I told you a few days ago that I would give some proper respect to the allmighty hot dog, and here it is! Appropriately, July is National Hot Dog Month, a time to celebrate that cylinder of meat and spice, grilled to perfection, sandwiched into a warm, fluffy bun. Whether you top your hot dog with sauerkraut or chili, pickle relish or mustard (but never ketchup! We’re not barbarians here!), today is definitely the day to pay homage to the king of rolled-up meats. And what better place to do it than New York City, the birthplace of the modern hot dog!
There are many different accounts of the origins of the hot dog: there have, of course, been thousands of years of tradition centering around ground meat and spices filling up a tube casing. “Frankfurters” have been documented in Germany since the 13th century, while Vienna sausages, or “wieners,” are as old as the 18th century. But the first account of taking these spicy sausages and putting them into rolls, thus making the hot dog as we eat it today, comes straight from New York, down by the beaches of Brooklyn, in Coney Island. German immigrant Charles Feltman started selling Feltman’s sausages in 1870 on the Coney Island boardwalk, and it became an instant hit. Putting the sausages in rolls made the dish accessible for walking along the boardwalk or beach. Feltman’s was the place to buy hot dogs in Coney Island–basically all of New York–until 1916, when a former employee of Feltman started selling his own hot dogs for half the price of the competition. Nathan Handwerker used his wife’s special spice recipe for the hot dogs, and with their life savings (and the help of two friends, Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante, long before their comedic and musical fame) opened up Nathan’s Famous right on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues.
The rest, as we say, is hot dog history.
Nathan’s became the premier hot dog stand in Coney Island, and the most famous, if not the first, in the entire nation. They got famous; they got national with franchise branches in 1987; they got international in the twenty-first century with locations in 17 foreign countries; and they got publicized with the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every July 4th right in Coney Island, and watched by millions on ESPN. Say what you want, Gray’s Papaya fans: you cannot get more iconic, or more New York, than a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog.
I’d like to give you a rundown of all the trendiest, hottest new hot dogs to try in New York: maybe an artisan hot dog at some bistro with Bastianich ties that makes all their own rolls and each dog is handcrafted out of prosciutto and the mustard comes from a tiny local farm in the Hudson Valley. But, as I’ve done on other national food holidays, hot dogs are special to me, and only if it’s a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog straight from Coney Island. I’ve been going to that Nathan’s since I was a little kid, long before Goliath-like real estate companies had any interest in the neighborhood. (Think more “Requiem For A Dream,” less “The Warriors.”) My family would all go to the then-dilapidated dining room for hot dogs and fries, and sometimes their littleneck clams, soft shell crabs, and lobster rolls (try getting THAT at your chain Nathan’s!) Learning about the history of Nathan’s got me into the history of Coney Island as a whole, and the history of turn of the century New York. I’ve always taken great pride in being from Brooklyn, and being a salt of the Earth lover of Coney Island, for better and for worse 🙂
I think it killed my father a little when I discovered I have a food sensitivity to nitrates and eating hot dogs makes me sick 😦 Even so, I may tough it up for today and try to celebrate National Hot Dog Month by heading down to Coney Island and snagging one of the original, tastiest, and best Nathan’s hot dogs you can ever experience. Head down there today and try it out for yourself!
1310 Surf Ave & Stillwell Ave, Coney Island
“No fewer than nine U.S. Presidents have enjoyed Nathan’s Famous. In 1939, Franklin Delano Roosevelt served Nathan’s Famous hot dogs to King George and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. Nelson Rockefeller once also proclaimed, “No man can hope to get elected in New York state without being photographed eating hot dogs at Nathan’s Famous.” So when you have a Nathan’s Famous hot dog, you know you’re having the best. Nathan’s Famous, an American Tradition!”–Coney Island Fun Guide
“No longer a restaurant but rather a brand, immediately recognizable by the old-timey green logo, Nathan’s Famous has been popping up for a few years now in places like the back of Home Depots in the Midwest and food courts in the Middle East. But that’s something of a loss, since the flavor of those crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside all-beef hot dogs is only part the true Nathan’s experience: The rest is that ineffable mixtures of salty sea air, spilled beer and crowd sweat that is a summer afternoon on the Coney Island boardwalk. Luckily, New Yorkers are still able to get the real deal in the original Surf Avenue location. What started out as a simple hot dog stand in 1916 is now a block-long 12-station grease factory, with express lines for hot dogs, separate ordering areas for hamburgers and seafood, and outdoor seating for several hundred people.”–New York Magazine
“As much a Coney Island institution as the Cyclone, Nathan’s has been serving sizzling, juicy hot dogs with all the fixins since 1916. You can get a burger, chow mein sandwich, or the fastest-shucked littleneck and cherrystone clams this side of Astroland. But don’t miss the snappy dog, best enjoyed with a pile of fries and a big, sugary lemonade procured at one of the sidewalk-counter windows—just do it after you ride the coaster.”–Time Out New York
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I have absolutely no complaints about Nathan’s. I found both the quality of their food and their service to be impeccable. The servers were nice and cracked jokes with their customers and made Nathan’s an all-around pleasant and fun place. I hold Nathan’s special in my heart and will definitely be eating hot dogs here again the next time I’m in Coney Island.”–Pegah Y.
“There are some eateries that function to personify the locales that they reside in. I think Nathan’s is one of those. Taking in a panoramic view of the environs from Nathan’s, one can see the backdrop of Brooklyn, a backdrop that is characterized by the rich history and charm of the city, the stunning architecture of its residential and commercial buildings, the gorgeous boardwalks, and, of course, the infamous Coney Island amusement park. And when one consumes a hot dog at Nathan’s Coney Island location, all of those characteristics are seemingly embodied in every bite. I’m a sap, I know, but I couldn’t help but appreciate the heritage of this establishment as I was standing in line to order my hot dog w/peppers.”–Gary R.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!