A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour is a brand-new (and terrific) documentary from filmmaker Mark Kotlinski that takes an in-depth look at ten of Connecticut's most interesting and delicious hot dogs. Kotlinski really digs deep into the history of these places. Hot dog lovers and historians alike will really enjoy this.
Blackie's is one of a handful of old-school Connecticut hot dog joints that have come to define the state as a real hot dog mecca. Opened as a gas station in the early 1920s by Art and Mary Blackman, the hot dogs caught on and the business has been passed down for generations. It's the sort of place your grandparents probably went for their first date en route to the drive-in. And nothing much has changed since then, from the "No Dancing" sign to the closed on Friday policy (to observe the Catholic tradition of meatless Fridays). Doesn't matter that the pope and most of the world have moved on—Blackie's is all about old-school tradition.
The hot dogs are Hummel Bros., another local family operation, cooked in a "secret" process that resembles deep-frying—not burnt to a crisp but dipped in the hot oil bath just long enough to split open. The ordering process is as simple as can be. Just yell out how many you want (two, three, seven?) and add the toppings yourself.
The other thing that makes Blackie's unique is their signature hot pepper relish: spicy, sweet, and from a secret family recipe that hasn't changed since the1920s. Relish in Connecticut and New England means something entirely different than the green pickle condiment of Manhattan's dirty water carts, or even the neon green stuff that slathers every Chicago Dog. Homemade "secret recipe" relish, more often made from peppers than pickles, is a signature of many New England hot dog stands, from Maine to Connecticut and even trickling down to New Jersey with Rutt's Hut and their awesome homemade mustard-cabbage relish.
Other than that, it's brown mustard or ketchup. No chili, onions, kraut, cheese, or mayonnaise here. Not even if you ask. It's all about the dogs and the relish. Blackie's only serves hot dogs and "hamburgs." Not even fries. Talk about minimalist! But it works.
The cornerstone of Connecticut hot dogs are the high-quality natural casing dogs from local purveyors such as Hummel Bros, Grote and Weigel, and Martin Rosol. Most of these local sausage and meat plants have been around as long as Blackie's and are still thriving as small family operations. They are too loyal to replace them with mass-produced national brands.
Another thing that makes Connecticut such a great place for hot dogs—which you'll see over the next few weeks in this series and in the documentary—is the variety.
There's no one definitive Connecticut style.
You've got relish dogs, Greek-style meat sauce dogs, bacon and kraut dogs, deep-fried, steamed, char-grilled, and butterflied dogs. Some places have toasted top-split New England rolls; others serve standard buns. The one common element is the local, high-quality, natural casing franks. And the fact that each joint seems to be packed daily.
Stay tuned as Hot Dog of the Week features three more Connecticut hot dog stands in September. We'll have short video clips of each stand. Or just go ahead and order the documentary, a must for every hot dog lover and a steal at only $7.99. CToriginals is also offering a combo deal: an 11x14 giclee print of the Connecticut Hot Dog Tour artwork along with the DVD for only $29 plus shipping.
About the author: Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.