Pulling for Pudster’s and their grilled cheese cheeseburger!

While I was away on vacation, Devil Gourmet published my review of Pudster’s for The Big Eat.

The unfortunately named Pudster’s is a hot dog and burger hut, home of an excellent grilled cheese cheeseburger.


69, dude! The Coney Island hotdog eating contest

Joey Chestnut ate 69 Nathan’s Famous hotdogs in 10 minutes yesterday, in the 98th annual Coney Island hotdog eating contest. Sonya Thomas ate 36 and 3/4 in the women’s competition.

nathan's famous hot dogsI’ve eaten two Nathan’s Famous hotdogs in one sitting. They are not the best in America- but they are damn good, with great snap and savor. The Coney Island location treats them with the proper respect, and also serves nice crispy fries. Plus, Coney is just a place worth visiting. I can think of few places that distill the essence of American culture, good and bad, as finely as Coney Island. The rampant entrepreneurs, the hucksterism and showmanship, the chaotic tangle of buildings old and new, the crazy rides that probably haven’t been properly inspected by an ungreased palm in years, the gorgeous freaks at the Coney Island freak show, and jumble of cultures old and new. The Russians in Brighton Beach, the oldest pizzeria (Totonno’s), it’s the bottom corner of the Brooklyn chex mix bag where all the flavors are compacted into sharp, overpowering little pebbles. The neighborhood has an energy, and if there were American warrior shamans who could leech magic from the soil, this would be an epicenter of enormous power.

The Texas Tommy at Big Daddy's
The Texas Tommy at Big Daddy’s

That power fueled Joey Chestnut to breaking his world record this year. Last year he ate 68. If you really want to watch someone gulp down that many hot dogs, here is a video.


For the record, my top hot dogs:

Ripper with Relish, Rutt’s Hut, Clifton NJ

The Spicy Redneck, Crif Dog, Lower East Side, NYC

Chicago Dog loaded, Wiener’s Circle, Chicago

Rahall’s Red Hot Weenie, Hillbilly Hotdogs, Lesage WV

Pink’s, Los Angeles, CA

Chili Cheese Dog, Hiram’s Roadstand, Fort Lee, NJ

Nathan’s Famous, Nathan’s, Coney Island NY.

The Texas Tommy, Big Daddy’s, Park Ave, NYC.

Belly Up to the Bar with Wayne Dundee

Wayne D. Dundee is the author of the Joe Hannibal P.I. novels, a number of westerns, and founded Hardboiled Magazine. He wrote the original western “Adeline” for the Protectors anthology, a horror novel called Night Spoor, a Cash Laramie novella for Beat to a Pulp, a novella in the Fight Card series, and most recently released a collection of Joe Hannibal short stories for Kindle. That was my introduction to Wayne; we both appeared in David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled collection, and his story blew me away. He imbued a tired hit man with real humanity. Not a character you’d want to meet, but a human being nonetheless, not the stock heartless killer we often get. I’ve read a lot of Wayne’s stories since, and that’s what stands out- once you settle into his comfortable storytelling manner, he introduces you to characters heart and soul, whether they be the good guys or the bad guys. A villain might be a no-good SOB, but you’ll understand him as you cheer for his demise.

TP: Wayne, welcome to Belly Up to the Bar. What’ll you have?



WD: My serious beer-drinking days are behind me. Back in the day, I paid for A LOT of the hay that went into the feed bunks of those Budweiser Clydesdales … These days, most mornings start with a couple mega-cups of Folger’s Black Silk coffee blend; then, through the balance of the day, it’s copious amounts of an ice tea/lemonade mixture, sometimes a Diet Coke in the afternoon if I need a caffeine boost … For a special occasion such as this visit to the Belly Up to the Bar, however, I’ll have an ice cold bottle of Miller Chill or maybe a vodka gimlet.

TP: You have the voice of a natural storyteller. I was writing flash fiction when we first met, and reading your stories showed me it was okay to relax and let the voice do the talking. You also have a knack for choosing stunning locales, as in Reckoning at Rainrock. The land is its own character. Does that come from living in your part of the west?

WD: Yes, very much so. Out here—in west central Nebraska and bordering states to the west—people are very aware of the land. They recognize they are OF the land, whereas to the east and in most urban areas it’s more a case of people thinking of themselves as simply being ON the land … In my writing, I’ve always used “the elements”, if you will, to help anchor my story, set my moods. For my Joe Hannibal stories when he was still operating out of Rockford, Illinois, I used weather, etc. But even then, for rural settings, I took extra time to paint the scene. I was raised on a series of farms (changing jobs and moving was my old man’s hobby) so deep down I’m just a big ol’ plodding farmboy who’s always felt more comfortable in rural/small town settings. Hence, when I write about them I do so from a more comfortable and self-assured standpoint … And for my Westerns, like RECKONING AT RAINROCK, an appreciation for the land is essential … If you respect the land and write about it from the heart, it DOES become a character.

TP: I already mentioned how strong your characters are, but you’re pretty strong yourself. I seem to recall you telling how you wrestled a bear, back in the day. I won’t ask you to tell the whole story, but what made you get in the ring with a five hundred pound killing machine?

WD: Classic case of open mouth, insert foot … I wasn’t yet 30, had just made 2nd Shift foreman at the factory where I worked. I was 6’1″, about 265, in pretty good “big guy” shape and had a reputation of sorts around the shop for the strength I displayed during the course of doing my production work before going into management. At a large nearby shopping mall they were featuring, as an advertising gimmick for some event, Tuffy Truesdale and Victor “the wrestling bear”, who had been featured as part of AWA pro wrestling shows around the Midwest. Tuffy and Victor were at the mall over a three-day weekend putting on three shows a day, part of which included challenging guys to come out of the audience and wrestle Victor. One night at work, I made the comment that it might be fun to go accept that challenge for the sake of having something to tell the grandkids — BOOM! just like that I was locked into following through …

So on a Sunday afternoon a week or so later, there I was in front of about 500 people mixing it up with Victor in the center court of the Cherryvale Mall. I had a plan going in, having gone and watched him the day before. But considering that Victor (who was advertised as standing 7 feet tall and weighing more like 700 pounds, by the way) had wrestled about a gazillion other guys in his career, he’d seen about everything anybody could think of and my plan didn’t amount to spit. We danced around a little, tugged and pushed on each other a little, he knocked me on my ass two or three times, and finally I was too out of gas to get back up. I lasted a little under two minutes, it felt more like two hours. He ended up laying on top of me, licking the sweat off my face. I think he liked me — Luckily not in a romantic way, because I don’t know if I could have found a second wind to fight him off.

TP: Tell us about Joe Hannibal. You have a new novel coming out, and you just released a collection of his short stories. What were his beginnings, where is he now, and what makes you return to him as a character?

WD: Joe Hannibal made his debut in the Fall 1982 issue of Spiderweb Magazine, making this his 30th year in print and marking the Hannibal stories and books as one of the longest-running, still-active PI series on the scene. We’ve always enjoyed good reviews (when we got any at all) but sales have never been strong. We’ve been nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, and six Shamus Awards; never won diddly but, like they say, it’s an honor to be in the running … I wrote the first Hannibal story (“The Fancy Case”, reprinted for the first time in the just-released short story collection BODY COUNT: The Joe Hannibal Case Files, Volume I) while I was recovering from kidney stone surgery. That was back in the pre-lithotrypsy days when they cut you damn near in half to get at the pesky damn pebbles. It was the first story I was ever satisfied enough with to submit and I had the unique experience of having it accepted first time out of the chute … I always knew I wanted to write a hardboiled “tough guy” series in the fashion of my personal Holy Trinity of fiction: Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer), John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee), and Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm). During the years I tinkered with creating my own character, Joe had many different names and many different backgrounds. I finally settled on Joe (good old basic American name) Hannibal (powerful like the Carthagean general who invaded Rome, and at the same time American folksy like Mark Twain’s hometown on the Mississippi River). And he’d be a private eye, albeit with the distinction of operating out of my own small city of Rockford, Illinois … In the beginning, other than the setting, Joe was pretty much just another sock-and-shoot Mike Hammer wanna-be. It didn’t take long, though, before I started putting my own stamp on him.

I mellowed him somewhat, grounded him with a blue collar farm kid background, and made use of the smaller city setting as far as plot lines and characters (very few stereotypical thugs and gangsters, for instance). This especially evolved when I started doing novel-length work … I also began (subconsciously at first) to invest a lot of myself into Hannibal. His tastes in food, personal biases, his actions based on the way I think *I* would act if caught in some of his situations, etc. Of course Joe gets shot at a lot and conked over the head now and then (neither of which I have experience in, and don’t necessarily want any) but he also runs across lots of hot dames (which I would be willing to endure, although at my creaky old age they’d probably kill me). In more recent years, the similarities between Joe and me have been more purposeful on my part. My draft number never came up, so I never served in the Army (Vietnam era). Therefore I never made that part of Joe’s background either, even though this was practically a prerequisite for protagonists of his ilk. Since I write Hannibal in the first person, I couldn’t bring myself to try and convey any associated feelings since I had never experienced anything close. Another example, since I suffer from bum knees as a result of age and abuse in my younger days, is inflicting Joe with a bum hip as a result of getting caught on the periphery of an explosion — much more dramatic circumstances on his part, but nevertheless in keeping with my desire to keep his capabilities somewhat close to mine … Perhaps the biggest move to keep us linked, was to bring Hannibal out here to Nebraska with me. And that brings us up to date. Joe ostensibly runs a private secure patrol serving homes and businesses around popular Lake McConaughy. He carries a Nebraska PI license mostly out of habit and to add credibility to his business, yet he doesn’t actively solicit investigative work any longer. Still, being who he is, trouble seems to seek him out and can’t resist getting involved … As far as why I keep returning to Hannibal as a character? Hell, that’s simple: I like the guy. A partnership like ours wouldn’t have lasted 30 if otherwise. From a more practical standpoint, you might say I’ve got too much invested in Joe to back out now. We’ve got more work to do, and I’m the guy who always says “persevere”, remember? … A writer pal who has his own series character once asked me if I ever had trouble coming up with stories in which to use Hannibal. My answer? “No, I have trouble coming up with stories that *don’t* have Hannibal in them.”

TP: What inspired you to found Hardboiled Magazine? I was just a teen back then, but I remember noir and hardboiled being kind of forgotten in the culture, and spoofed at the time. Now it’s back with a vengeance, and you had no small part in its resurgence.

WD: After selling that first story on the first try, I proceeded to run into a wall and started getting stories rejected so fast the envelopes came back with skid marks on them. Spiderweb, where “The Fancy Case” appeared, had ceased publication. The rest of the market was pretty limited and what was out there didn’t seem to be interested in my stuff. Generally speaking, they weren’t interested in harder-edged stories—the kind I liked to write—at all. In talking with some other, more established writers I had gotten to know, I learned that even they were having trouble placing harder, tougher stories. I’d had some exposure to small press publications on various subject matter. Many of these were little more than typed, photocopied, stapled pages (all of this was before the internet or blogs or e-zines, remember) yet some of them drew quite a respectable following. It occurred to me: Why not a small press publication offering a showcase to the kind of fiction (also some reviews and other features) that there was limited outlet for? After contacting some of those same peers who shared my lament for lack of same and getting their verbal agreement that they would support such an undertaking with both subscriptions and stories, I decided I would start my own publication.

Hardboiled was born in the summer of 1985. We paid a penny a word on publication. Todd Moore, a local high school teacher I had gotten to know who was an “outlaw poet” and also a writer of Jim Thompson-style prose, agreed to assist me. He did story editing, wrote features and reviews, helped with collating; I shared in editing chores, did the layout and typing (yes *typing*, not PC or word processor, and even a MANUAL TYPEWRITER at first – I didn’t upgrade to an electric typewriter until the third or fourth issue). I even did most of the illustrations for the early issues … I was totally up front right from the get-go: Hardboiled was a paying market for all writers and it was also a showcase for my own material and a way to get my name out in front of people … We did twelve issues before handing HB over to Gary Lovisi, who continues to put out the magazine yet today. We featured well-known and also new writers, many of whom went on to bigger things, and whose names you would easily recognize. I’m proud of every issue we put out. Hardboiled did everything it was meant to do — except make money. And, really, that was never a big part of the goal anyway.

TP: When did you begin to write, and what inspired you to start the hard work of coming up with stories and putting them on the page?

WD: I started writing somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade and never stopped. I liked to draw, too, so at first I blocked out squares on sheets of paper and did comic-book style stories. It didn’t take long, however, before I decided that the story was where my strongest interest lay so I dropped the comic panels and concentrated on just the writing. I never really finished anything because my focus would go off in another direction, but I wrote all the time so I was constantly honing my skill even if there was no “finished product” to show for it. My mom and dad bought me a huge old used black Royal typewriter at an auction when I was in eighth grade, that was their contribution to encouraging my writing goals.

They never really discouraged me, either, but in my blue collar family the concept of actually growing up to do something outside of manual labor just didn’t fit. In high school I couldn’t wait to take a typing class because I knew I would be putting it to use one day. After we were married, my beloved wife Pam was my first really big supporter. We eloped right out of high school and at a point when we were lacking all kinds of furnishings and eating with plastic forks and spoons, the first big item we bought on time payments was a new typewriter for me. That’s how strongly she backed me (actually in pretty much everything, not just my writing). She lived to see me have some modest success, but she died in 2008 and it was only after I retired the following year that my writing output and publications (thanks largely to eBooks and breaking into Westerns) really ramped up. I regret and feel a curious kind of guilt that she’s not here to share that with me … Yet, although I’m not a very religious person, I know that somewhere she is aware and happy for me. So I’ll keep writing, mostly because that’s what I was born to do—but also because I owe it to Pam’s faith in me.

TP: Outside of your writing, what are you most proud of?

WD: Not to be redundant, but I’m proud to have had a 41-plus year marriage to the greatest gal I could’ve ever hoped for. And proud of the daughter and grandchildren that came along as a result. Since Pam’s passing, my oldest grandson and I live in the basement half of the house Pam and I bought here in Ogallala, my daughter and the rest of her family live upstairs. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass having everybody so close but, with Pam gone, I think I’d feel a greater emptiness without them “around” — and they all know to respect the privacy I need plenty of … Additionally, I am proud of having climbed through the ranks of the company I worked with for nearly forty years. With no education beyond high school, I started as a 3rd Shift furnace operator for Arnold Engineering in Illinois in 1969 and retired in 2009 as the General Manager of the Ogallala facility. I didn’t do it by kissing ass, either. I did it by applying myself to whatever job I was assigned. I had some mentors who gave me chances along the way, and to them I’ll always be grateful. Sadly, there are very few (if any) chances for people to be promoted in that manner any more these days. Management positions are filled from the “outside”, and guys at the production level — along with valuable floor-level input and ideas they could bring with them — stay right there. A manager, once so designated, can be overseeing the production of baby powder one day and move to taking over a napalm plant the next. Knowing the core business is considered incidental, as long as they know how to count the beans and make the margins and the EBITDA … Excuse me, that’s a rant for another time.

TP: I enjoy the movie reviews you post on your blog, as well. You’re always digging up some gem I haven’t seen in ages, or want to hunt down. What are some favorites that have stood the test of time?

WD: If I made a list of my 20 all-time favorite movies, about 15 would be John Wayne flicks. So whenever I talk favorite movies I basically have to make two lists … We’ll get the top John Wayne-ers out of the way first: Red River; The Searchers; Rio Bravo; The Quiet Man … Others: King Kong (the original); Once Upon a Time in the West; True Lies; Gran Torino; The Best Years of Our Lives; Born Losers; Longest Yard (the original); Escape From New York; Lonesome Dove (I know it’s made-for-TV, but it’s too damn good not to include); Rocky; Rocky Balboa; Ride Lonesome; Dr. No; The Thing (the original) … I could go on and on. You get the idea. I love movies.

TP: I’m guessing the original Thing for you is the John Carpenter, because you like Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. We have similar taste in films, King Kong and Mighty Joe Young are favorites of mine as well. I think I feel too much in common with a big ape sometimes!

WD: By the way, my favorite THING movie is the 1951 black and white version. It’s referred to as “The Thing From Another World” these days, I guess, since all the modern remakes. It was produced by Howard Hawks and *allegedly* directed by Christian Nyby (who was Hawks’ production assistant for many years). But Hawks is one of my all-time favorite and it is widely agreed that his persona stamp is all over the movie, meaning he actually had a pretty heavy hand in the direction of it … So there’s more than you probably ever wanted to know about the history of THE THING.

TP: You’re making great use of your retirement, writing like a bat out of hell. What are the next few books we’ll be seeing from you?

WD: My new Joe Hannibal novel, BLADE OF THE TIGER, is due out in December; eBook first, print version to follow in a few weeks … Currently about two-thirds through a new Western titled “Trail Justice”, which is the first entry in a projected series called THE WESTWARD TIDE, about emigrants in the late 1840s/early 1850s on the Oregon Trail. I’m doing it with Mel Odom, who is a writing machine. We’ll write alternating books and put it out under the “house name” byline of Jack Tyree. It’s planned as an episodic series of 25-30,000-word novellas, the journey of a particular wagon train being completed after four or five of these and then issued as a whole in a print version. Hope to have this initial segment done late this month/early December and out before Christmas … After that I plan on doing book #3 in my Bodie Kendrick-Bounty Hunter series. It’s tentatively called DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH and is plotted around a little known episode of the U.S Cavalary when they imported camels and attempted to use them in place of horses in the Arizona desert … In March, I owe a segment to the Western Fictioneers’ WOLF CREEK series … After that I’ll do book #3 in my Lone McGantry series, tentatively called THE FOREVER MOUNTAIN … Next, David Cranmer is interested in letting his popular character come out and play on my keyboard again in another Cash Laramie novella … And somewhere by late summer/early Fall I’m sure I’ll be itching to start the next Joe Hannibal book, tentatively called BAGGAGE.

TP: What’s your all-time favorite meal?

WD: Got to go with two — Chicago style hot dogs; New York style thin-crust pizza.
Let me expand on that a bit.
A proper Chicago style dog is as follows: You start with a steamed all-beef Vienna red hot; place it gently, lovingly in a poppy-seed bun, also steamed; slather on yellow mustard; add green relish, diced onions, fresh tomato slices; top off with a quarter-slice of crunchy pickle and a couple sport peppers. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil, drop alongside a handful of french fries, and wrap together; let the dog and the fries get to know each other for a couple minutes; unwrap, salt the fries, and start eating. IMPORTANT: It is a felony of the highest order to put ketchup on such a masterpiece and a serious misdemeanor to even have ketchup in the same room while preparing.
Thin-crust pizza: (I’ve never actually had pizza on any of my visits to New York so I can’t say from experience, but am allowing them the thin crust title based on what I’ve heard and read elsewhere.) Start with a thin, faintly crispy crust; tangy sauce; cheese (mozzarella/cheddar blend — and lots of it); add toppings to one’s taste (I like ’em all, depending on the mood I’m in, but easy on the pepperoni); when it comes out of the oven, the cheese should be thick and have little puddles of grease standing in some of the dimples; and when you take that first bite (knowing damn well you’re going to burn your gums or the roof of your mouth or both) the cheese should stretch at least three-quarters the length of your arm as you pull the remainder of that first piece away; now that you’ve sufficiently burned you mouth and formed a layer of numb scar tissue, you can dive into the rest of the pie with abandon … These are the kind of pizzas you could find in mom-and-pop pizzerias all over southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois where I grew up; unfortunately, most of these seem to be fading out as the dreaded franchise chains are overwhelming the market; but it’s worth the search if you can find the right hole-in-wall joint that still makes their pies this way.

TP: Pizza and hot dogs. A man after my own heart. Thank you for coming by, Wayne. It’s an honor to know you, and I always enjoy talking with you. Hopefully someday we’ll have a drink in person.

For the full story of Wayne vs. the Bear, drop by his blog.

where have all the hot dogs gone?

I haven’t eaten a hot dog since my martial arts instructor put his knee on my chest and told me “My students DO NOT EAT HOT DOGS!” He meant it as a joke, but it’s amazing how a knee on your sternum will assist with your willpower. In fact, on New Year’s Eve when you make your resolution, if you had someone throw you to the floor, plant their knee in your gut and tell you to quit smoking, I bet you’d see results. Probably because your abdomen would hurt so much that you wouldn’t be able to inhale for a while. But try it, and get back to me. It’s certainly worked with hot dogs. I used to love me a nice hot tube steak slathered with toppings, and preferably wrapped in bacon. Now all I can think of is Phil’s face, hovering above me like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. It’s like the Ludovico technique in A Clockwork Orange, for food. (See, it’s still a movie blog- I just mentioned two Stanley Kubrick films.) It also doesn’t help that I’ve been getting into the Slow Food movement and trying to eat less processed foods. This Easter, I ordered a ham from Newman Farm, which humanely raises heritage Berkshire pork. I honestly believe that their bacon could create peace in the Middle East, if only Jews and Muslims could be convinced that God is now cool with swine. It’s that good.
The last hot dog I reviewed and loved was Hillbilly Hot Dogs in West Virginia, last May. I had sausages at DBGB’s this winter, but those are house-made and less likely to contain floor scraps and anuses. In fact, they are some of the best I’ve ever had, and they do make a frankfurter, so I’m bound to try it someday. A few places make their own hot dogs, but it’s a dying art. The modern equivalent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is watching movies like Fast Food Nation (starring Lou Taylor Pucci, plug plug) and last year’s Oscar nominee Food, Inc., which give us a picture of how “farming” and “ranching” have become more akin to the automotive assembly line than anything in our imagination. Creatures that never see the light of day, penned in cages where they can’t turn around, often bred to be so disproportionate that they can barely stand. Compare that to the legendary Wagyu cattle of Japan, prized for their stress-free lives that lead to the tenderest, most marbled meat ever tasted, and you can see that even if you don’t care how animals are treated before slaughter, the factory farm creates tasteless widgets of meat.

Some of the best burgers I’ve had lately came from my own kitchen, made with organic 85/15 beef from Costco. They were certainly better than the Island Burgers patty I had the other night, which was drowned in toppings for good reason. Elevation Burger and even Five Guys do better than that. Elevation uses grass-fed organic beef, and manages to cost about the same as folks who don’t. I recommend them highly. When I compare the heritage pork I had for Easter with the hickory smoked ham steaks I get at the market, they taste like two different animals. Happy pigs make happy carnivores. The organic chicken I roasted to Jacques Pepin’s recipe earlier this month was fantastic, especially compared to the conventional chicken breasts I had for lunch this week. I don’t know what they tasted like, but it wasn’t chicken. Maybe tofu? When even chicken doesn’t taste like chicken anymore, something is wrong.
So, I’ll have a hot dog again when I find one that’s worth eating. I’d certainly eat another Crif Dog, but right now my only wiener craving is to try DBGB’s again, or perhaps pick up some made at The Meat Hook butcher in Brooklyn. Or if you’re in Portland, Oregon, Otto’s Sausage Kitchen still makes home-made hot dogs. I always knew what was in hotdogs- lips and assholes- but I didn’t care as much. But after my last hot dog- an atrocity at Sonic- I had to ask myself, is this worth it? Life is too short to eat bad food. Does that mean I’ll never stop by J.R.’s Hot Dog Truck in Nutley, or Rutt’s Hutt? No. But I won’t be sampling dogs at places unless I’ve heard they do something special. Same with burgers- I’ve had too many boring, bland burgers to not be a snob about it. It’s not that hard to make a great burger with fresh ingredients. If I can do it, I expect the restaurant to. If Yesterday’s Bar can make a memorable bar burger for $5, why can’t places that charge $8, $10, $12 do the same? If HB Burger and Shake Shack, Five Guys, Smash Burger and Elevation can kick ass with a $5 burger, why the hell would I go back to 25 Burgers again?

To quote Bruce Willis in Fast Food Nation, “Everybody has to eat a little shit sometime.” I say, life is too short to eat crap.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

In honor of Black History month…

I ate this choucroutes de Royale at Les Halles. That’s blood sausage, it’s always excellent. Their frankfurter is blah- for shame, Tony. I hope Hiram’s Roadstand smacks some sense into you. The salami and smoked bacon are good, the beer-cooked sauerkraut was good. It should have come with house-made mustard, you crumb-bum!

Your restaurant does so well with many things, but it never hits the ball out of the park. The brie & honey appetizer is great, but the crawfish Creole pastry was too peppery and lacked much depth. I was hoping the bacon would be tastier. How do you make bacon boring? I don’t care if that’s how brasseries have done it for ages, boiled bacon is not palatable. Next time I’ll stick to what you do very well: sausages, mussels, burgers and frites, and the grilled meats. The beef bourgogne was well received, but skimpy. You’ve been a go-to place for me way downtown, but I’m thinking the cab ride to DBGB may be worth it.

Don’t let your restaurants fizzle now that you’re a TV celebrity.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Worst hot dog I’ve ever had

Sonic has been teasing New Jersey for years with commercials, when the nearest one was in Ocean County or Pennsylvania. Now they’re popping up in north Jersey like flies, and sadly most of their food is as appetizing as same. Face it- they’re all about the ice cream, sugar-laden gut bombs, some of which are 2,000 calories. After a hike I decided a hot dog wouldn’t be so bad, but Sonic’s foot long Coney with chili & cheese was like eating a condom full of bologna. Their chili cheese sauce is decent but was better on their tater tots. I’ve had burgers here before, and they are nothing to write home about. I do remember the food being better at the Louisiana locations, but in Jersey there are plenty of better options. Chili dog? Go to Hiram’s Roadstand. You won’t have the gimmick of being served on rollerblades, but you’ll enjoy the food. Even the aging Stewart’s in North Arlington, which still serves trays curbside, has better food than this and it’s sort of forgettable.

I’ve never seen garbage eat garbage before…

That’s my favorite line from Superman II. When he goes back to the greasy spoon diner in who knows where, in a snowy clime not far from his Fortress of Solitude, to confront Rocky (That’s the big jerk who gives the Son of Kal-El his first bloody lip, and gets thrown into a pinball machine for his insolence.) But where can you eat garbage? Rochester, that’s where. At Nick Tahou’s, home of the original garbage plate.
I was reminded of this American icon by my friend Kimbo Kinte the art weirdo, who makes delightful critters on etsy. (Go buy them, before they attack.) I’d heard of it long before Food TV and the Travel Channel began glamorizing every grease spot on the highway, and never figured I’d be up this way. But a garbage plate is worth going out of your way for. It’s unique, and something I will be recreating over and over, as it is a plate of beauty.
You begin with macaroni salad. Well, first you begin by parking behind this industrial building, in a scary and mostly abandoned part of Rochester by an overpass. But luckily, it’s only a minute off the highway, so you can zip in, eat and escape before they getcha. Inside, a grizzled old man under a cook’s cap takes your order with nonchalance bordering on disdain, and the hash-slinging grill masters do their work with practiced speed.
You can get a lot of things on your garbage plate. Two red hots, or hot dogs, sliced in half and grilled; two cheeseburgers, eggs, fried ham, chicken tenders, Italian sausage, fried haddock, grilled cheese or even a veggie burger. They also have a white hot, I’d guess it’s a bratwurst. We opted for the classics- red hots and cheeseburgers, all the way. You begin with macaroni salad and perfectly cooked home fries- or you can opt for baked beans and french fries- and top it with your choice of meats. Then it gets smothered with chopped onions, spicy mustard, and Nick’s hot sauce, which is a lot like a sweet hot dog chili sauce with meat. I slapped some Frank’s Red Hot sauce on there too.
The red hots were snappy red sausages, and the cheeseburgers were small patties, both with lots of flavor. The macaroni is light and mild, not dripping with mayo, and the home fries, well, they’re perfect. Crisp outside and tender inside, with the golden color that tells you Mr. Nick changes the fry oil often. In a time when every bite must explode with bacon fat and truffle oil, it was refreshing to taste the delicate simplicity of the macaroni salad and the crispy potatoes as they soaked up the sauce from the meat and toppings. On the side, you get fresh-baked bread and butter.
It’s been great drunk food for generations. They don’t say when the garbage plate was first concocted, but Nick’s has been serving Rochester since 1918! They remind me of my local favorite, much maligned by snobby foodies who come expecting Kobe beef dogs fried in duck fat. No, it’s just Greek sauce smothered on top of burgers or sausages, bedded atop macaroni salad and taters. And that’s good. It’s become a Rochester tradition, with charity races to the restaurant and back to campus, and for 6 to 8 bucks depending on your meat, it’s a very filling bargain these days. Perfect college food. And since Garbage Plate is trademarked, you can only get one in Rochester.
A clean grill is a happy grill. I slung hash for a year or two at the ITT Cafeteria before they outsourced, and I appreciate good grill food. And Nick’s been serving it up for nearly a century. The man passed away in ’97, and some take a garbage plate to his grave on his birthday (Jan. 6th) to honor him. And he deserves the honor, for running a genuine classic greasy spoon for nearly 80 years. His family carries on the tradition, and I hope to visit for their centennial. Eating garbage is an American tradition; and at Nick Tahou’s, it tastes delicious.