Earlier this week, I went by the hot dog cart in Madison Square run by the Danny Meyer folks who run 11 Madison Park in NYC. All this time I was thinking I never had a chicago hot dog, and I was waiting with anticipation for this bastard version in NYC. Then my excitement sank somewhat after noticing all the "kids" making the food. While they had their little painted-on smiles and good attitude, it felt a little too superficial and forced. My other observation was that these "kids" making the food really looked amateurish making the stuff. No ease of motion, even putting on mustard from a squeeze bottle looked unnatural. If I could see the thought bubbles emerging from their heads, it would probably read, "I got a job at 11 Madison Park, and I have to do this crap!?" OK, I'm exaggerating a bit, but that's kind of how I felt buying this hot dog. It felt a little pathetic. They didn't even look like they were having fun like those "kids" who serve you at restaurants at your favorite summer resort towns. Maybe it was me, but I doubt it. It was the only nice day of the week.
Forgive me for rambling because that wasn't the main point of this post. The point was about thinking I'd never eaten a chicago hot dog. After I took the first few bites, I realized I'd had this before. I was conjuring up hot dogs from my past... was it at Top Dog in Berkeley?... was it at the sausage place in Venice Beach?... did I actually have one in Chicago in a former life?... Then it dawned on me. I was on a Junior High School trip to San Francisco circa 1979, staying at the Travel Lodge in Fisherman's Wharf. There was a little stand near the adjacent corner of the street the Travel Lodge was on, facing the wharf. After getting chowder from one of the crab stands, I needed something more to fill me up, and I thought a hot dog would do. Anyway, little did I know that I was getting a chicago dog. I even remember the Vienna Sausage sign that was hanging above this little stand (mainly because the first thing that popped to mind was those little canned weiners--which I thought were vienna sausages back then). I remember thinking it was the best hot dog I ever had... in fact, that might have been the highlight of that trip (well, besides hanging out a lot with a girl I had a crush on, but that's another story). I went back several more times in those few days that the guy who ran the stand remembered me. So there I was, sitting in Madison Square Park, with all these memories bubbling up, having what I thought was a decent enough hot dog, but nowhere near as revelatory as that first experience when I was in Jr High.
I know that having these kinds of flashbacks aren't uncommon, as I'm sure we have those association with old smells that we reencounter here and there. However, I'm not quite certain I've had a positive tastebud memory this powerful (a negative memory, I gather, would be a gag reflex from a noxious taste memory -- I've had those too). Anyone care to share theirs? Also, does anyone remember the hotdog stand near Fisherman's wharf? I've even lived in the bay area for a few years after college, and completely forgot about the place.
To finish, I want to revisit something I said earlier. If that hot dog at the Madison Square Park were made with lot more "love" and care (I'm thinking of a Speed's hot dog in Boston now), would it have tasted better? I think probably. But it's difficult to put a finger on that intangible. Someone mentioned earlier today about "wanting to like" a dish in the WD-50 thread on the Manhattan board. Is that what it is? If we care enough about the energy, thought, care, and "love" that is put into preparing a dish, we want to like it more and invariably we do? But then again, it does taste better too. Thoughts?