On Connecticut’s Gold Coast—a small portion of the state that includes the ultra-wealthy towns of Darien, Greenwich, and New Canaan—keeping up with the joneses is popular sport. Well-heeled families wrestle over flashy cars, McMansions, and lacrosse prowess.
But in Fairfield, the real competition centers on a simple, humble food item: the hot dog.
Two roadside joints—the unflinchingly old-school Rawley’s, and the newer and more nimble Super Duper Weenie—battle it out for the loyalties of all the town’s denizens, regardless of the size of their 401Ks. It’s a friendly competition that gives Fairfield some heart, and makes it an essential destination for anyone interested in Connecticut food traditions.
Of course, the state tends to get more attention for its pizza—whether it’s New Haven’s famed white-clam pie or the brilliant hot-oil variety at Stamford’s Colony Grill—and its burgers (Louie’s Lunch and Ted’s). But hot dogs are the state’s unsung culinary hero, beloved by locals but too often ignored by visitors.
Filmmaker Mark Kotlinki detailed the Nutmeg State’s hot dog obsession in his humorous documentary, A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour. From Cheshire’s Blackie’s to the floating hot dog stand that docks in Hadlyme, Kotlinki’s trip reveals a diverse world of custom Hummel hot dogs (a Connecticut staple since 1933), secret relish recipes, and—word to New Britain’s Capital Lunch—a particularly smooth variety of spicy chili (aka meat sauce).
Whether fried, steamed, or grilled, hot dogs are just plain popular in Connecticut. And there’s no better place to get a crash course in CT hot dogs than Fairfield.
A short drive down the old King’s Highway from exit 24 is where you’ll come up on Rawley’s. It’s situated in a home built in 1882, and the character of the place is immediately apparent. Humorously named booths (John Wilkes, for example) cram a small, worn dining room, and the kitchen—which takes up most of the space—cranks out slow-paced fast food at its finest.
There’s no mention of other regions’ tastes here. Just Connecticut classics, prepared the way they have been since the place opened in 1947. The dogs are cooked on a greasy griddle, producing a solid snap when you bite into them.
Current owner Nick Frattaroli champions the simple mustard-and-bacon dog, but the most popular item on the menu is one with “the works,” which adds relish and sauerkraut to the equation. For us, though, it’s all about chili version. Smothered in smooth, meaty sauce, it is perhaps the platonic ideal of the Connecticut hot dog—a food item that privileges character over presentation.
In case you’re not convinced, a sign on the wall boasts “Rawley’s: A Martha Stewart favorite.” Since she’s a local, we’ll let it slide. 1886 Post Rd, Fairfield, CT (203-259-9023)
Super Duper Weenie
If Rawley’s represents the state’s hot dog history, Super Duper Weenie is a relative newcomer, coming onto the scene in 1992. With less tradition to uphold, the kitchen gets more creative, mashing up regional styles from around the country with popular Connecticut dressings. The New Englander draws, perhaps unapologetically, from Rawley’s “works” dog. Sauerkraut, bacon, mustard, sweet relish, and raw onion cover the natural-cased weiner, all neatly tucked into a soft, locally-sourced bun. The Chicagoan, New Yorker, Californian, Dixie, Cincinnatian, and Georgia Red Hot round out the menu—it’s not too hard to guess what’s inside each.
The shop (now in second incarnation) is located just off exit 24 of I-95. Billboards both north and south announce its location, and Guy Fieri has given the place his frosted-tip approval. Accolades, location, and a menu that caters to many tastes have helped Super Duper Weenie claim a unique place in Connecticut’s hot dog landscape. The praise is well-deserved, thanks to high quality sourcing and attention to detail. But how does it hold up against the classics? Only a trip down the road to Rawley’s can reveal the answer. 306 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, CT (203-334-3647, superduperweenie.com)