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Perhaps the most famous regional style of hot dog on the East Coast, the New York system, a.k.a. the hot wiener or gagger (“gaggah”), is a Rhode Island original: a natural-casing frankfurter, usually made of pork and veal, in a steamed bun topped with mustard, chopped onion, celery salt, and a “secret” (ground beef) meat sauce. Much like Detroit’s Coney Island dog, the relation to New York is unclear other than as a likely marketing strategy back in the early 1900s, when hot dogs first started appearing in Rhode Island, since New York was hot dog central in the U.S. at that time (Coney Island was the birthplace of hot dogs in America, via German immigrants). It wasn’t until around the 1940s, though, that this particular style of dawg really developed among Providence’s Greek hot dog vendors.
Of course, some locals may claim they’re not “hot dogs” at all—roped together, the wieners are red-orange in color and cut short; they have square, not round, ends; they’re not all-beef. But to an outsider, the regional distinction is all about what goes on top. And who doesn’t like celery salt on their wieners?
Good to know: Watch out for the traditional “up the arm” stack, in which the wiener chef lines up buns along his forearm and quickly fills them all with wieners and toppings.
Where: Owned by a Greek family since 1946, Olneyville New York System (two locations including 20 Plainfield St., Providence, map) has made quite a name for itself on various TV shows over the years, and for good reason: From the neon signage and counter seating to the coffee milk on the menu, this place is the real deal. Bonus: The wieners, made from pork, veal, beef, and garlic, are from a local producer, Little Rhody.
When: Mon-Thurs, 11am-2am; Fri-Sat, 11am-3am; Sun, noon-2am
Order: Order your hot wiener "all the way" ($2.32) for the full New York system treatment. Yes, it’s salty and sloppy, but in an appealing way. Soft steamed bun, mustard tang, raw onion crunch, runny meat sauce, the distinctive celery salt flavoring—somehow it all works together harmoniously, and it’s all gone in just a few bites. It’s easy to put away several of these little guys (especially after-hours, of course). The natural pairing is coffee milk, which is like chocolate milk, but with coffee flavor.
Alternatively: There are countless places to find these around the state—most any dinerlike establishment with the words system, lunch, or wiener in its name, for starters. Also in Providence, you might try Baba's Original New York System (401-331-5349; 424 Smith St., map), which dates to 1927; or in Cranston, there’s the popular Wein-O-Rama (401-943-4990; 1009 Oaklawn Ave., map), where we hear the sauce is spicier and meatier.
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