Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs (1310 Surf Avenue Brooklyn, NY - Coney Island)

Definitely one of the most established and hyped hot-dog places in New York with branches all over the city.  Of course, to do a proper review I had see where it all started. 

I love the little hot dog man

 Half the appeal of Nathan's is the location. Coney Island feels about as far away from Manhattan as possible, with open space, a beach, boardwalk, carnival, freak sideshow, the whole shebang.  Actually, in many ways it reminded me of being Santa Cruz, CA, but without the hula-hoop twirling hippies.  
For the sake of tact, I cut out the ambulance to the left.
The clientele at Nathan's was remarkably broad; everyone seems to buy into the hype and just about all demographics are represented.  There were a fair number of tourists, both from in town and out of town.  I heard a bit of French and Italian being spoken, along with the more regular Spanish and a surprising smattering of what I thought was Russian.  There were also a good spread of crazies and derelicts without whom no seaside carnival would be complete. What came as a surprise to me, though, was the shear number of people at the place. Even more surprising, the presence of an ambulance and EMTs loading up a middle-aged Nathan's customer on a stretcher did nothing to stop the hoards from getting their share of tubular meat. My brother-in-law also has an emergency room story about eating a hot dog at Nathan's; apparently he is not alone.  
Despite the apparent health hazards the crowd wasn't deterred, and a small barrier like a trip to the ER wasn't going to stop me from trying the most famous hot dog in NY.  Besides, according to my television the nurses in emergency rooms are as spicy as andouille sausage.

The Item: 4/5
 Good! Surprisingly good! The dogs have a bold flavors and a great snap, quintessentially hotdog like. They slightly toast the buns on the same griddle as the dogs, which is a nice perk, but if you get toppings it will soak right through and make the bun soggy. The hotdogs are thin, and the toppings are thick, a ratio I'm not usually fond of, but the flavor cuts through well. I even detected a hint of spice, though it may be the onion/pepper combo of toppings. I also tried a corn dog which was....ordinary. Too much corn, not enough dog, which is too bad since the dogs are pretty tasty.
Acoutrement: 3/5
Observe the hot dog shaped grease stain on the lid.  Delicious.
This is sort of the thing at Nathan's, they have lots of topping options, though I wouldn't say they are anything particularly fancy.  You've got a standard ketchup/mustard/onions/kraut (no relish or mayo) or you can get a themed dog with chili, bacon & cheese, or peppers & onions. I tried the peppers & onions and the chili. The chili was tasty as well but has much more flavor to it than the dogs so you're basically just trading one for the other. I recommend getting it on the side and enjoying is separately. The onions and peppers were soggy, but the flavor was good and distinct.

Value: 2/5
Here lies the heart of most complaints about Nathan's, the price.  I agree, $3.50 is too damn much for a hotdog. It's not a sausage or organic or anything special, it's just a thin, but tasty, hotdog; what you're really paying for is the experience of being there and the hype.  I got three dogs and a drink, and dropped about $15. I'd recommend getting a kids meal, it comes with a dog, fries and a drink for $5.99, not bad.

Other: 4/5
So far the record is 68 hot dogs. Yum.
A couple things of note here: The location, for one.  Coney island is lovely and a great place to get away from the city.  I thoroughly enjoyed eating my meal with ocean views.   Also, their drinks are varied and original. They have the usual soda and beer, but they also have a homemade lemonade and orangeade that were awesome. Definitely try the orangeade, it's like homemade Slice.
What put the 'other' category into the 4 range instead of a 3, however, was the annual hot dog eating contest Nathan's sponsors. This level of street meat cultural contribution cannot go unrecognized. The next contest will be held at Nathan's flagship store in Coney Island on July 4th, 2011. I'm going. (update: I went, it was the kind of horror akin to watching a slow motion train hurtling towards a cliff and wondering if the brakes will work in time. Everyone should go once).

Overall Score: 4/5
Despite the above-average price and all the hype, I completely enjoyed my experience at Nathan's.  The dogs were good, the atmosphere was nice, the drinks are plentiful, and the beach is lovely.  I'm sure I'll go back again, just be sure to chew thoroughly so you don't end up in the hospital too.

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