The Seagull and The New York System (Part 5)
The Scraggly Man is telling about his first experience of the New York System restaurant on Smith Street in Providence…
“Hot wieners are another uniquely Rhode Island phenomenon. Kids in Rhode Island schools always laugh on the days they serve hot wieners in the cafeteria, but they get away with it, because wieners is what they’re called. The hot dogs are also called gaggers or sometimes bellybusters. They’re thin and a little pink, and illegal in 48 states.
“The New York System, which as far as I can tell is based on the Coney Island method they use at Nathan’s, is to cook the wieners on a griddle.
“The guy who makes them is known as the grillmeister. If you order one ‘all the way,’ the grillmeister sticks a hot dog in a bun, and slathers on a layer of chopped raw onions, mustard if you want, celery salt, and a mystery meat sauce with a secret recipe that restaurant owners guard with their lives. No ketchup. If you want that, you’ve got to put it on later.
“The grillmeister stacks these dogs on his arms as he loads them up, and word is that the ones closest to his armpit are the ones with the most flavor.
“By the time I got to the New York System on Smith Street I was starving, so as soon as I sat down at the counter, I ordered an armful and a coffee cabinet, which is what Rhode Islanders call a coffee syrup and coffee ice cream milkshake.
“The wieners arrived and were devoured in a minute, so I ordered another armful. I might not look it now, but in those days, I was a bit heavier, and I did love to eat, so I ordered another armful and tucked in.
“By now, the restaurant’s denizens were giving me the eye. The owner explained that if I ate three more, I’d break the record.
“This was long before they invented professional eating contests. Although I was well past the point of satisfaction, the thought of the challenge and making my mark inspired me to nod, ‘Okay. Bring ‘em on.’
“The wieners appeared. I choked them down. They took my picture with a Polaroid, stuck it on the wall, and gave me the bill. ‘Didn’t say it was free,’ the owner said with a shrug. I asked for a receipt to give the newspaper. No way was I going to get stuck with this check.
“By then I felt a little queasy. Two of the patrons helped me off my stool and politely escorted me outside to make sure that I didn’t redeposit my meal on the floor or the counter.
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