Rhody Rapture

March 18th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The 10-cent Nedick’s hot dog (Nedick’s, now shuttered, was a New York City based fast food chain predating Mickey Dee). The Sabrett’s hot water dog with its odd tomato and onion sauce. The Chicago hot dog replete with “sport” peppers, celery salt, pickles and other greenery. The Bronx kosher deli dog with hot mustard and sauerkraut. The estimable doggie sold in the Costco food court. All of these have provided HG with varying degrees of pleasure. But, HG’s favorite canine can only be found in the small state of Rhode Island. Yes, Rhody is of modest size but it specializes in big, highly idiosyncratic flavors. And, for sheer oddity (as well as a strange, hard-to-pin-down savoriness) the “New York System Hot Wiener” (accompanied by a cold Coffee Milk) stands out and makes HG bark with delight. Permit HG to do a scholarly exegesis on the proletarian pup: The wiener used in a NY System is either the skinless product, the Little Rhody or the Saugy which has a natural English sheep casing (giving it a characteristic snap). Alone, or in a roll, these small sized dogs are certainly good but nothing to write an HG posting about. But, then comes the sauce. Ah, the sauce. The French say cheese is milk’s leap into immortality (When the French get things right, they get them really right). And, the spicy meat sauce that smothers the Hot Wiener makes the tube steak leap into nosh immortality. Created by Greek immigrants in the early 1920s (or somewhere around there) the meat sauce is truly the flavor of the old world (Europe, Middle East) meeting (or meating!) the new. There are hints of Italian Ragu and Greek Mousaka. Bits of Texas chili. Smidgens of Middle Eastern kefta (possibly due to tiny infusions of cinnamon, cumin and possibly all spice). The faintest evocation of Portuguese stews. But, why try to analyze it. Like a kiss from a beautiful woman, just enjoy it and don’t intellectualize. One would think that the sauce could stand alone, No. Rhode Islanders further enhance the Hot Wiener with mustard, chopped onion and celery salt. So, what do you drink with his extravaganza? Just as HG believes the only appropriate drink to guzzle with a New York hot pastrami sandwich is the “Jewish Champagne” that is Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic, Rhodys opt for Coffee Milk. This beverage is made with two tablespoons of locally made Autocrat Coffee Syrup mixed with icy milk. Stirred well. Simple. Perfect. HG believes the Rhode Island fondness for coffee milk is somehow linked to the Rhode Island fondness for coffee and donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts. Rhodys are the nation’s largest per capita consumers of donuts (the Providence sports and entertainment center is the Dunkin’ Donuts Arena known to all followers of Providence and Rhode Island University basketball teams as “the Dunk).

Given all of this yummy history, HG’s heart picked up a beat today when he opened a package from the Family R.: Gifted Daughter Lesley, Profesore/Dottore Massimo, Glorious Granddaughters Arianna and Sofia. The little bundle contained a package of Olneyville N.Y. System, R.I.’s Best Hot Wieners, Hot Wiener Sauce Spice Mix (since 1946) plus a bottle of Autocrat, enough to make many glasses of Coffee Milk “The Official State Drink of Rhode Island.” The enclosed card read: “A taste of Rhode Island for Hungry Gerald.” HG has a kind and thoughtful family. HG will sample these good RI things while listening to Blossom Dearie sing: “Rhode Island Is Famous For You.”

Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic – The Big Exception

March 16th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

HG loathes all of the popular, incessantly advertised, heavily sugared, artificially sweetened and chemically infused carbonated beverages. Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, etc. To HG they seem to be part of a health destroying plot against the American people. Principals in the plot are the evil profiteers who stock the supermarket shelves with these nasty drinks and their collaborators, the “snack” manufacturers. (Recently they have been joined by the brewers of the “energy” drinks — a la Red Bull). HG looks with dismay as women, accompanied by children, wheel their supermarket carts laden with these vile objects. Do they hate their kids? Have they been brainwashed by television hucksters? In the interests of full disclosure and intellectual honesty, HG must admit to a twice-a-year fall from grace. That’s when HG eats a traditional overstuffed Jewish pastrami sandwich in New York (at Katz’s or Carnegie Deli). What Sauterne is to foie gras and Burgandy is to steak — that’s what Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic is to pastrami. The companion made in heaven. Of course, Cel-Ray reeks of fraud. It’s flavored with some kind of celery seed extract — not nice, fresh, healthy celery. It certainly isn’t a tonic. (Okay, okay. At some point the FDA made the manufacturers stop calling it a tonic and label it as “Soda.”) And, HG suspects Dr. Brown’s medical school credentials. Nevertheless, when eating pastrami the drink seems to be just what the doctor ordered — the pungent, almost peppery flavor is the perfect foil for the juicy fat of perfect pastrami. It is a very Jewish beverage and only found where Jews abound — New York and South Florida. You can also find it in such Los Angeles heartburn heavens as Langer’s, Canter’s and Nate and Al’s. Cel-Ray had its birth in Brooklyn in 1868 and for generations was known as “Jewish Champagne.” Pass the pickles and sour tomatoes, please.

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