The Wienery: Still top dog in Sacramento

The Wienery

715 56th St.
Sacramento, CA 95819

(916) 455-0497

Not to rip away the tattered veneer of objectivity, but The Wienery is wondrous—wondrous in ways that go well beyond gustatory satisfaction

Transcendental. Metaphysical, even.

Over the years, this 35-year-old East Sacramento landmark has seen any number of other tenants in its strip mall flourish and fade. And yet The Wienery remains, doggedly selling its bevy of old-fashioned steamed franks—don’t forget the sausages—to a clientele that cuts broadly across Sacramento’s socioeconomic and demographic lines.

Politicians. Musicians. Neighborhood regulars. Students. Collars of blue, white and clerical. It boils down to this: Sit down within the hallowed cinderblock walls, lined with faded snapshots depicting the restaurant’s prior customers, and you’ll know that the counter (lunch) culture is not dead.

Personally, The Wienery resonates in part because it was a top dining choice of two now-dead pals: Tony Anthony, the former head of the Department of General Services, a mentor and true friend at a time when there were few others; and state Sen. Dave Cox, gruff but kindly, whose first suggestion for any lunch meeting was invariably the Big W.

When eating the chili—co-owner Carolyn prefers the frijoles-only version—or ordering a second cup of creamy, clam-heavy chowder, available every Friday, it’s impossible not to conjure memories of those two and understand why they thrived on settling into a seat at the long L-shaped counter. It’s good, also, to perhaps channel their inner Chi-Town with a frosty mug of root beer and an authentic Windy City: dill spears, tomato, mustard, onion, pepperoncini and celery salt.

Ketchup be damned.

The Wienery casts back to a simpler, custom-friendlier time. Here, a patron may ask Hector, Carolyn’s husband, for a bit more of this, a tad less of that or a hearty portion of something not suggested in the menu to modify any of the designer dogs. And Hector makes it happen. No doubt if someone ordering Monday’s Shroom Dog special (no, not that kind) sought a splash or five of the homemade cucumber relish used in the Windy City or the freakishly addicting red pepper relish that offers a bright yin to the tangy yang of mustard and spicy sausage on the Italian Summer Dog, any or all would be cheerfully appended. Sticking to the suggested combinations, however, can lead to some very tasty, sometimes startling, discoveries.

The menu warns that the Fiesta Dog—refried beans, onions, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and taco sauce—is “surprisingly good.” Who can quarrel with truth in advertising? Even a simple, straightforward creation such as the Ranch Dog, starring—natch—ranch dressing, can engender a “Whoa, tasty!”

Elsewhere in the truth-in-advertising file, the potato and macaroni salads are described in the menu as “famous.” Given its uniqueness, it’s easy to see how the fame of the macaroni salad would spread. Also, two thumbs-up for Tuesday’s lentil soup.

Why steamed dogs rather than grilled, one might wonder? Steamed is the traditional Chicago way, where even the bun is steamed into spongy submission. Steaming is not boiling: The dogs languorously loll above the bubbling fray on a perforated surface, growing more succulent by the second. On the other hand, The Wienery’s sausages—such as the prodigious Polish or Tofurky Kielbasa—are all grilled as is the bacon-wrapped dog with its not-easily forgettable jalapeño relish. So despite stressing steamed, both schools of thought are represented—a fine compromise.

Hector and Carolyn seem happy in their work, whether steaming or grilling or slapping together soups, chili and relishes from scratch. And Sacramento should be happy that they are happy about maintaining the majesty of one of the city’s enduring institutions.