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According to the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, there was only one piece of advice his mother gave him as a kid: "Never eat a frankfurter from the man on the corner with the orange umbrella. Those hot dogs are made of snakes."
Many of us who grew up in the New York metropolitan area remember similar, if less colorfully expressed, warnings. And they were given for the usual reason parents warn their offspring to keep away from so many things, from fast cars to sex: The "dirty water" hot dogs may not have been the safest in the world, but they were so darn good.
Unlike Chicago dogs, New York's don't come with a precise array of toppings. How could they? New Yorkers are opinionated individualists. Certain accoutrements, however, must always be available -- sauerkraut and cooked onions in tomato sauce being the most crucial classic condiment options -- so each of us can do it My Way. And one more nonnegotiable, bub: The dog itself has gotta have "snap," like that sinful snake under the orange Sabrett's umbrella.
At New York Dawgs the advertised 99-cent "grand opening special" was an all-beef Sabrett's. But it was not the street-stand classic with natural casing that pops when you bite into it, spurting spicy juice all over the inside of your mouth. It was the skinless kind, with no inside-to-outside texture contrast, just all insides. It came completely plain, too. In other words, it sucked.
With the little lunch counter's pricier garnished dogs it's possible to substitute a Hebrew National frank. This was at least spicier, but still skinless, so no snap. The topped franks, named for New York's five boroughs, have other problems, number one being that, like the cutesy-pie spelling of the New York Dawgs name, the combinations are pure gimmickry. The "Manhattan Dawg" with kraut and Sabrett onions is a classic New York-style dog -- or would have been had the mustard not been gutless wimp stuff. Otherwise the combinations are all bogus. It was impossible, for instance, to tell what made a Brooklyn Dawg a Brooklyn dog, except a desire to charge $3.25 instead of 99 cents for a meager topping of raw onion and watery chili.
Similarly there's no such thing, in reality, as a Queens Dawg. But if there were, you can bet your Archie Bunker video collection it wouldn't be topped with a yuppie salad of diced cucumbers, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and avocado. Oh well ... New York Dawgs' version arrived without the advertised avocado anyway, and was also missing its alleged "special sauce." The Staten Island Dawg's topping of grilled onions, peppers, and tomatoes sounded at least appealingly flavorful, if not authentic. But the grilled veggies were actually griddled, and the brief toss on greasy steel imparted no grilled smokiness.
You can get a hefty ten-ounce hamburger at New York Dawgs, but you can't get it your way. A request that the burger be cooked rare brought this response: "You mean medium or well done?" My reply that I meant red inside elicited from my server a small "Ugh." And just in case I'd missed the audio, she offered a disgusted wrinkle of her nose. New York attitude? No, just South Beach rude.