Note: When Penny Cherubino of BostonZest isn't covering Boston-area farmers' markets for us, she's probably chowing down on a hot dog. Last time we heard from her it was from Blue Light in Provincentown, Massachusetts. This week she's got another favorite.
The Boston Speed Dog is a rite of passage for the Hub's food community. Every city has places you must go and bites you must take to earn your official food lover stripes. The Speed Dog was Boston's secret indulgence until the Wall Street Journal named it "Top Dog in America" last year. Now it's a destination for those planning a food journey through the region.
Speed's location—in a parking lot, in the wholesale meat and produce district—seems an unlikely place for guys in suits, medical workers in scrubs, postal carriers, laborers, contractors, and food fans to stand around munching on hot dogs. But, from all over the city, all types of people make their way to this legendary truck.
Everyone lines up for their turn at the window where chef Greg Gale takes your order and moves your hot dog from a slowly simmering marinade to the grill. The hot dog itself is custom made for Speed's by Grote & Weigel. It's half a pound, all beef, about eight inches long and stuffed in a casing that gives a great snap when you bite into it.
Once on the grill, your Speed Dog is basted, covered, slashed, basted some more, and taken off the wood fire only when it has reached the degree of doneness requested. Some regulars order theirs with a "bit of char" or "a big slash."
Your bun is opened, placed cut-side down on the grill, and lightly toasted. Next come the condiments that make a Speed Dog. "With everything" means Gale or his helper pile the dog with a custom blend of mustards and relishes, fresh-made barbecue sauce, chopped Vidalia onions, and a meatless chili sauce.
The Speed Dog's name came from Ezra "Speed" Anderson who manned the grill for 35 years before turning the truck over to Gale. Speed was anything but speedy. When he was cooking, the lines were long. Now the dogs are delivered faster. Gale explained, "A little bit, yeah. Speed would do them one hot dog at a time. Back then, customers weren't so much in a hurry as they are now. We still take it individually. It's not fast food, but it's delivered fast."
Gale is a congenial host. If you prefer a naked dog or any combination of the toppings he has on hand, that's fine with him. You may be ribbed by the regulars who'll challenge you to give it a try "loaded." But, Speed's customers are a good-natured bunch and are happy to have a newbie or timid eater join their ranks.
One regular named Mario from O.L.C. Inc. in Boston's South End has been feasting on Speed Dogs for 26 years. He was recently lunching with his adult son who's been coming to Speeds with his dad since age 11. "You have to have it with everything, that's meant to be," said Mario, whose son agrees with him now but admitted he didn't want all the toppings as a kid.
Waiting in line, Gary Saks from Dorchester Tire said, "Been coming here 20 years. I knew Speed when I was a little kid. My grandfather sold him meat." Then he showed off Speed's phone number on his cell phone.
It's always a good idea to call first before making the trek to Speed's. Gale works with his cell phone by his side, chatting with callers via a bluetooth headset under his cap. Calls are needed because Speed's schedule contains two disclaimers "Unless we run out" and "weather permitting, no heavy rains."
If you find yourself in Boston with a big appetite and some adventure in your soul, swing by Speed's and get ready to bite into the hot dog that Wall Street Journal columnist Raymond Sokolov called, "the dog against which I now measure all others."