It’s Got The Snap
By Robert Beck
Gray’s Papaya is my favorite hot dog place for several reasons. Foremost is that it’s a dedicated hot dog eatery, not one of those restaurants with a hot dog listed on the menu in case that’s all your kid will eat. No no. Gray’s specializes. It’s all hot dogs. The exception is the egg, cheese, and meat sandwich on the breakfast menu, but you can get one of those with franks on it too. They also do it right. None of this boiled stuff (what my Brooklyn friend calls dirty-water dogs). These are gently cooked to a light, mahogany-brown patina. Delicious.
The store has personality. Give your order to the guy at the big grill, take a couple of steps, and it meets you at the cash register. Done. Sometimes it gets there before you do. I wanted to do a painting of the inside of Gray’s, but there is a logistical problem. Not only do things move quickly in there, but there’s no room, and I never see anyone who looks like they are in charge who I can talk to. Before I can ask somebody about asking somebody, I’m out the other end with my food. I wrote them but didn’t hear back, so I settled for an exterior view.
The dogs at Gray’s aren’t overly large. Unlike hamburger eaters who respond to size, hot dog eaters prefer their excess in multiples. That assures the proper balance of hot dog to roll and allows for one-handed face-stuffing. Proper form is to hold the dog by the end, with the bun-split facing up, or a two-handed cradle if the dog is loaded and both hands are free. Tilting your head sideways is permitted.
According to your correspondent (and many other hot dog lovers), these grilled, natural-casing dogs are the best in New York. At first, I considered the pairing with exotic fruit drinks to be odd, but now I’d rather have that than anything else. Two dogs with mustard and a papaya. It’s what Jambon au beurre is to Paris. Or maybe cheesesteaks to Philly. I take my dogs and plenty of napkins across Amsterdam to Verdi Square and enjoy the small, usually peaceful oasis of trees and benches surrounded by UWS frenzy. I hold one in my lap while I work the other. The casings have that snap. The papaya is sweet against the salt of the meat. I always get mustard in my mustache. That’s what napkins are for.