Monday, October 8, 2012

Hot Wiener Special: A Night in Providence with Balkan Bands

Last month, we drove to Providence for a great line-up of Boston-based Klezmer/circus/Balkan bands; Joel's band, the Somerville Symphony Orkestar, opened the night, followed by the Klezwoods (on their latest CD release tour), followed by Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band. Lots of friends, lots of fantastic music. Unfortunately, although the club (FĂȘte) was a gorgeous steampunk-y space that was perfect for the line-up, it was located in a pretty isolated part of the city, and very few people showed up that hadn't come with one of the bands. Nonetheless, it was a great night of music and an enjoyable change of scenery.

After loading in the equipment at the beginning of the night, Joel and I were ready for dinner, but due to the middle-of-nowhere location, there weren't many options. At the corner of the street, we had seen a diner that looked kind of run-down, but we were intrigued by a sign outside of it that advertised a "hot wiener special." Maybe 'amused' is more accurate than 'intrigued.' After joking about it for awhile, we realized that it actually sounded like a pretty great dinner adventure. It was either going to be amazing or terrible. Either way, how could we not give it a try?

Olneyville New York System has been doling out late night hot wieners to the people of Providence since 1946 (but not pizza, pasta, pastry, poultry, or peppers, apparently). The restaurant - a long counter along one side and take-out-joint-style booths filling the rest of the space - was full of intimidating instructional signage that gave the place a Soup Nazi-esque vibe, but the signs must have just been for decoration as the men working behind the counter were ridiculously friendly. We suppressed giggles and inquired about the hot wiener special, which we learned includes two hot dogs, fries, and a soda. The hot dogs, served in a steamed bun, are topped with a seasoned ground meat, chopped onions, and - the magic ingredient - celery salt. Celery salt is one of those seasonings that's always been lurking in the back of the spice rack, but I've never used it. In fact, I don't think I really knew what it tasted like until I tried it on these hot wieners. (No real surprise: it tastes like celery. And salt.)

The ground meat "sauce" gave me a flashback to my time in Rochester, New York, home of a "delicacy" known as the garbage plate. While there are many variations, classic garbage plates have a few components. First, the plate is half covered with mac salad and half covered with home fries, or completely covered with one of those. (In some places, other options are available too, like beans.) Then, the diner has a choice of meat for the top. In many places, the plate includes two meats, so a diner might get two hot dogs (red hots or white hots), two hamburgers, or one of each. (Some restaurants have even more options, like chicken or fried fish.) The whole mess is topped with various condiments and a "hot sauce" that is actually spicy ground meat, not really a liquid sauce. And finally, white bread is provided to sop up whatever's left on the plate.

The hot wiener special wasn't quite as overwhelming as a garbage plate, but it was still pretty impressive. While the hot dog itself wasn't my favorite - I vastly prefer grilled to steamed - I loved the whole combination of flavors, especially that celery salt, not to mention the overall charm of the old-fashioned greasy spoon ambiance. The crispy, salty fries were the perfect accompaniment.

The hot wiener special adventure was a success, and then we headed back to FĂȘte for the show. Nights in Providence always turn out to be pretty fantastic.

Olneyville New York System on Urbanspoon

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