I have been rising early enough to be able to tell that fall is beginning to wheedle its way in. Our chilly mornings have some bite to them, and I think hopefully, maybe today I can wear my sweater. Today? But I shed the sweater by 11 am and switch to a tank top by 2.
Napa Valley’s summers are persistent, and at times I love the dusty depth of the early fall heat. There’s no chance I’ll get confused, though. I know my summer is over because I’ve had my Brunswick hot dog.
Understand that I was (oh, let’s be honest, I am) a sentimental child. For years I had a short list of foods that I would eat in Maine and nowhere else that included:
- Salt and vinegar chips
- Ginger ale
- Most seafood
- Blueberries in any type of pastry
- Baked beans
What kind of kid doesn’t like hot dogs?! Or worse, turns up her nose and says, “I’m sorry, I only eat those on the East coast” ? My only excuse is that I have always been bound to rituals. These were our special foods, either because they made for good vacation treats or, in the case of seafood and blueberries, were simply better down Maine. I didn’t understand the romantic science behind sea air’s effect on the appetite then; I only knew that tastes were brighter, riper, and richer there.
When we visit, we make the short drive to Brunswick to visit our cousins and buy produce from the farmer’s market in the grassy quad downtown. But we all know why we’re really there. We’re there for the three-bite hot dogs in cardboard boxes.
The hot dogs worth waiting for, worth traveling across the country for, come from little carts along the perimeter of the park. In my memory there were more of them, and I’m sure I’ve never known their names in all the years I’ve visited. That doesn’t matter, because all you need to know is whether you need a steamed dog or a grilled dog. You should know this quickly, too, because the gruff yet friendly Mainers at the window can’t wait for you to get flustered over your selection.
In a matter of seconds, you’ll hand over a couple bucks and receive a small bundle of perfectly harmonious texture and taste. The hot dog is nestled into a squishy, split-top white bun. It’s the perfect vessel for the gently salty dog and its toppings, which helpfully disguise the steamed link’s unappetizing color. I like mine with a smear of sour relish on one side, fine, crunchy chunks of onion on the other, and generous swipes of ketchup and mustard sprinkled with celery salt. It’s gone in about as much time as it takes to order.
Admittedly, it doesn’t look like much, and I’m pretty sure a Brunswick dog eaten on the lawn with some fizzy drink wouldn’t win any creativity points. But it doesn’t need to–there’s no need to mess with a tradition that’s already perfect.
PS. If you ever find yourself in Brunswick, confused about how to eat your hot dog, I should note that in my family we are staunch supporters of Camp Steamed. On this trip I did my journalistic duty for you and sampled both steamed and grilled dogs. You can’t really go wrong with either (it’s a hot dog, after all), but know that grilling changes the carefully constructed blend of sweet, meaty, salty and tart. I suggest you balance the experience and just get one of each.