A Hamburger Today
Boston: Speed's Hot Dog
"For a sweet-meat effect, the links are first soaked in a mixture of apple cider and brown sugar."
I like a good link of housemade sausage as much as the next carnivore, but when it comes to hot dogs, I've always found that the rules regarding quality are dictated less by meat pedigree than by habit. In other words, it's all about what you grew up eating—Koegel's Vienna Dogs in Michigan, steamed Sabrett's links from New York street carts, Maine-style neon Red Snappers, all-beef Chicago dogs that have been "dragged through the garden," the Hebrew National your mom threw under the broiler--and most hometown loyalists will quickly (and, umm, doggedly) denounce all other styles as inferior.
Then I moved to Boston and changed my mind. Don't get me wrong; that Hebrew National memory is my own, and I figure that even the most sophisticated palates can't argue with nostalgia. But my first Speed's hot dog was a game-changer.
First, a little history: Ezra "Speed" Anderson started peddling hot dogs from a cart in the unaesthetic Newmarket Square wholesale food parking lot over 30 years ago, and they were—and still are—a totally different breed of dog than the average shrink-wrapped supermarket links.
For starters, these $7 hot dogs are huge. And without offering any further crude commentary about size, I'll just say that I find most regular hot dogs pretty skimpy for anything but a hearty snack. Speed dogs are full meals, and they're made from good stuff. Originally, Speed sourced the dogs from Pearl Kountry Klub, a Massachusetts-based purveyor of high-quality deli meats; these days, they're made by Boston Brisket Co. (which also supplies the cart's only other offering, grilled pastrami sandwiches) located about 10 feet from where the truck is parked. Doesn't really get more local than that.
Then there's the cooking method: For a sweet-meat effect, the links are first soaked in a mixture of apple cider and brown sugar, then grilled to order over a charcoal fire until they start to blister and sputter their jus. By hot dog cart standards, it's not a speedy process; you might wait a good 10 minutes or so while your lunch cooks. But the juicy, lightly charred result—which gets nestled into a hearty split roll that also sees some grill time—is well worth it.
And to top it all off? Homemade fixin's, most of which follow the marinade's sweet profile: spicy honey mustard, barbecue sauce, cranberry-based relish, chopped Vidalia or California onions, and a fine-ground meat chili sauce that skips the beans and loads on the warm spices. I usually go for the "loaded" dog, but I've been thinking that next time I'll skip the chili. It definitely works, but it tends to overshadow the subtly sweet-smoky, sausage-y flavor of the actual hot dog.
Besides switching up the meat source—and, by the way, I find the new link very comparable to the old one—there's only been one other major change since the dawn of the Speed dog: Speed himself retired a couple years ago. Fortunately, he didn't give up the gig before training a protégé,
Gregg Gale, who now mans the operation with just as much care as the old man. In fact, Gale's got big plans for the little pushcart—plans that involve four walls, a door, and an expanded menu (rumored additions: multiple types of sausages, beer, and wine). Location? In one of the fire stricken buildings Peterborough Street, over by Fenway. ETA? Sometime in late winter/early spring. See you on opening day. (Note: The cart itself will stay up and running in Newmarket Square.)
Boston Speed Dog
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, and works as the associate features editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Her top five foods include: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.