Erie’s Greek Dogs: A Slow-Down History

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jessica hunter

Greek dog has a different meaning depending on where you are, but in the Erie area it’s unmistakably a Smith’s sausage topped with Greek ground meat sauce less than lean, slowly simmered and generously seasoned.

AAccording to the Hot Dog & Sausage Council (which I bet throws delicious holiday parties), over $3 billion is spent on hot dogs in US supermarkets each year. People just love hot dogs. Journalist HL Mencken, who once called them “rubbery, indigestible pseudo-sausages”, later changed his mind, saying they had been elevated to an “art form”. Betty White credited hot dogs (and vodka) with her long life. Maya Angelou loved hers with an icy Corona. Anthony Bourdain preferred his with mustard and sauerkraut. Even for those who have seen the infamous YouTube video with 88 million views showing how hot dogs are made, for many a good hot dog is hard to resist (and even for those who don’t eat meat, it There are a lot of meatless choices these days.

In Erie, the hot dog with the most passion is undoubtedly a Smith’s. And of all the ways to prepare Smith’s famous frankfurters, it’s the Greek dog that gets the most glory – a skinless sausage on a lightly mashed hot bun, smothered with onions, mustard, and whatnot. glorious, fat, tasty, unforgettable Greek sauce.

For those who grew up in the Erie area, it was probably one of those local foods that you thought was everywhere until you started traveling and noticed that hot dogs, hamburgers and fries were not offered Greek style elsewhere – or if they werethe item you ordered may arrive at your table very differently from what you expected, bearing little resemblance to the famous Frank of Erie.

In 2012, renowned food writer JM Hirsch described a spanakopita-inspired Greek dog. This Greek dog is topped with feta cheese, diced yellow onions, dill seeds, tzatziki and sautéed spinach. In Salem, Oregon, a once-popular hot dog restaurant named Capitol Dog smothered their Greek dogs (described in their local newspaper as a “delicious mess” that required a fork and knife) with artichoke hearts , tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, feta and a vinaigrette. There are similar examples in American cities with their own unique “Greek” twist on the hot dog – but few with that name sound like Erie.

Instead, Erie’s Greek Dog is part of a long line of regional hot dogs created by immigrants. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy, and Greece, among others, operated hot dog stands across the country, which helped increase their popularity. Jewish vendors have also expanded their reach by offering all-beef kosher dogs. Competition between these vendors inspired innovation as they competed for customers, discovering new toppings and flavors to add to their dogs. Soon regional styles began to emerge, including: Chicago Dogs, Coney Islands, Salad Dogs, Rhode Island Hot Sausages, Maine Red Snappers, Southwest Sonoran Dogs, and Demi -DC fumes.

According to Becky Mercuri The Great American Hot Dog Book, as early as 1913, Greek vendors were using mustard with a unique Greek chili sauce on their hot dogs. At that time, they also shared their knowledge and recipes with other Greek immigrants who started their own stalls and refined their recipes. “Some immigrant groups, notably the Greeks, formed networks and even provided a basic ‘Coney Island’ sauce recipe to friends and associates seeking to establish hot dog restaurants,” Mercuri says. These networks explain why so many regional dogs, while distinct in flavor to the hot dog connoisseur, still share many similar characteristics.

In 1964, Erie Daily Times columnist Gene Cuneo first mentioned Greek hot dogs by name in the local newspaper. He described them as similar to Buffalo’s Texas Hots (sometimes called a slimy dog) or the better-known Coney Island hot dog, which were also innovated by Greek immigrants. Years later, Gene’s son, Kevin Cuneo, wrote a love letter to the Greek hound in his own Erie Daily Times column. In it, he argued that a Coney Island was more than a Chili dog and that Greek dogs were topped with a distinct sauce, not chili, an assessment that remains popular today.

He also noted that the sauce was “almost impossible” to replicate at home. Part of this near impossibility is likely due to the fact that there are plenty of Greek sauce recipes at restaurants in Erie. Some of the recipes can be found online or in old local newspapers while other Greek sauce recipes remain a family secret. Most include a less lean ground burger (the fat is part of the flavor, after all), but I’ve also seen some include a ground lamb medley. Some swear it must include tomato sauce, while others claim that true Greek sauce does not. The spice blends also differ slightly from recipe to recipe, although almost all include a long, slow cook over low heat.

In a 1991 article, when the Greek Dog was already a staple of the Erie Greek Festival and We Love Erie Days, journalist Chuck Eschweiler noted the superiority of Erie’s Greek Dog over other regional hot dogs. “They’re sloppy, greasy, and loaded with cholesterol, empty calories, and sodium,” he wrote. “So what? They’re great.”

Erieites should continue to think so…even after moving. Gordon’s Butcher & Market packs and ships an Erie Greek Dog Box anywhere in the United States. One can also buy Pulos Original Greek Chili Sauce locally made and bottled in stores or online. In Erie, dozens of restaurants offer Greek dogs, burgers and fries on their menu, including Red Hot Restaurant, Panos’ Restaurant, Lucky Louie’s Beer & Wieners, Triple D’s Tastey Grill, Stevo’s Pizza, Ringside Restaurant, Rum Runners, McGarrey’s Oakwood Cafe, One Way Inn, Alfee’s Pizza & Sub Shop and just about every local restaurant. Most of these sauces are homemade and slightly different (some even replace the cheese with mustard), but all are worth the effort.

The pinnacle, however, is Erie’s beloved New York Lunch, which opened in 1927 and has been owned and operated by Nina and Stephen Paliouras for 52 years (with the help of their son, Constantine “Gus” Paliouras, and staff). Jim Martin wrote in the Erie Times-News about New York Lunch in 2019, noting that Nina believes loyal customers and great staff are the reason they’ve done so well. Of course, this loyalty is in part because of the welcoming atmosphere (where you’ll often see Nina and Stephen themselves), but certainly one can assume that their delicious and flavorful sauce (which Martin described as “cauldrons…which start with about 80 pounds of meat chopped…done two or three times a week”) also plays a role. It also doesn’t hurt that New York Lunch’s location on Peninsula Drive across town has a drive-thru.

In many ways, the history of the hot dog is our history: our communities, our people, where we come from and, of course, loyalty to our local flavors. Bruce Kraig describes in his book Hot Dog: A World History how the hot dog became a symbol of American identity. “When Americans eat hot dogs,” Kraig writes, “they celebrate their common identity, making the little sausages all the tastier.” So the next time you snack on one (or two…or three) of these mouth-watering Greek dogs, wherever you find them in Erie, don’t worry about the calories and sodium. Instead, remember that you are simply participating in a celebration of Erie culture and history – a celebration of we.

Jonathan Burdick runs the history blog Rust and dirt. He can be reached at [email protected]

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