On the Trail of the Mini Hot Dog: Exploring the Frankfurter Traditions of the New York Capital District

Ride shotgun with Village Voice restaurant critic Robert Sietsema on a tour of upstate New York's old-school hot dog joints.

  • All photos by Robert Sietsema
  • The counter at Newest Lunch, founded in 1921 in Schenectady, NY.
  • Chili dog with raw onions at Newest Lunch
  • Mike's in Schenectady isn't much to look at from the outside, but the hot dogs are great
  • There are choices to be made at Mike's, but not too many
  • At Mike's, the chili is more fine-grained and subtle than elsewhere.
  • The Italian sausage sandwich at Mike's looks like a burger with white American cheese, fried onions, and ketchup.
  • The approach to Gus's Hotdogs in Watervliet, NY
  • The miniature hot dogs of Gus's
  • This Troy, NY institution was once called Quick Lunch—before it got famous.
  • The window display at Famous Lunch
  • A miniature hot dog at Famous Lunch
  • The interior of Famous Lunch
  • You'll need about 5-6 mini hot dogs to fill up.
  • Welcome to Hot Dog Charlie's (Cohoes, NY)
  • frankcharlies1
  • The sleeper hit of the menu at Charlie's: French fries with melted cheese and bacon

The United States is a nation of hot dog lovers, ever since the first frankfurter was wolfed down on Coney Island in the 1880s and quickly became a powerful icon of summer fun. But the pink sausage has other meanings, too. When hard times hit, we often turn to “tube steaks” for sustenance at bargain-basement prices. What’s in them? We wonder, but go on chewing.

America has many hot dog traditions, and they tend to be regionally based. In Northern New Jersey, hot dogs are deep fried until a rip appears on the side, while the southern part of the state prefers them poached in water or cooked on a flat griddle. In New York City, the habit of eating franks with sauerkraut and mustard dates from the days when they were regarded as German fare—which may go back as far as the 1820s, when German sailors flooded the downtown piers.

At least since the 1920s, the Hudson Valley in upstate New York has been a hot bed of hot dogs.

Chicago has its Red Hots, lividly carmine and topped with a frankly weird combination of ingredients too long to mention here; while the opulence and range of choices available at Pink’s in L.A. would make a person from Frankfurt, Germany—where the term “frankfurter” comes from— scratch her head in wonder.

At least since the 1920s, the Hudson Valley in upstate New York has been a hot bed of hot dogs. In fact, the declining fortunes of former industrial towns such as Troy, Cohoes, and Watervliet has placed long-running frankfurter joints at the center of the culinary scene. Mainly fanning out from Albany, the state’s capital, to the north and west, these glorified hot dog stands have some unusual features that make them worthy of exploration. And so it was that two friends and I decided to embark on an extreme hot dog run one winter afternoon in one of the country’s richest regions, wiener-wise.

Next page: The top dogs of Schenectady

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