The perfect wiener

It’s not Yankee Stadium, Henri says, but Chico has some good dogs

Photo Illustration by Tina Flynn

Crazy dog Warner and 1st St. Top Dog Salem and 2nd St. Zot’s 255 Main St.

Unlike most American boys, Henri did not grow up playing baseball—not only because my father and I spent almost every weekend watching movies, but also because I never really recovered from a terrifying incident that occurred one day in fourth grade.

Lars Nordberg had told all the boys in our class to bring their gloves out to the playground after school, and I thought maybe this was my chance to finally fit in. But when I got out there with mine, Lars just laughed, grabbed them from me and held them up for the other boys to see, then ran off with them, eventually throwing them over a fence and into a field. My favorite ones, too—soft brown calfskins that my mother had given me to keep me from getting blisters when I carried my briefcase to school.

In fact, I’d never even been to a baseball game until one glorious Sunday in spring about 10 years ago. L. and I were celebrating the first sunny day in about a week by drinking cappuccinos and reading the Times at our favorite café in the Village when we overheard some men talking about a make-up game at Yankee Stadium that afternoon. L. looked at me. “Make-up game?”

“Why not?” I said. “Let’s go.”

We went to my apartment, made a couple of flasks of Bloody Marys, and took a cab out to the ball field.

Well, it wasn’t what we expected, and even though we had absolutely no idea what was going on, we had a wonderful time—eating wieners and making jokes about who really should be out. After that we went back at least four or five times every year, mostly for the wieners. In fact, we called them “Wiener Days.” We’d put on our Bermudas, polo shirts and matching Tommy Hilfiger visors, grab the Ban de Soleil, and then spend the afternoon at the ball park. In short time, we had become rather experts on wiener culture.

German immigrants brought their wieners with them when they came to America in the mid-1800s. Once here, they began making their own, primarily in factories in New York and Chicago, where the majority of them settled. In the early 20th century, Jewish immigrants, who settled largely in New York, omitted the poultry and pork and began the tradition of all-beef wieners. The best wieners are still found in New York, where they’re often served Coney Island-style (slathered with a sauce made from ground beef, onions, tomato puree, chile powder and other spices) and in Chicago (served with pickle relish, bell peppers, lettuce, and diced tomatoes).

Chico’s offerings aren’t quite as exotic, but they’re not bad either. I like the Crazy Dog cart on Warner Street near the library of the Chico State campus, right across from the parking structure. Since I can never decide between the Crazy Dog ($1.50) and the Spicy Dog ($2.50), I usually end up getting both. The Crazy Dog cart is set up Monday through Friday from 7-2.

I also like the Top Dog cart, located on the corner of Salem and Second across from the Black Crow and set up Monday through Friday from 7:15-4. The Polish Dog ($2.75) is très bon, and if like Henri you enjoy a nice hot wiener first thing in the morning, you can make any of the wieners “Breakfast Dogs” by adding bacon and cheese (75 cents).

Both carts also sell soft drinks, chips and other snacks.

Henri’s favorite, though, is Zots Hotdogs. The little booths and Formica tables are just adorable! You can get plain dogs, Coney dogs and chili dogs, in either the foot-long ($2.10-$2.40) or the Great Dane/ Quarter Pound ($2.55-$2.95) version. You can also get corn dogs, sandwiches, nachos, soup and chili, and salads ($4.59 for the all-you-can-eat salad bar). Zots is located in the Garden Walk Mall (255 Main St.) and is open Monday through Saturday 8:30-5:30. Phone 345-2820.

Still, I miss those sunny afternoons at Yankee Stadium. There’s nothing quite like a wiener and a baseball game. Très Americain. In June, I’m going to San Francisco to visit my friends Terry and Claudio, who are remodeling their antique store near Union Square. I’m hoping they’ll take me to a Forty-niner game.