I love listening and even singing the Baseball National Anthem, "Take me out to the Ball Game". Teams everywhere have incorporated it into the fixture of the game in the middle of the seventh inning. To me, however, they forgot an important declaration in the lyrics where they only say, "Buy me some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks".
That represents a good thing to do at the Ball Park. But to me, any game I attend is incomplete unless I have at least one Hot Dog, maybe two.
The other day I was talking to my friend Stan Fridstein who has written a terrific book "Going Yard". It describes the adventures of he and his son Eric visiting every Ball Yard. As part of it, he talks about the pleasures of Hot Dog eating on a bright sunny day with the green manicured grass and the left and right field over 350 feet away from Home Plate. It's a glorious feeling to be alive and sharing with your son.
Here, he and I differ! He claims the best Hot Dogs are in Cincinnati. Along with my son Steven, I, too, have visited a great number of Parks on pleasure, not work excursions. We feel that the Dog served in Chicago's Commiskey Park is without parallel.
So I got to thinking, I asked others where their favorite Dog was. The answers were varied. Many said they had no favorite, but liked them all. As you may have guessed, most of them were unanimous in saying although not a Ballpark comestible, Costco had the best dog.
As a result, I called on research as well as personal decisions I had made in the past to see if I could get to the bottom of this mystery. Here's what I learned. The wieners (another name for Hot Dog) are prepared many different ways... boiled, grilled, fried, steamed, broiled, baked or microwaved.
I have tried them every way! In fact, when I was at the Forum (former home of the Lakers and Kings) in 1971, it was my task to change the Hot Dog Brand, which was not selling well. I scoured Los Angeles to see what might be the best fit. You could find me at Pink's, The Wiener Schnitzel, The Hot Dog Shack, Dodger Stadium, Flooky's, Cupid's and The Hot Dog Show, constantly tasting their wares. Of course, I had a bottle of Alka Seltzer at the ready.
When I made my selection, I presented it to the Forum Board .We sampled them every known way of cooking. In fact, in my own house, there is a constant battle. I like it one way and Susan plus her friend Marlana like them both grilled and burned. Guess who wins?
So what is all the fuss about? It is about a delicacy whose history is well disputed. Some people believe it functions as a sandwich invented by the 4th Earl of Sandwich in 1762. Others say it all began in Frankfurt, Germany where Pork Sausages served in a Bun similar to Hot Dog Buns originated, thus the name Frankfurter.
Around 1870, on Coney Island, German Immigrant Charles Feltman began selling sausages in a roll. I don't really care where it was invented, all I know it is as much a fixture of Baseball Stadiums as the bleachers. Pennants, scoreboards and organ music.
My friend Nino Cristofoli entered the fray and asked what about the Bun. Well sir, the invention of the Bun is credited to a wife of a German immigrant named Antonine Feuchtwanger, who originally sold Hot Dogs on the streets of Saint Louis.
In 1890,because of the heat generated by the Dogs, he gave his customers white gloves to hold the Dogs so they could eat without burning their hands. As the white gloves kept disappearing, Mrs. F decided to bake Buns to replace the white gloves.
Since then, the Bun has become equally important. Hot Dog Buns are essentially a light and fluffy bread baked in specially formed baking pans that allow for a specific shape.
Hot Dogs at ballparks began as early as 1893 when the then owner of the St. Louis Browns put them in his concessions. Harry M. Stevens Inc founded in 1889 had already served many major sports venues became the first purveyor and became known as "the King of Sports Concessions in the US... having a monopoly for years at all Ballparks.
IN 1916, an employee of Feltman, Nathan Handwerker was encouraged by celebrity clients Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante to go into competition with his boss out in Long Island. He started by charging 5 cents a dog while his former boss was charging 10 cents. He opened a place on Long Island and now, on July 4th of every year, his success is showcased to the world. He expanded and today, Nathan's Hot Dogs are sold worldwide in Sports Venues.
In case you didn't know, there are two basic types of Buns. In New England, they are top loaded and called either Frankfurter rolls or New England-style rolls In the rest of the country, side-loading rolls are common, and they are called American Style Buns.
Okay, enough of the history let's get down to the eating.
The dog that Stan and Eric enjoy the most is in Cincinnati. What makes it unique is its distinctive chili topping. This chili is spiced chili powder paprika, nutmeg, chocolate and cinnamon. It is a Vienna Beef Frank, which in addition to the chili has mild cheddar, diced onions, and Ohio's own Bertman Mustard considered by many fans to be the US finest stadium mustard.
In Los Angeles, the pork Frankfurter by Farmer John is served steamed on a foot-long Bun with mustard and relish. It doesn't rank in the top ten in "Hot Dogs As America."
The Fenway Frank is both boiled and grilled Fenway-Style. It is served on a New England-Style Bun and covered with Mustard and relish. I grew up with this one, but it is not my favorite.
The Milwaukee Brat, is really not a Hot Dog, but a Bratwurst. The Brewers' sausage is considered one of the country's best. It has both Pork and Beef, is dipped in a Secret Stadium Sauce then served on a crusty roll topped with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard.
In Texas, the Corn Dog invented in 1942 is a fan favorite. Dipped in a corn batter and fried crisp, it is served with honey mustard and coleslaw.
The Orioles have a brand new pit beef and pepperoni topped Birdland Dog. Meat toppings have become the rage. Dogs are being topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce drowned brisket or cheesesteak meat, most of which are also wrapped in bacon and possibly Fritos.
Many of these dogs are available on gluten-free Buns.
Regional confusion seems to be a trend. California Cheesesteak Dogs are in Arizona, Chicago Dogs in New York etc. Many stadiums offer some variety of Mexican Hot Dogs from uber-authentic Sonoran Dogs to ridiculous hot dog nachos.
Steve and I personally like the dogs we got in Chicago's Commiskey Park. Others prefer Pollock Johnny's in Camden Yards, Ben's Chili in Nationals Park, the Hot Dog Torta that the Mariner's feature is also a favorite.
Did I prove anything? No! But I pointed out that there are as many different dog styles and toppings and opinions as there are stadiums.
What is your favorite?