One of Connecticut's most well-known hot dog stands, Super Duper Weenie, started with a truck that owner Gary Zemola saw in a book of paintings by photorealist John Baeder. With Baeder's help, Gary located the owner and bought the truck in 1992, gutting the inside but preserving and restoring the hand painted exterior.
Then in 1999 the Super Duper truck was featured on Rick Sebak's PBS Documentary A Hot Dog Program (practically every hot dog lover's bible) and a subsequent New York Times article, after which business exploded, and they moved into a permanent location, keeping the truck (actually today, a fleet of trucks) for catering and special events.
Gary, a culinary school graduate, dreamed of applying his skills to diner food, but wound up with hot dogs instead, making toppings from scratch, including home-made pickles and fresh cut fries.
Not exactly "Haute" dogs, Super Duper Weenie's dogs are classics made with the best possible ingredients and an attention to detail seldom seen from a casual eatery. The favorite is the "New Englander"—a riff on nearby Rawley's legendary house dog—a split and grilled natural casing Hummel hot dog, covered in sauerkraut, homemade relish, bacon, and freshly cut onions.
The menu features classic dogs from all over the country with all homemade toppings: Chicago dogs, "Dixie" chili and slaw dogs, and a New Yorker with Super Duper's own red onion sauce are all available. The fries are still cut fresh every day, and they're even offering homemade soups, everything from lentil and sausage to turkey gumbo and pasta fagioli.
In addition to the Sebak documentary (and A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour), Super Duper was also recent blessed with a visit from Guy Fieri and a spot on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives possibly making it the most filmed hot dog joint in the State.
The work of John Baeder—the painter who has immortalized the Super Duper Weenie truck not once, but twice—is essential for any lover of diners and classic roadside architecture. The 1977 book simply titled Diners features page after page of painstakingly detailed, brightly colored paintings of dining cars, lunch counters, and burger stands all across the country.
Starting in the 60's, artists such as Baeder, Ralph Goings, and Richard Estes took pop art to the next level, with hyperrealistic paintings of luncheonettes and corner stores more vivid and mind-blowingly beautiful than any photograph or even the real world. And it's not all nostalgia—Baeder is still going strong, recently working on a series of paintings of Los Angeles taco trucks.
Gary's story is every disgruntled line cook's dream. I couldn't count the number of cooks I worked with who saw the Super Duper Weenie truck on PBS at 3 a.m., half drunk after a 12 hour shift on the line searing filet mignon—and came in the next day with a story of how they were going to quit that day and open up a hot dog truck.
Funny thing is, a lot of them go for it these days. And guys like Gary, Biker Jim, and countless others who turned in their chef coats for hot dogs, burger spatulas, and their grandmother's recipe for fried chicken or pierogies really paved the way for the high-end comfort food revolution that is ubiquitous these days.
Spots like Super Duper are more than just a trendy flash in the pan. With the right mix of tradition and innovation they've captured the attention of the food media and developed a loyal local following. Of course, it helps that they are in Connecticut, where hot dogs are practically the region's number-one food.
Stay tuned to Hot Dog of the Week for more Connecticut hot dogs. 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.
Super Duper Weenie
306 Black Rock Turnpike
Fairfield, CT 06825
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/.