So The Famous Hot Weiner has apparently changed hot dogs.
That’s been news – or at least the word on the confused lips of locals – for a few weeks now.
But the reception as I’ve tried to officially confirm that switch for The Evening Sun’s print paper has been, in a word, cold.
Luckily, here on the blog I can tell anyone interested what I think of this whole Hanover hot dog hullabaloo.
I grew up on hometown hot dogs.
I know that sound, a heavy plate scraping across the table in front of you. Two dogs steaming in soft buns loaded down with chili. That squirt of mustard. The dusting of white onions.
But I always got my hot dogs at Harry’s Main Street in Westminster. Those are the ones I grew up on. The place mom took me early, so I’d know how to order them properly.
So if you’ll indulge briefly a Carroll County boy – one of those transplants from below the border – I’ll give you a bit of history.
That little restaurant in Westminster has been a Main Street staple since 1946, if my knowledge of local history remains correct. And early on, the place got a reputation for good hot dogs. The Coney Island-style dog caught on quickly, after owner Harry Sirinakis introduced it all those decades ago.
I’d sit in that downtown shop, and mom would tell me how her dad would bring her there as a little girl. She could remember standing out on the sidewalk wide-eyed, watching through the just-washed window as a man with a half-dozen buns balanced on one arm used the other one to slather on the mustard, then pluck hot dogs from the steaming grill.
I can’t remember how many times I heard that story.
And I thought of it again recently, with all this whispered talk about The Famous, a place just as, well, famous for hot dogs here as Harry’s is in my hometown.
The news I’ve heard countless times over the past month-plus is ownership at the beloved Hanover hot dog joint – or three Hanover-area joints, to be more precise – has switched from its traditional Kunzler dogs to ones from Berks.
Big news for sure, when we’re talking local tradition.
But no one wanted to talk about it, at least not on the record. Officials and friends spoke to me in hushed tones about the switch – how they don’t like the new dogs – and I got emails and calls on it for a while. It appeared on what’s apparently a blog about Hanover, and our managing editor, Travis Lau, brought it up to me, too.
Now the obvious move was to call management to talk about the reasoning for the change. But when I did, they were having none of it.
If people want to know so bad, they can come and ask us, one owner said. We don’t see any need to broadcast it in The Evening Sun, he said, that’s for sure.
Honestly, I was disappointed.
And that feeling only grew last week, when Travis grabbed his coat one day and whisked me from the newsroom to Dart Drive for some dogs. I hadn’t been there for years.
If you’re smart, Travis said, you’ll get yours with everything – mustard, chili and onion – and maybe a plate of fries. So I did.
While we waited, Travis spoke about the regulars he and his wife have seen there so many times. He explained how he brought his boys there for a two-for-one-deal a few weeks back. He remembered stopping by years ago, with his dad.
And before long there was lunch— loaded up with chili, and sprinkled with fresh coat of white onions. Crispy fries. And a squirt bottle of sweet ketchup.
Yeah, they were good. Real good.
The only bad taste left in my mouth was what’s been increasingly inevitable over the past few weeks: there’s no way to write a feel-good Hanover hot dog story in the paper, if the hot dog folks don’t want it written.
Now, there are likely plenty of people who’ll look at that as a blessing. Who wants to listen to some Marylander wax literary about wieners for 900 words? Fair enough.
But for those who’ve stuck around online this long, I’ll say this.
While I was sitting there with Travis I was reminded of another Harry’s story.
Mom was in a cramped booth with my daughter and I, telling stories again. She told of sizzling dogs balanced on servers’ arms, and of standing on the street in her hometown at lunchtime, holding her dad’s hand.
Her dad, my grandfather, was an engineer on the railroad who had three boys first, and then the baby. He worked the graveyard shift because his family needed the money, and he died awfully young, of a heart attack.
I was 3. And I can’t remember him.
But once upon a time, my mom says, he’d lift his grandson in strong arms, anxious to show off a little piece of home, over along Main Street. Mom’s admittedly a pretty good storyteller, and my daughter giggled all the way through that silly hot dog tale.
She didn’t even notice those couple tears.
And they were probably just from all the onions, anyway.
For me the point, I guess, is how it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Hanover, or Westminster, or Walla Walla, Washington (Big Jerry’s Hot Dogs Cart out there sounds pretty good), there’s something special about that good old American lunch treat. Something comfortingly universal.
Seems hot dogs just have a way of bringing people together.
Well, most people.