Dog Legendary

The hot dog, crude delicacy of unknown origin, is one of New York City’s most essential novelties; in fact, it reflects this city’s essential ambiguity more than any other food item. Served in a bun, typically crowned with mustard and sauerkraut, the dog is a connoisseur’s delight for the common man and woman; a hearty supplement to our pedestrian itineraries or defined budgets.

While its origins are unknown, where the hot dog achieved eternal fame and glory is more than well-known: Coney Island. A German immigrant by the name of Charles Feltman ran a meat-pie wagon along the boardwalk in the 1860s. His cart was equipped with a heating unit (an innovation at the time) which allowed him to sell hot sausages wrapped in a roll to beach-goers and to boardwalk strollers.

Feltman’s sausage wagon business prospered and he eventually opened a restaurant on West 10th Street that extended from the beach to Surf Avenue. A confluence of seven grills cooked thousands of newly dubbed hot dogs selling at 10 cents apiece.

One of Feltman’s cooks, Nathan Handwerker, stared ambitiously long and calculatingly hard at the sizzling dogs and saw his future in an instant. In 1916, Handwerker opened his own restaurant strategically outside the newly constructed Stillwell Avenue subway line and sold hot dogs at 5 cents apiece. He attracted loads of customers from the ever-growing crowds to Coney Island and a new legend was born: Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters.

In time, Coney Island became a synonym for hot dog. It has been estimated that more than 100 million hot dogs were sold each summer at Coney Island during the amusement park‘s heyday. Even now, the Nathan’s concession on Coney Island sells a little more than a million hot dogs a year.

Despite inroads made by the falafel sandwich, the shish kebab and the gyro, hot dogs still rule at a hefty percentage of the 4,000 carts licensed by the Department of Health.

In 1939, Coney Island honored its most famous symbol by organizing National Hot Dog Day. “It is difficult to measure the contribution the hot dog has made to the fame and popularity of this great resort,” one official said. “Why, Coney Island is even shaped like a frankfurter!” Catching the spirit of the occasion, Milton Berle stepped onto the podium and announced, “Let our slogan be ‘E Pluribus Hot Dog.’ “

Here’s the sort of talk that puts this Brooklyn kid in the mood for a delectable, origin unknown be damned, hot dog!!! It’s one of those humble tidbits of life which makes life worth living…cholesterol count be damned as well.

William Grimes “A Man, a Plan, a Hot Dog: Birth of a Nathan’s”

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