Connecticut

Gut Instinct: Feeling Like a Wiener

Hot dog, meet cat. Photo: Flickr/Blue Is Cool

In the darkened Connecticut sky above Interstate 95, the pink neon sign appeared as suddenly and brightly as an atomic blast. My response was Pavlovian. "Matt, we need to go to Super Duper Weenie," I told my friend, who was piloting his eggplant-hued station wagon. Along with my fiancée, we were en route to Portland, Maine, to scout locations for my coming nuptials.

"We're not going to Super Duper Weenie," my fiancée moaned. Her commitment to vegetarianism can sometimes be a buzz kill. "Let's vote," I suggested, knowing the outcome of this seemingly democratic endeavor—kind of like a Florida election. "Who wants to go to Super Duper Weenie?" Matt and I extended an arm. "Who doesn't want to hit the totally awesome, potentially lifechanging Super Duper Weenie?" "Fine," she said, resigned to defeat, "but make it quick." Following the neon sign's instructions, Matt pulled off at exit 24, in Fairfield. A right turn took us to the hot dog hut. It was as dark as a dungeon: closed for the night. We returned to the interstate, our wiener lust left unslaked. "That's too bad," my fiancée said, her condolences halfway between heartfelt and "ha-ha."

Since that failed frankfurter mission, I've become obsessed with Super Duper Weenie. A bit more than an hour's drive from New York, the restaurant remains tantalizingly close yet out of my reach: fruit on a branch high above my head. It's a destination noshery, especially given its history and pedigree. Super Duper Weenie dates to 1979, when it was a wee Connecticut food truck. In 1992, Gary Zemola acquired the truck and refurbished it, focusing on snappy wieners topped with from-scratch relishes, coleslaw, chili, red-onion sauce and sauerkraut. Fries were fresh-cut. Everything was cooked to order. Super Duper Weenie's reputation soon outstripped its teensy roving location. Portending the trend of food trucks opening stationary outposts (counting Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream and DessertTruck) the hot doggery went bricks and mortar in 1999.

Last weekend, I was finally able to make my Super Duper Weenie wish come true. Like most New Yorkers come summer, I relish every chance to escape this asphalt inferno. If I were a Rockefeller, perhaps I'd decompress on a Hamptons beach. However, this column barely covers my cell phone bill. Thus, I rely on the largesse of friends, like Wilson. Nearly a century earlier, his grandfather built a beach house in Old Saybrook, Conn., located on the glassy Long Island sound. It's a tranquil escape, a couple hours from New York as the crow flies on I-95.

"We're going to stop at Super Duper Weenie," I told Wilson and Julie, my companions on the Old Saybrook ride. "Yeah!" they cheered in unison. My fiancée? Stuck at work all weekend, meaning my carnivorous urges could run rampant. Our car crawled through New York's clogged motorways so slowly that I could've biked to Fairfield faster. In fact, pedaling would've been a wise decision: Upon arriving at the humbly appointed Super Duper Weenie, I was unable to exercise caloric restraint. The menu encompasses a half dozen irresistibly dressed dogs, including the New Englander, which is crowned with 'kraut, mustard, bacon, mustard and sweet relish; the Californian, decked out with chili, American cheese and hot relish; and the Cincinnatian, finished with chili, chopped onions and cheddar cheese.

Selecting a dog is like parents picking their favorite kid. After gnawing my nails and waiting behind a snaking line of beefy men, boisterous teens and vacationing families, I opted for a basket of skin-on fries, a New Englander and a Chicagoan. "Should two hot dogs and fries be enough?" I queried the counter gal. She appraised my five-four frame. "That should be plenty," she said. "The hot dogs are big."

Like George Washington, she could not tell a lie. A few minutes later, I received dual pillowy torpedoes packed with taut tube meat (a blend of beef and pork cocooned in natural casing) and toppings layered with surgical precession—not a sliver of slaw sat outside the griddle-warmed bun. The heaping tangle of fries was the platonic ideal of potatoes: salt-licked, celery-crunchy and golden brown. I shoved a few into my maw, then took a bite of my New Englander. It was a snappy tango of sauerkraut and relish, with bacon providing a fatty base note and mustard tying the ingredients together. Though the Windy City dog was clad in lettuce and served on a poppy seed-free bun, it was still a garden-time pleasure, packed with plenty of tomatoes, relish, pickles and a shower of celery salt.

"What do you think?" Julie asked, gnawing her New Englander.

"Just super," I said, silencing my sentiments with another bite of perfect wiener.

Read—and vote for—the original column at the New York Press website.

Gut Instinct: Stressing the Point

It’s a steamy, armpit-soaking afternoon in sandy Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where a booze-store salesgirl with skin like scuffed loafers is asking an awfully frightening question:

“Would you like to try Bud Light Lime?” she inquires, her smile brighter than bleached bones. She stands in front of a skyscraper of Bud Light Lime cases, as tall and misguided as the Tower of Babel. “It’s as crisp, delicious and low-calorie as Bud Light but with the flavor of natural limes!”

“Is that a good thing?” I ask. Though I’m vacationing at a pal’s beach-accessible bungalow, Connecticut is a long way from the lime-squeezed pleasures of Acapulco.

“Try it!” Orange Skin encourages.

“But…”

“Try it,” she repeats, pouring a thimbleful of fizzy blonde liquid.

As a child I never took candy from strangers, but I did devour supermarket samples as eagerly as religious zealots accepting a crunchy Christ wafer. Saturday-morning grocery-store excursions were a culinary Christmas: Like jolly St. Nick’s, doughy women distributed cups of salty Chex Mix, Jimmy Dean sausage circles impaled on toothpicks and mini, melting scoops of Breyers chocolate ice cream.

“Like another sample, sweetie?” they’d ask.

With widened eyes and quickened heart—a response repeated upon glimpsing my first breasts during Just One of the Guys’ prom scene—I mouthed, “Yes.”

“Now tell your mommy how much you want her to buy this,” they’d say, loading my greedy mitts with freebies, filling my stomach with misplaced longing.

“I’ll give it a shot,” I tell Orange Skin, no less susceptible to free’s power at 29 than at age 10. I seize the Bud and sip. The carbonation tickles my taste buds and my throat. It’s effervescent water—the Bud Light I know and loathe—chased by a cloying citrus current, which smothers my tongue like a pillow-armed serial killer. The flavor’s the bastardized offspring of lowbrow Americana and an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise. If spittoons still existed, I would’ve filled one with disgust at such blatant pandering.

See, mega-brewers are catering to America’s growing Latino contingent. To worm into their wallets, conglomerates have unveiled brewskis like the Miller Chill (flavored with lime and salt) and the Chelada (Budweiser, Clamato, salt and lime). The latter tastes like a carbonated Bloody Mary and, it pains me to declare, is hardly un-horrible. Compared to turpentine.

Then again, microbrew mavens aren’t the target drunkard. Besides the Latino set, lime suds are marketed to folks who despise beer’s flavor (and perhaps lack the fingers to squeeze fruit) but enjoy transforming into slurring, self-important train wrecks. Instead of blindly craving doctored beer, ask why the beer requires a citrus injection. Would you dare drop fruit into an inky Guinness or cool Brooklyn Lager? Lime masks inferior flavor. Unadulterated Corona—as a lager, it’s no classier than Natural Light—is a skunky catastrophe.

“What do you think of the Bud Light Lime?” Orange Skin asks. She grins again, a response likely as autonomic as breathing.

“If the world ever ran out of floor cleansers, this would make an excellent alternative,” my Midwestern manners will not let me reply. Instead, I blurt, “Wow, it almost tastes like real lime. Almost.”

Her peepers light up like a pinball machine. She smells sale. Or my lack of deodorant. “You can get a cold six-pack in that last aisle,” she says, pointing toward a fridge. “Or a 12-pack.”

“Thank you,” I say, pushing my cart away.

“You’re going the wrong way,” she says.

“Thank you,” I say, pushing my shopping cart toward the refrigerated aisle. I open the cooler and remove a growler of Southampton, Massachusetts’ strong, aromatic Opa-Opa Buckwheat IPA. I snag a 22-ounce bottle of Massachusetts’ Berkshire Brewing Company’s chocolaty “Shabadoo” Black and Tan. Connecticut’s crisp, summer-quenching Cottrell Old Yankee Ale hits my cart next, joined by Thomas Hookers’ generously bitter Hop Meadow IPA.

“Now that,” says the cashier boy, as I unload my cart, “is a seriously delicious haul of beer.”

I beam with pride and envision the weekend. The brew will vanish, as will my anxiety. I’ll relax and act like a human being. I’ll refrain from elbowing subway passengers, screaming at taxi drivers and sighing audibly while waiting at the bank.

“Did you get the Bud Light Lime?” Orange Skin asks, as I cart my liquid Quaaludes outside to the awaiting car.

“Of course,” I lie, growing calmer with each passing step.