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Hot Dog of the Week: Danny's Drive-In, Stratford, Connecticut

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[Illustrations and photograph: Hawk Krall]

Danny's Drive-in, right off of I-95 in Stratford, Connecticut, was the last stop of a long weekend of epic hot dog–eating from the Hudson Valley to Vermont and back again. Connecticut has a rich hot dog history, lots of splitting and grilling and deep-frying, and tons of hot dog joints, but Danny's was one of the few that was open late on a Sunday night.

We actually barely made it. Forty-five minutes before Danny's was set to close we hit a huge traffic jam on 95, and bolted blindly off an exit into New Haven, guesstimating the route to Danny's with a combination of malfunctioning iPhones and barely legible Google Maps print-outs. Tearing down unfamiliar half-abandoned side streets in a rented SUV, running red lights, screaming directions at each other, I was sure that we weren't going to make it.

But we pulled in about four minutes before they closed and put in our orders. The menu is actually huge. A Hamburger Today visited Danny's Drive-in to try its green pepper–topped burgers last year. There are also lobster rolls, fried clams, pulled pork, shakes, etc., but we were here for the hot dogs—deep-fried Hummel Bros. natural-casing franks on toasted buns.

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The Bull Dog—named after the mascot of the United States Marine Corps, whose flag proudly waves in front—is what Danny's seems to be known for in the hot dog category, slathered in fried onions and Kuhn's Chili, an extra spicy hot dog sauce only available in Connecticut. But what really blew my mind was Danny's Slaw Dog. The texture of the deep-fried (but not incinerated) frank and well-toasted bun was perfect with piles of creamy slaw. And the slaw was so good I don't know what was going on there; I swear I tasted a hint of vanilla—or maybe I was just delirious from three days of nonstop driving and hot dog consumption.

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Danny's is an amazing-looking place, covered in old signs, including founder Danny Smith's original signs bearing likenesses of Jiggs and Maggie, the main characters of the early 1900s newspaper comic strip Bringing Up Father. The connection to Danny's is a mystery (maybe he just liked the characters), although, interestingly enough, the comic strip is at least partially responsible for the popularization of corned beef and cabbage, also known as Jiggs Dinner, and its association with the Irish.

Danny's deep-fried hot dogs were right on, the flavor of the Hummel franks fantastic, the slaw magical. Definitely got me back on the deep-fried hot dog bus. I've had some charred specimens that put me off them for a while. The no-frills, slightly eccentric standing-room-only flea market vibe is also a big plus in my book. We tried one of the famous burgers and a shake as well—all terrific. I'd like to go back and give the chili cheese fries a shot—and back to Connecticut in general for more great hot dogs.

Danny's Drive-In

940 Ferry Boulevard, Stratford CT 06614
203-378-6728; dannysdrive-in.com

Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Many of the illustrations he has created for his Hot Dog of the Week column are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.

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