The Universal Notebook: Hot dog! It’s summer!

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Forget about the U.S. Supreme Court wiping out the separation of church and state and abolishing Roe v. Wade. We have more important things to talk about. 

By virtue of having tended the steamer at 8 Corners Market in Scarborough in the 1970s and the grill at the Yarmouth Clam Festival for close to 30 years, I consider myself more qualified than the Supreme Court justices to discuss matters of hot dogs, weiners, and franks. 

Edgar Allen BeemTo begin with, my taste in hot dogs was honed while eating hot dogs virtually anywhere in Maine they are steamed, grilled, or fried.

Mark’s in Tommy’s Park in Portland, Wasses in Rockland, Bolley’s Famous Franks in Hallowell, Simones’ in Lewiston, Brud’s in Boothbay Harbor, Flo’s in Cape Neddick, and most especially Danny’s Dogs in Brunswick have all taken my money and filled my belly. So I’m sad to say that Danny’s seems to be no more.

Danny’s Dogs was a summer fixture on the mall in Brunswick. Danny McDonald peddled hot dogs downtown for decades before parking on the mall in 1982. I have been waiting for Danny’s to reappear amid the taco stands and sushi mobiles, but I was informed just last week that the McDonald family has decided to retire the landmark red-and-white trailer after 40 years.

The Danny’s Dogs I hunger for were steamed dogs on steamed rolls. Depending on my mood and time of day, I might have them with sauerkraut and brown mustard or with homemade chili. In either case, what you want in a steamed hot dog is a good snap whether it’s a red hot or natural casing.

My favorite hot dogs are Schonland franks. Charles Schonland Sr. started making hot dogs in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1883, but his sons Charles Jr. and Richard moved to Portland and started making red Schonland Brothers hot dogs in 1891to differentiate them from their father’s dogs. Maybe that’s why so many Mainers prefer red snappers.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to hot dogs, but one of the best dogs I’ve had in a long time was a frankfurter smothered in kimchi I bought up on the Eastern Prom in Portland just before city officials banished vendors to a remote parking lot. Hot dogs and kimchi is a winning combination, but honestly, I could probably eat my Crocs with enough kimchi on them.

At the Yarmouth Clam Festival (July 15-17 this year) I volunteered for many years at the booth on the church lawn that also sells lobster rolls and stew, crabmeat rolls, strawberry shortcake, and homemade pies. I usually took the parade shift, because if you don’t know your way around a grill you can be overwhelmed when the parade finally passes and the crowd suddenly turns from the street to the eats, ordering hot dogs three, four, five, six at a time. For a young family with a bunch of kids, hot dogs are the best buy at the festival.   

Not sure if I’ll be manning the grill again this summer. What with the pandemic, illness, and old age, it’s been a few years since I marched those buttery rows of hot dogs across the hot surface, assembled them in toasted rolls and cardboard sleeves, and stacked them two and three deep in a chafing dish heated by a can of Sterno.

I may be out of practice, but I’m definitely more qualified to cook hot dogs than this Supreme Court is to interpret the law. 

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.