HOT DOG! Frankly, Any Dog with “The Works” Deserves this Meat Sauce!

My Aunt Naomi owned, at different times, at least two restaurants in Gloversville, NY decades ago. I don’t remember what the first one was called (any of my relatives recall?), but the second retained the name, I think, of the previous owner, Helen’s Lunch. I know it was located on Main Street, several blocks up from the downtown section. It was a big deal for me when I was old enough to walk it on my own from my Andrews’ relatives’ house. Probably the former name served well enough, since one of my aunt’s daughters was named Helen and she worked in the restaurant as well (along with her sisters, Snookie [Ruth] and Joan). There was no question that a big attractions at both eateries was Aunt Naomi’s hot dog sauce. People traveled from miles outside G-ville for those dogs, topped with mustard, onions and The Sauce – The Works!

My mother (Dolly) once told me that her sister learned how to make this meaty condiment from “an old Greek lady” but I’m not sure if the recipe was ever written down before I cornered Mom in my kitchen, in front of the stove, a note pad and pencil in my hands. My Aunt Naomi (the sister with whom she felt closest, despite a 13-year difference in ages) taught Mom how to cook up the sauce, and for years we enjoyed it whenever Dolly made a batch. Mom would whip up a potful for a picnic and bring along a couple small-portioned, frozen containers’ worth, so we could pull them out of the freezer at a later date for eager consumption. At one time, the stuff was even bottled for commercial sale, but it was the late 60s and opportunities for widespread advertisements weren’t as wide and diverse as they are now, what with Facebook, blogs, Twitter and more. It had a small, loyal, local following (my dad even sold it in his tiny, corner grocery store on Second Avenue in the South End of Albany), but it certainly didn’t earn my relatives a fortune. I think the enterprise came to a close when Aunt Naomi and Uncle Corley pulled up roots and moved to Arizona, where they remained for several years.

Uncle Corley, cousin Helen, Aunt Naomi, 1950s, in their restaurant

I picture Dolly standing beside Naomi in front of a stove in their more youthful times, pretty much the same as when I was wresting details of the recipe from my mother decades later. But I don’t think Mom would be writing anything down, unlike me, who grabbed her hand occasionally to stop her from dumping an ingredient in the pot – so I could measure it. My mother cooked by “feel” and experience, as many home cooks did and still do. She’d witnessed her sister’s cooking for years, having spent lots of her childhood and teen years in Gloversville at the Andrews home. In fact, her eldest niece by Aunt Naomi was only five years younger than she was – so in some ways, Naomi was a bit of a mother figure.

Mom's favorite picture of herself, at 16, outside Bleecker stadium in Albany (during World War 2).

All her later life, Mom fantasized about living in Gloversville, but it never happened. Still, at least one week of each summer was spent with Aunt Naomi and Uncle Corley, and I loved it. I loved the food: delicious, basic food to fill the tummy. I loved the company. And, for a kid, it felt special that my aunt ran a restaurant!

Whenever I pull together a “cauldron” full of Aunt Naomi’s Hot Dog Sauce, I tend to double the recipe that you’ll find below. Like Mom, I want to ensure there’s sauce for another time or two. Small portions freeze well, which is the way to go so you can boil, fry or grill up just a few frankfurters and not worry about whether or not you’ll use the rest up before it sits in the fridge too long (Bill says I should work for the FDA [federal Food and Drug Administration] since I take seriously all those warnings about how long one should hold on to leftovers!). While Bill could eat hot dogs several times a week (especially the all-beef variety), I cannot; ergo, the freezer strategy. All in all, I prefer those small portions because I think of hot dogs with this special sauce as a treat, not something included weekly in a balanced diet.

The reason I decided to give priority to creating a blogpost centered on this recipe, rather than the at-least-a-half-dozen other posts for which I’ve taken recent pictures, is because hubby Bill remarked to me last week, “I’m in the mood for hot dogs. How about it?” When I suggested that, if he waited just a few days, there could be some of this sauce to add to his mustard and onions, there was no question that I’d better get to it soon.

I made almost double this recipe but, unfortunately, discovered I didn’t have as much paprika as I’d thought. Checking the spice rack, I found almost a whole container of Smoked Paprika, which I subbed for close to half of the regular spice. Tasting it, I noted the difference and – to balance out to what I thought would be closer to my aunt’s sauce, or at least cover some of the “smoked” flavor – I then added about a tablespoon of garlic paste (from one of those tubes now available in the produce section of many large grocery stores). For me, this almost made up for the difference in taste resulting from the substitute. (I’m not a fan of smoked spices, but perhaps you’d like it better.) As for my husband, he thought it was great, true to what he’d tasted when Mom made it (he never got a chance to sample Aunt Naomi’s). Go figure.

I'm mashin' and choppin" away!

Something to remember: Mom always emphasized that the “secret” to this recipe was to keep mashing down the meat until it was fine in texture. She said this allowed the flavor of the spices to really soak in, for all the flavors to meld together. I’ve used a masher, but a metal spatula or chopper does the job best.

 

AUNT NAOMI’S/MOM’S HOT DOG SAUCE
Yield: enough to top a couple dozen franks, or probably more, depending upon how much you heap on!

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1½ lbs. ground beef
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon paprika
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • water, to cover from start of cooking

Process

1.  Sauté onion in oil in a large saucepan until just turning translucent.

2.  Add ground beef and fry until browned, continuously mashing beef to break it down to a fine texture.

3.  Add paprika and chili powder, stirring in thoroughly.

4.  Add water to cover beef mixture and to about 1 inch above.

5.  Simmer sauce for 1 to 1½ hour, stirring occasionally, until most of the water is cooked away. (I continue to mash the beef up occasionally during this stage too.) If you prefer the sauce to be spicier, add a little more chili powder before simmering is finished.

6.  Serve on hot dogs in buns. (I prefer New England style buns, toasted on both sides.) Tastes especially good with mustard and, if you like them, chopped onions (I don’t do raw onions – migraine trigger!).

Bill goes for "The Works"!

7.  If you choose to freeze in small amounts, reheat later by adding a small amount of water to the pan with the frozen block of sauce. It’ll cook down/heat up well.

My choice: just the dog with the sauce and a little mustard both below and atop the dog

 

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6 responses

  1. I’m sad because (for some reason) I didn’t find this sooner! I was born in G’Ville in 1949 – grew up there and lived there until my draft notice in 1968! I never lived there again.
    I don’t remember Helen’s but I remember all of the other diners along Bleeker street in G’Ville. I couldn’t tell you what other items they had on the menu, but if they had a good meat sauce for the dogs, then I’d been there. As a side note, I was back in G’Ville for a funeral about 45 days ago and of course I tracked down all of the Dog places. None on Bleeker St any longer….. But I found a good one.
    Now I can make this meat sauce here in AZ and always have a little bit of my “heritage” with me. Thanks! Gary

    • Hi Gary. Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I was pretty much taking the summer off from most computer stuff (not an easy thing to do!).

      Helen’s was on Main Street when I was an adolescent, but further up from the downtown area (but, if I recall, same side of street as Glove Theater was downtown). Aunt Naomi and Uncle Corley lived on Oakland Ave., at the corner of whatever street ran down to the cemetery (a block away?). In fact, my cousin Linda (with her parents, my Uncle Dick and Aunt Lena) lived across the street from that cemetery! Once I was “old enough,” I thought it was a big deal to be allowed to walk to the restaurant by myself. Guess my parents considered G-ville lots safer than a long walk in Albany.

      Your having been away from Gloversville reminds me of the author Richard Russo’s absence from it for a long time – yet he drew lots of inspiration for his novels. His first one, MOHAWK, particularly reminded me of Gloversville. Have you read it?

      By the way, Aunt Naomi & Uncle Cork & their family moved to Arizona sometime after that, selling the restaurant– lived there for many years, I think my cousin Snook’s stepdaughter might still be there.

      Thanks for the nice note. Have your tried making the hot dog sauce?

      • Hi Marilyn,
        Thank you for your response – and thank you for the reminder about Richard Russo (he went to HS with my older brother, Bill). I read Empire Falls and saw the HBO movie of the same title and I saw the movie, Nobody’s Fool too. I thought the book and the two movies were pretty good. I didn’t hear about the first book, MOHAWK. I’ll look for MOHAWK on Amazon.com.
        I’ve been trying to remember the diners along the east side of main street. I can only “picture” two – one of them, the little diner attached to the Glove theater, my mother used to work at that one when I was in school. Plus there was a larger bar/grill/restaurant just to the north of the original police station. If Helen’s was open in the early to mid 1950’s, I was only 5 or 6 years old – way too young to be walking along Main St on my own.
        As far as Helen’s hot dog meat sauce recipe – I did make up a batch and served it to my family (we all had tasted the meat sauce before from visits to G’Ville). Everyone agreed this recipe hit all the high notes – this was so close to what I remembered, I classified the recipe as The One I’d been looking for. I sent it to my two brothers; one brother, Brian, still lives in G’Ville and Bill lives in Colorado. Bill made a batch too and loved it! My other brother, Brian, said he “wouldn’t need the recipe ’cause he can still buy the dogs there……”.
        Marilyn, the only issue I had was the appearance – it was very red in color; it didn’t effect the taste or the texture though. I remembered the meat sauce being almost BLACK – or at least not a red color. Next time i’ll try to find darker colored chili powder and paprika.
        Thank you again for your recipe and for taking the time to respond to my positing!
        All the best,
        Gary Edick

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