Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Back off Oscar Meyer, we don't want your BallParks around here...

Today I bring to you a post about a Worcester institution.  A place that might actually be the most recognizable spot in in the city.  Anyone who grew-up here has a memory or story about this particular restaurant.  It's a big deal.
courtesy of worcestermag.com via google image search - not mine!
Yup.  Coney Island Hot Dogs. This place is like a time warp and my god is it awesome. There's something so simplistically brilliant about a hot dog restaurant.  Sure they have other things on the menu, but quite frankly you aren't really supposed to order them.  (Okay, okay, someone ordered a hamburger the last time I was there, but I know everyone around was rightfully judging them.) They have an ingenious business model and an established brand that keeps a steady line at lunch and makes them a household name. 

My childhood memories of Coney Island all include my father.  It was a go-to lunch spot after a midday doctor's appointment.  It seems to be a haven for dads and young children still to this day.  I am guessing it must be some sort of unwritten Worcester code that fathers must bring their child to Coney Island for a hot dog covered in ketchup after they have gone through the traumatic experience of getting a vaccination or blood drawn. To combat tears, instead of the hug or kiss because of an "oww-ie" or "boo-boo," Worcester dads heal wounds with chocolate milk and the messiest lunch available.  And god bless them for it, seriously.  

It occurs to me that my favorite Coney Island memories aren't even my own.  My uncle, father and older cousins tell stories about my grandfather putting them to work throughout the summer, doing some excessive landscaping, house-building or other rigorous job and if you've made acceptable progress by noontime he'd bring you a Coney Island hotdog for lunch.  If you were particularly successful he might throw in a bag of chips, too.

Walking into Coney Island for the first time in 12 years, I realized it hasn't changed a bit since my grandfather was stopping in decades ago. Stepping through the doors has you wondering if you've just joined the cast of Pleasantville. Old oak booths line the walls and center aisle, and a the counter servers still cater to the inevitable long line of the lunch rush. Over the decades, patrons have etched notes, names, dates, quotes and other colorful verses into the wooden seating, and while it may detract from the appeal at first glance, there is something comforting and unique about the environment it fosters.  To my knowledge, they've never tried to sand and re-stain the booths, the graffiti is part of the decor.

Two new items stood out to me.  First, the jukebox had been updated with cds of "newer" artists, as in the last decade.  No one was using it, but I did note it's presence.  Second, because Coney Island is still CASH ONLY, they have an ATM in an adjoining space that holds a bar room.  I, personally, had never noticed the bar room and can't really comment on it.  But, it's existence didn't really surprise me. 

So, moving on with my tale... I grabbed some cash, because I was stupidly unprepared to pay with cash and got in line. Coney Island is like a well-oiled machine when it comes to their hot dogs.  There is a system and they are prepared for the seasoned veteran and the new-comer alike.  They are "at-the-ready" waiting for your order and they are so quick that it is as if magically your hot dogs appear.  They even have their own lingo for your toppings, such as "up" or "with sauce."  I'm not going to tell you what each is, the fun of ordering is in the adrenaline rush that comes with trying to figure out what the hell everyone is talking about. They have some pretty awesome sides too, like gigantic pickles and baked beans.  They offer polar beverages and possibly Wachusett potato chips, but they might be just a generic brand. 

Anyway, the best part is that the food is so cheap! I think it is $1.50 per hot dog and I'm pretty sure that includes any toppings you want.  I paid for lunch for two people and spent less than $10, with 2 sides and 2 drinks.  Amazing, right? I know.

So, it is almost lunch time, head to Coney Island and let me know what you think.  I give it two very enthusiastic thumbs up and gold star for added effect!

<3 K

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