Friday, September 15, 2006

Memorable Meals: New York City's Best Hot Dog

Few food topics in New York generate as much furious debate as hot dogs. Pizza maybe, but that’s another post. On our most recent visit to the New York, my wife and I arrived with a comprehensive list of restaurants. We were still a little sketchy on the sightseeing, but every conceivable meal and snack was preplanned. Priorities, priorities.

As evening approached, we hopped the M1 bus uptown, I wanted to check out how the renovation of the Guggenheim was coming along. Instead we walked straight to the corner of 86th Street and Third Avenue for hot dogs from Papaya King. It’s a garishly-colored, neon-lit stand up joint famous for serving hot dogs and tropical juice drinks. There’s another one downtown and a few franchises too, but this one is the 74 year old original.

The dogs themselves, made to Papaya King specs by Sabrett, are cooked on a griddle and served in toasted buns. We both ordered the two dog special with Papaya Drink.

The tiny restaurant itself is not a great place to eat your meal, so we walked the two blocks over to Fifth Avenue and settled on a bench on the Central Park side. The weather was balmy and we enjoyed watching the city go by. It’s a pretty classy neighborhood with some of the most expensive real estate in America.

Right across the avenue at 86th is the Neue Galerie, the museum of Austrian and German Art that’s housed in a Gilded Age mansion. We didn’t go inside to check out Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which captured the auction sales record in June when it was purchased for $135 million.

Frothy papaya drinks are an excellent accompaniment to the savory meaty dogs, just the right mellow counterpoint. I can’t quite place the special spices in the franks themselves, but garlic is pretty apparent. The perfect, not overdone griddle-top cooking enhances the snap of the natural casing. Topped with a little brown mustard, kraut, onions or Papaya King’s own tropical relish they are, like the slogan says, “tastier than filet mignon.”

I think that they’re the best hot dogs in New York. I can’t wait to hear from those of you who disagree. Remember that disparate foodies like Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain agree with me. Bourdain wrote about perfect meals in the closing chapter of A Cook’s Tour: “Your last Papaya King hot dog takes on golden, even mythic, proportions when remembered from a distance.” How right he is.

Photo Credit: Christopher Gould (click the picture for near life size)

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