Those who know me well know that I loooooove my hot wieners. What are hot wieners? I get asked that all the time. From what I'm lead to believe, it's a Rhode Island thing.
A hot wiener is sort of like a chili dog or coney island hot dog, but much different. The wiener is a bit different than a hot dog (buy some oscar meyer hot dogs and some oscar meyer wieners and you'll see). And the meat sauce is saltier than chili or coney island sauce. As far as I know, you can only find this delicacy in Rhode Island. (I've heard rumors of a hot wiener stand in Fall River, but have not been able to locate it....yet.)
When I was growing up, I made the erroneous connection that NY System hot wieners could possibly be found in New York. If there is (or ever was) a wiener place in New York, I've never been able to find it. I've asked a number of New Yorkers (to include street hot dog vendors) and I end up back at "what's a hot wiener?"
There are a number of places in Rhode Island where you can get a hot wiener. There's even a mobile hot wiener truck that roams special neighborhoods. The best (and original) place is on Smith Street. They now have signs in the window that say "75." No, you can't get a hot wiener for 75 cents. Those days are gone. The sign is there to let you know that the NY System diner on Smith Street has been selling wieners for 75 years. Wow - that's a lot of wieners.
It was always a special treat to go get hot wieners when I was younger. It was a ritual that is more like taking the kids for ice cream than anything else. You would always take the kids because watching the wieners being made was part of the fun. The guy behind the counter would simply ask "how many?" There are two choices - "all the way" and "no onions." We would always order a dozen or more.
When the guy behind the counter knows how many, he puts the wieners in buns on the counter. Then he stretches his arm out and places the wieners in a row up his arm to dress them. A stick that looks like a sawed-off wooden spoon is dunked in mustard and then dragged across each dog. It puts just the right amount of mustard on them. Then he takes a spoonful of meat sauce and ladles it over each dog. A large shaker of celery salt is given two shakes over the armful of wieners and then a forkful of diced onions gets put on the ones that are "all the way." The dogs are then placed in sets of three and wrapped in a small sheet of thin waxed paper and put in a brown paper bag. My aunt used to always say she wanted the one from under his armpit because it was warmer. It used to always make us laugh, no matter how many times we heard it. (Note: they usually line them up no higher than the elbow for each set.)
I don't remember how much they were when we were kids. It couldn't have been much. They were 75¢ each in the late 70's when I lived down the street from the Smith Street diner. Now they're around $1.25 each. Still a good deal for a meal. You can eat about three and you're pretty full. This was a lifesaver when I was in college. As with all college kids... I wasn't making much and had little money for food. Between hot wieners and pasta, I was able to stretch my meager budget (and have more money for important things - like beer).
Be warned - hot wieners are addictive. They're also called "gaggers." There are two explanations that I've heard for the nickname. The first explanation is that the aroma will make you gag (usually this happens to wiener virgins). The second explanation is that they're so addictive, you'll want to eat them until you're well beyond full. [eating them until you gag]
They taste best with an iced coffee (another RI staple)...
My mother's recipe for hot wiener sauce:
1 lb. hamburger
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. celery salt
Onion and garlic powder to taste
2 tsp. All Spice
Put a little oil in a pan and brown the hamburger, breaking it up into tiny pieces while frying. Add rest of ingredients and cover mixture with water. Mix water well and simmer until mixture turns red.
Posted by BlueWolf on August 28, 2002 09:57 PM