“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]

Seattle’s Safeco Field gets food concession with local ingredients, menus by award-winning chefs

Buh-bye, limp hot dogs in soggy buns. Baseball season starts April 1st, and Seattle’s Safeco Field–go, Mariners–is celebrating its first home game on the 8th with some serious food.
Centerplate, the leading hospitality provider to North America’s premier sports stadiums, has developed a partnership with award-winning Seattle chef Ethan Stowell, as well as chefs Roberto Santibañez, owner of Brooklyn’s Fonda/culinary director of Hoboken’s The Taco Truck, and Bill Pustari, chef-owner of New Haven’s Modern Apizza.

The revamped Bullpen Market at Safeco Field will feature fresh, local ingredients and easy-on-the-budget prices. In addition to an Apizza outlet, there is chef Stowell’s Hamburg + Frites, and La Crêperie, and Flying Turtle Cantina/Tortugas Voladoras from Santibañez.

Says John Sergi, Chief Design Officer of Centerplate, “Our mission was to create a restaurant-style experience–the anti-fast food–in a concession environment. We (brought in) Ethan as our consulting chef…in order to help us make the food ‘restaurant-real.’

Stowell is the executive chef and owner of Ethan Stowell Restaurants, which includes Tavolàta, Anchovies & Olives, and How to Cook a Wolf. He is the acting chef at eight-month-old Staple & Fancy Mercantile, in Seattle’s gorgeously revamped Kolstrand Building in the Ballard neighborhood.

Best-known for his use of local ingredients and simple, seasonal food, Stowell was named one of the 2008 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine and has been honored with multiple James Beard Award nominations for “Best Chef Northwest.” Santibañez and Pustari were added to the line-up to create programs featuring the signature concepts for which they are both nationally acclaimed–Mexican food and pizza. I might get into sports if this is the future of stadium food.

Greyhound travel: The imperfect lover. Reality, the Twilight Zone and being jilted

I’m fond of Greyhound bus travel. I like the idea of humanity rolling along on a highway. I like bus people. As one bus ticket seller once told me at the station in Columbus, Ohio as she surveyed the milling about passengers in the waiting area, “If you’re hard up and you need money, anyone of these people will help you out.”

Bus people have a certain air of resignation and quiet about them. Their expectations are low. They know getting where they are going will take time so why fuss? Bus people feel as comfortable as a favorite broken in, but not broken down shoe.

On a Greyhound bus, there are just the driver and the passengers. The driver lays down the rules: No smoking of anything; no drinking; no swearing; no loud talking; no cell phones ringing, and if you make a call, keep it down. If you break the cussing, smoking and drinking rules, you’ll find yourself off the bus and in a load of trouble.

The passengers, for the most part, don’t give grief and everyone is equal. No one is better than anyone else on the bus. The driver is accessible. You can see the driver drive. You can see where you are going. The bus doesn’t have secrets.

In general, I love Greyhound because Greyhound has treated me right even when there have been problems. Greyhound does seem like a problem magnet, however.

  • The last time I took Greyhound, the driver headed the wrong way for 70 miles when we were more than halfway to our destination. This was not an easy pill to swallow.
  • Greyhound travel can be unpredictable. The departure and arrival times seem more like suggestions. There is a reason for this. Bus travel is flexible. You can buy a bus ticket the day you want to leave without it costing you an exorbitant amount.
  • Greyhound travel can feel like heading through a jungle.
  • Greyhound travel can feel like the Twilight Zone. Finding out clear information may be a problem.
  • There are people who ride the bus who may not smell good or who take up too much room. That happens on a plane too. On a bus, though, you can change seats if the bus is not full. If it is, someone will get off at the next stop so you can switch seats. Seat hell doesn’t last that long.

With the issues Greyhound has been known to have, some customers can become very, very unhappy. Greyhound might as well be the devil incarnate as far as they are concerned.

The latest person to feel this way that I know about is Miriam. Miriam does have a sad, infuriating Greyhound tale that was described in The Consumerist. If I were Miriam, I would be spitting mad. Miriam, you see, was stood up–jilted by Greyhound. How cold is that?

As Miriam describes her left holding her dance card saga, she bought a non-refundable ticket for a bus from New Haven to Boston for a 12:05 a.m. bus. Keep in mind that this just past midnight. Her prince left her at the ball.

The prince, or in Miriam’s case, the driver didn’t make the New Haven stop. Miriam was left waiting for a bus coach that never came. When she contacted Greyhound for a refund on her ticket, she was given quite the runaround until she was finally put in contact with someone in customer service. This feat alone would have done most people in.

Miriam prevailed, but the result was not what she had hoped for. She did not meet up with a fairy godmother. Instead of a refund, she was given a voucher for the full price for another Greyhound bus ticket. She was told that because she did not have a refundable ticket, she couldn’t get a refund. The company refused to see the logic that she did not make the bus because of her doing. It was Greyhound’s fault. How can a person take a bus that jilts you? Good point.

Miriam ended up canceling her American Express charge for the ticket. In essence, she created her own refund and now is so ticked at Greyhound she will never travel Greyhound again.

As for me, I’d have taken the voucher to see what other outlandish travel story I might get under my belt. There are several other woeful Greyhound tales under the comment section of Miriam’s story. Each are as sad and sort of funny in a twisted kind of way. These are great tell-at-a-party stories. If a person doesn’t travel Greyhound every once in awhile, where would such stories come from?

Oh, that’s right. There are airplane stories. I do have my reasons for never ever ever flying United.

New Haven ‘Restaurant Week’ is here and now

Now that my head is a bit less fuzzy (from drinking six glasses of Joe Bastianich‘s Italian wine, topped off by one–and that’s one too many–glass of grappa), I want to recap the wonderful wine dinner I had last night at Zinc.

Zinc is one of New Haven‘s brightest stars on the culinary scene. Now, this modest town, sandwiched between its big brothers Boston and New York, can easily be forgotten as an increasingly exotic and vibrant foodie destination. But I would say, like the general renaissance that is New Haven, this town’s food scene really deserves to be on the national radar (at least least on the radar if you’re in New England).

New Haven’s makeover could get bogged down by its reputation as one of the original homes of pizza (Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana) and hamburgers (Louis’ Lunch). That’s where the city’s first Restaurant Week comes in–but more on that later and how you can get some of the country’s best dinners, including what the New York Times called the best Spanish restaurant in the states, for $29.

Take Zinc, which serves modern American cuisine that chef Denise Appel (and co-owner) describes as “market inspired and globally infused.” What sets this place apart is the cuisine is top-rated and sourced from local ingredients. That, however, doesn’t mean you’re just left with potatoes and whatever else Connecticut grows (I’m not even sure we grow potatoes).
Last night’s four-course meal started with an airy Bastianich Rosato from Friuli, Italy (his family’s hometown). The first course was a Maine Diver sea scallop (paired with a Sauvignon Blanc and Picolit, also from Friuli), followed by an absolutely delicious wild boar ragu (a white wine that was pretty good), a hangar steak with golden raisin caponata and fried capers (a full-bodied La Mozza “Aragone from Grosseto, Italy), and one of the best desserts I’ve had in recent memory: a honey cake with Mascarpone gelato and lemon marmalade (there was olive oil mixed in, which I had doubts about .. but not after I had stuffed my face). Oh, and then some grappa. Yeek!

For lunch, I was over at Union League, which is always a safe choice if you’re looking for top-rated cuisine. Their coffee ice cream dessert is particularly memorable (if you haven’t guessed, I have the palate of a six-year-old). Ted Sorenson, JFK’s close adviser, was there giving a very captivating Q&A on his thoughts about the Cuban missile crisis, this election, Obama’s first year, etc.

Info on restaurant week

Running Nov. 9 to 14, the week features prix-fixe lunches for $16.38 (a spin on the town’s year of birth) and three-course dinners for $29 (taxes and gratuities not included). Some of the 18 restaurants involved are tried-and-true favorites – Pacifico, Thali, Zinc. Others are new to the scene – the much-anticipated fromagerie Caseus and the upscale lounge 116 Crown. They range from Italian (Consiglio’s) and Spanish (Barcelona) to experimental Japanese (Miya’s) and spicy Malaysian (Bentara).

“Restaurant Week was designed to showcase New Haven’s very diverse culinary offerings,” said Anne Worcester, of Market New Haven, the event’s organizer. “There’s no denying the city’s recent culinary boom.”

She said the promotional menus represent an average 20 to 25 percent savings. Some solid-value dinner entrees: the duck breast in a coriander sauce at Ibiza, the 10-ounce New York strip at Central Steakhouse, the pan-roasted pike fillet with leek fondue at Union League Café. Intriguing lunch options include the Mee Istimewa peanut-based soup at Bentara and salmon teriyaki at Miso.

At Zinc, Donna Curran, the co-owner, said her chef designed a special menu for the week. For lunch she recommended the roasted salmon with a house-made vindaloo sauce (“so much flavor”) and the chai crème brûlée for dessert. “We certainly didn’t dumb our menu down,” she said.

For a complete list of restaurants and their prix-fixe menus, see here. Reservations strongly recommended.

New Haven Diary: The best coffee hangout you’ve never heard of

There’s watching the leaves fall on the green, wolfing down a slice at Pepe’s, and now, drinking coffee? Yes, it just might be worth a daytrip to stop in New Haven for some joe, especially if you find yourself riding Amtrak between Boston and New York and you’re feeling sleepy. I recently visited a West-Coast-hip all-organic / all-fair-trade coffee shop, one of a handful in the Northeast, and the coffee here is possibly worth the pilgrimage.

But first, if coffee isn’t your thing, see my series from March on what to do, see, stay, and eat in New Haven.

Now then.

Apart from his duties at Bare Beans Coffee in Fair Haven as owner, barista and floor sweeper, Mark Orintas holds a part-time job as a perfume salesman. His keen nose for fragrances bestows a sommelier’s touch to what may otherwise seem like a rather pedestrian drink. He’s fond, for instance, of describing his signature concoction – a blend from Sumatra, Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemlala – as having “oaky aftertones” with “floral notes.”

“This place is for organically minded people who like the finer coffees and teas,” Mr. Orintas said. As one of the state’s few organic and fair-trade cafes, Bare Beans, open only on weekday mornings, exudes an understated West Coast hipness. There is no flashy sign, the brick walls stand exposed, and patrons must satisfy themselves with two simple tables and a few more bean chairs.

But when it comes to coffee, the selections are eclectic and often as hard-to-find as the establishment itself: Mexico El Triunfo Biosphere, Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, Dominican Republic Barahona, among others.

Organic teas from SerendipiTea, which include Darjeeling Green and Mango Magnus, and biscotti (lemon-cranberry, pistachio, coconut macadamia), scones and muffins, at $1.95 each, are also available. A 12-ounce cup of any tea or coffee (equivalent of “tall”) is $1.65; 16 ounces (“grande”) is $1.95. One-pound bags of any beans, which are roasted fresh to order in the back, sell for $12 to $14.

And don’t even think about that quad-shot latte with extra foam. Bare Beans caters to the purist at heart, where even synthetic sugar is banned in favor of agave, a succulent nectar from Mexico.

Mr. Orintas hopes to offer light lunch fare soon, but for now he’s sticking to monthly cuppings (like wine tastings, but with coffee) that are free to the public. One recent cupping attracted a dozen enthusiasts, who were reluctant to leave. “I like good coffee and good people,” said Garrett DiFazio, 36. “Here, there’s both.”

Bare Beans Coffee, 14 East Grand Avenue, New Haven; (203) 260-1118 or www.barebeanscoffee.com (online orders). Open Monday to Friday, 6:30 . to 10 a.m.