Gut Instinct: Feeling Like a Wiener

Written by Joshua M. Bernstein on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Posts.


IN THE DARKENED Connecticut sky above Interstate 95, the pink neon sign appeared as suddenly and brightly as an atomic blast. My response was Pavlovian. "Matt, we need to go to Super Duper Weenie," I told my friend, who was piloting his eggplant-hued station wagon. Along with my fiancée, we were en route to Portland, Maine, to scout locations for my coming nuptials.

"We’re not going to Super Duper Weenie," my fiancée moaned. Her commitment to vegetarianism can sometimes be a buzz kill. "Let’s vote," I suggested, knowing the outcome of this seemingly democratic endeavor—kind of like a Florida election. "Who wants to go to Super Duper Weenie?" Matt and I extended an arm. "Who doesn’t want to hit the totally awesome, potentially lifechanging Super Duper Weenie?" "Fine," she said, resigned to defeat, "but make it quick." Following the neon sign’s instructions, Matt pulled off at exit 24, in Fairfield. A right turn took us to the hot dog hut. It was as dark as a dungeon: closed for the night. We returned to the interstate, our wiener lust left unslaked. "That’s too bad," my fiancée said, her condolences halfway between heartfelt and "ha-ha."

Since that failed frankfurter mission, I’ve become obsessed with Super Duper Weenie. A bit more than an hour’s drive from New York, the restaurant remains tantalizingly close yet out of my reach: fruit on a branch high above my head. It’s a destination noshery, especially given its history and pedigree. Super Duper Weenie dates to 1979, when it was a wee Connecticut food truck. In 1992, Gary Zemola acquired the truck and refurbished it, focusing on snappy wieners topped with from-scratch relishes, coleslaw, chili, red-onion sauce and sauerkraut. Fries were fresh-cut. Everything was cooked to order. Super Duper Weenie’s reputation soon outstripped its teensy roving location. Portending the trend of food trucks opening stationary outposts (counting Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream and DessertTruck) the hot doggery went bricks and mortar in 1999.

Last weekend, I was finally able to make my Super Duper Weenie wish come true. Like most New Yorkers come summer, I relish every chance to escape this asphalt inferno. If I were a Rockefeller, perhaps I’d decompress on a Hamptons beach. However, this column barely covers my cell phone bill. Thus, I rely on the largesse of friends, like Wilson. Nearly a century earlier, his grandfather built a beach house in Old Saybrook, Conn., located on the glassy Long Island sound. It’s a tranquil escape, a couple hours from New York as the crow flies on I-95.

"We’re going to stop at Super Duper Weenie," I told Wilson and Julie, my companions on the Old Saybrook ride. "Yeah!" they cheered in unison. My fiancée? Stuck at work all weekend, meaning my carnivorous urges could run rampant. Our car crawled through New York’s clogged motorways so slowly that I could’ve biked to Fairfield faster. In fact, pedaling would’ve been a wise decision: Upon arriving at the humbly appointed Super Duper Weenie, I was unable to exercise caloric restraint. The menu encompasses a half dozen irresistibly dressed dogs, including the New Englander, which is crowned with ‘kraut, mustard, bacon, mustard and sweet relish; the Californian, decked out with chili, American cheese and hot relish; and the Cincinnatian, finished with chili, chopped onions and cheddar cheese.

Selecting a dog is like parents picking their favorite kid. After gnawing my nails and waiting behind a snaking line of beefy men, boisterous teens and vacationing families, I opted for a basket of skin-on fries, a New Englander and a Chicagoan. "Should two hot dogs and fries be enough?" I queried the counter gal. She appraised my five-four frame. "That should be plenty," she said. "The hot dogs are big."

Like George Washington, she could not tell a lie. A few minutes later, I received dual pillowy torpedoes packed with taut tube meat (a blend of beef and pork cocooned in natural casing) and toppings layered with surgical precession—not a sliver of slaw sat outside the griddle-warmed bun. The heaping tangle of fries was the platonic ideal of potatoes: salt-licked, celery-crunchy and golden brown. I shoved a few into my maw, then took a bite of my New Englander. It was a snappy tango of sauerkraut and relish, with bacon providing a fatty base note and mustard tying the ingredients together. Though the Windy City dog was clad in lettuce and served on a poppy seed-free bun, it was still a garden-time pleasure, packed with plenty of tomatoes, relish, pickles and a shower of celery salt.

"What do you think?" Julie asked, gnawing her New Englander.

"Just super," I said, silencing my sentiments with another bite of perfect wiener. 

WHAT HOT DOG HOUSES GET YOUR HEART RACING? TELL ME AT JBERNSTEIN@NYPRESS.COM. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER @JOSHMBERNSTEIN.

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