrounding neighborhood. Who would think to grab a dog in one of the trendiest parts of Manhattan? The restaurants in Chelsea are beyond impressive, which made a great backdrop for our experiment. Two days later, in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood (a French Canadian cousin to Chelsea), we’d meet again for a local dog – this time at Mont-Royal Hot Dog. In the end, we’d compare notes on our respective blogs.

The major difference between New York and Montreal – or, specifically, their hotdoggeries – is style. In Manhattan, the dogs are grilled, and the roll may be warmed on the grill briefly before preparation, but the dog itself is the main event. Montreal boils its hotdogs, but what it does with everything else is most impressive. This is something I’ve noticed elsewhere outside the United States, especially in Scandinavia – the dogs are passable, but the surroundings are winners.


The fare at Chelsea Papaya snapped when bitten. It was crisp, with a burst of distinct grilled hotdog flavor unleashed on your taste buds from the instant consumption begins. While some prefer onions or slaw on their dogs, I tend to go with just a little ketchup and mustard at Chelsea Papaya – to enhance the hotdog without concealing its flavor.

Mont-Royal’s dogs were at a slight disadvantage, being steamed instead of grilled. Steamed dogs do come across a tad on the bland side, making the ketchup and mustard more important to the experience. Yet, if you adopt the local style for “dressing” a hotdog, the entire experience changes.

Yes, “dressing.”

Order a hotdog “all dressed,” and you’ll receive it with coleslaw, chopped onion and mustard, with the fresh slaw providing the feeling of crispness missing in plain boiled hotdogs. A complexity of flavor results that uses the hotdog as the canvas rather than the masterpiece. The other aspect of the Montreal hotdog that shouldn’t be missed is the toasted roll. Again, you get the crispy feel, but the warmth is also important. There’s nothing worse than cold soggy bread (which happens, sometimes, with hotdog rolls) – this will never happen when you order your hotdog “toasted.”

The dog shops in Manhattan would be wise to offer a toasted roll, though it’s probably impossible to do so, given the number of people places like Chelsea Papaya serve every day.

As we navigated the hotdog world, I have to admit that I let Katerine go down a road that couldn’t end well. While at Chelsea Papaya, she decided to mix in her mouth a bite of hotdog and a sip of the papaya drink for which these establishments are known. Sometimes two good things aren’t good together, as you’ll see in the video. (Sorry about that, Katerine!)

So, who wins?

Well, in the interest of maintaining friendly Canadian-American foodie relations, I won’t say which is better. But, I will tell you that when I head up to Montreal, I’ll definitely end every hotdog order with, “toasted and dressed” – there’s no other way to put a few back up there.Disclosure: Tourisme-Montreal picked up the tab for this trip, but my views are my own.

See Chicago wieners (and others) on IgoUgo list

Chicago makes several appearances on IgoUgo’s list of top hotdog establishments, but there are plenty of spots across the country where you can pick up a great hotdog. My favorite apparently made the cut – a shortcoming of the list, I guess. For me, it doesn’t get better than Popo’s, in Swampscott, MA, and my local shop, Gray’s Papaya, is no slouch, either.

And, don’t forget that there are some dogs to be found outside the United States. I’ve had interesting eats in Stockholm, Montreal, East Anglia, Reykjavik and Madrid. That said, IgoUgo‘s honor roll is packed with fantastic hotdoggeries, and you’re bound to find something that satisfies the basest of “culinary” urges.

Get IgoUgo’s suggestions and reasoning after the jump.


From IgoUgo:

Portillo’s, Chicago: “The hot dogs are all beef and are definitely the best in town. The cup of hot gold might not be real cheese, but darn, it’s good.”

Nathan’s Famous, Coney Island: “Sure, you can get their hot dogs at airports and malls throughout the country now, but they taste different in New York.”

Pink’s, Los Angeles: “Who knew you can fit two hot dogs in one bun (The Today Show Dog)? There’s even a crazy option with three hot dogs in a tortilla (Three Dog Night).”

Puka Dog, Koloa, HI: Located in a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shopping center,” Puka Dog’s homemade buns are spiked and warmed from the inside out before the bun is filled with a secret garlic-lemon sauce and topped with a veggie dog or a polish sausage – and star fruit, mango, or papaya relish.

Hot Doug’s, Inc., Chicago: “Not only do they have the classic Chicago-style dog but they also have the Elvis (with Polish sausage) and the occasional game”-try the alligator dog with blue cheese and order the duck-fat fries.

The Dog Out,San Ramon, CA: When walking into the Dog Out, the feeling is “it is going to be a fun meal.” Keep an eye out as sometimes the manager comes around with free ice cream for everyone.

The Wiener’s Circle, Chicago: There is not a Chicago-style hot dog like those “at The Wiener’s Circle (after midnight).” This place is one of character, “famous for people yelling and swearing at each other before they take part in the monstrosity that is cheese fries.”

Wright’s Dairy Rite, Staunton, VA: Open since 1952, this classic drive-in restaurant has had car-hop service since its inception. Inside, there’s a phone at every booth to call in your order. “The dogs come in regular size and Dogzilla, a 1/3-pound dog served on a sub bun.”

Chris’ Hot Dogs, Montgomery, AL: “Chris’ Hot Dogs is a dive, but everybody knows it was one of Hank Williams’ hangouts.” The place is dark, dingy, and kind of seedy, but the hot dogs are great. Regulars range from “construction workers to the governor.”

SuperDog, Portland: SuperDog prides itself on its natural and homemade goodies like “all-meat chili, soup, and cheesecake…yes, cheesecake.” The hot dogs are “the best,” the buns are “out of this world,” and, if you’re lucky, the beer on tap is “SuperDog IPA.”