Monday, July 18, 2016

The Wieners of Western Pennsylvania

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Encased Meat out East

While figuring out what was good on a trip to Pittsburgh last summer it became apparent that many old school hot dog shops were going to be within reach. It started with a google of what was good foodwise in New Castle which led me to some propaganda about the town being the "hot dog capital of the world." That's a bold claim especially to someone from Chicago. I can say for fact that it's also a laughable statement. What they do have though is their own style of chili and it's one that's as unique as any I've ever had. But it doesn't stop there pretty much every town has a longstanding hot dog shop and all of them feature a housemade chili that's a standard topping for locals and it's usually topped with mustard and onions. Away we roll.
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M&P Coney Island

New Castle, PA

This is the only spot I found in these parts that labels itself as a Coney Island style hot dog stand. It sits in a beautiful old building in a picturesque part of town as far as old school Americana goes. The sign outside reads since 1923 so this would make it one of the older Coney Island Hot Dog shops in the country though not the oldest. I didn't snap an inside pic but the cheap wieners are sitting on a flattop in the window and it's pretty bare and somewhat dungy inside, thus it had the feel of a real deal Coney joint. Where they weren't a good representation of them was in the service. The yocals working here were abysmal at their simpleton job. Stay off the meth kids. Hot dogs are like $1.09 each so you know the smaller sized tubed meat was cheap. However the sauce was indeed very interesting. It glistens. Most certainly a style all its own with a real nice spice kick to it.

Coney Dogs at MP Coney Island
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PO Lunch

New Castle, PA

There's a few spots to get these New Castle style chili dogs and PO Lunch sounded like one worth trying. It's named that because it sits in the old town Post Office or something like that. It's more of a diner than a hot dog counter but the chili dogs are the most ordered item on the menu. I thought these were better than MP because the wieners were porkier with some actual snap and it was assembled better than the first stop. The chili was damn good but I do think MP's was a bit better as they had some real spice to tingle the tongue while PO's were pretty tame in that department. There's some recipes online for this style of chili and I may have to give one a try next football season. As far as New Castle being the Hot Dog Capitol of the World? No. Capitol of Western Pennsylvania? Sure.

Chili Dogs at PO Lunch
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Shorty's Lunch

Washington, PA

About 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh is this locally famous lunch counter with a very classic feel. It's been around since 1932 and the hot dogs are the most popular item on the menu though the burgers and roast beef are also beloved.

A peek inside

The Menu

Overall this might've been my favorite spot. It sat on an all-American type Main street and a hot dog with a side of gravy fries made for a great breakfast. Notice how chili dogs are just called hot dogs in these parts. Chili is pretty much a standard topping. Shorty's made a great blend and used those little rehydrated onions from another era. The wiener was cheap but these were like little hot dog sliders. The fries with gravy were comforting and I regret not trying a roast beef sandwich. It looked good sitting in its own juices next to the unique old school griddle the wieners were sitting on in front of the window. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Hot Dog Everything with Gravy Fries on the side
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Bert's Hot Dog Shop

Burgettstown, PA

My guy Jim found this one. Famous for footlongs so we took a ride there after Shorty's. It's been a roadside eat for truckers, bikers, cops, and all others for over 60 years. There is no seating inside as it's a walk-up shack. The featured foot long included chili and ketchup which didn't sound too appealing to me so we just split one with chili, mustard, and onions. As would become the norm the chili was the best part. It's an all meat blend here. I can see why it's "rural famous". However important to mention again that the wieners are not top of the line.

Footlong with Chili, Onion, and Mustard
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Jim's Famous Sauce

West Mifflin, PA

Speaking of famous sauce here's a spot that has a unique a blend as any. Yet another Greek immigrant turned hot dog restaurateur is what we have here. There's a long story on the website dating back to 1927 and as it goes Jim's hot dog sauce went on to to have a cult following. There is no meat in the sauce. It's quite odd as far as looks and taste. Tomato with something, I just cant figure out what that something is. The most popular item here is a dog with chili, mustard (Stone Ground), onions and cheese. These are made by placing a slice of American cheese on top and melting it under the broiler which is attached to the grill. They have a cool old time device that does them both.

Hot Dog with Sauce, Mustard, Onion. Plus one same thing with cheese
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Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe

Beaver Falls, PA

We missed a few spots closed on Sunday's but the original Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe was open so we cruised thru this odd town for a hot dog. I think there's a coo coo house nearby. This is a mini chain going back to the mid 60's. The dogs are again, average at best, and the sauce was again good. Most of these places sell the chili dogs for no more than a dollar and change so they're a cheap fast snack that most people in town grew up on.

Chili Dog
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The Original Hot Dog Shop

Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh was our homebase for the weekend and a stop at the Dirty O was a must. Actually this place has many names with Essie's being another. I heard from reputable sources that it was maybe the best hot dog in the country. Heavy praise indeed. It's a late night favorite of all Pittsburgh people especially students from University of Pittsburgh nearby.

a peek inside

The dogs here aren't cheap, and neither are the famous fresh cut fries. In fact a hot dog and fries will cost you about $10 so it's much more than Chicago folk are used to paying for a natural casing wiener and some fresh cut fries. A small fries feeds like 3-4 people and I've had plenty of good fresh cut fries which these looked to be but I passed on them opting to save some stomach space. The wiener itself was most certainly the best quality on this trip and one grilled with sauerkraut and onion was very good but I'll still take the minimalist style we got going on over here. They do offer chili here and I heard it was good but I wanted a kraut dog so I passed on trying a chili dog. There's also beer and cheesesteaks. Fun stop. That's it for this trip!

Hot Dog with Sauerkraut and Mustard
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M&P Coney Island
2712 Wilmington Rd
New Castle, PA 16105
(724) 654-4522

PO Lunch
402 Wilmington Rd
New Castle, PA 16105
(724) 657-5045

Shorty's Lunch
34 W Chestnut St
Washington, PA 15301
(724) 228-9919

Bert's Hot Dog Shop
1627 Smith Township State Rd
Burgettstown, PA 15021
(724) 947-4265

Jim's Famous Sauce
2600 Skyline Dr
West Mifflin, PA 15122
(800) 756-1070

Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe
1220 7th Ave
Beaver Falls, PA 15010
(724) 843-1573

The Original Hot Dog Shop
3901 Forbes Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(412) 621-7388

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