The Hot Texas Weiner Lie! A Wandering Spectator Collabo Joint
If you grew up in New Jersey like me, you are innately aware of certain truths. Like Bruce is the Boss and no matter what the calendar says, summer always starts on Memorial Day at the shore. Depending on where you are born in the state predetermines your stance on our century-old breakfast meat debate no matter what the evidence suggests. And if you ever lived or had family from Passaic County, you know a Texas Weiner was created in Paterson NJ by an unknown Greek hot dog vendor in the early 1920s. No doubt about it!
At least that's what I always thought. Then one day I got this email from a fellow blogger asking if I’d like to do a collaboration on the birthplace of the Texas Weiner. “No need guy, It’s Paterson, New Jersey. Done,” I think to myself full of Garden State piss and vinegar. But I nicely replied, "not sure there’s a story as everyone knows the origin." But Bill Sallurday of Wandering Spectator, hit me with a little knowledge that completely changed my perspective. He told me in addition to his thorough reviews of sports stadiums across the country, he dabbled in true crime stories and utilized Newspapers.com for his research. He assumed based on where I lived I would think Paterson was the birthplace of the hot dog slathered in an aromatic beanless chili with mustard and chopped onion. But he pointed out through his forensic findings, the earliest newspaper article mentioning a Texas Weiner was dated 1918 and it wasn't in New Jersey. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but my entire hot dog eating life flashed in front of my eyes like I was Bruce Willis finding out I was dead at the end of The Sixth Sense.
I’m not kidding, I was “shook” and I was wrong.
I saw undeniable proof the name Texas Weiner was mentioned in the August 19,
1918, edition of The Pittsburgh Press, which so happens to be five years earlier than that famous “unnamed Greek hot dog vendor” in Paterson NJ. Armed with this new information and with my tail tucked between my legs, I took Wandering Spectator up on his offer and together we combined skill sets in order to search out the true origin story of one of America’s most unknown indigenous foods.
Where it all started
Charles Feltman, a German immigrant, is widely considered to be the father of the hot dog when in 1867, he started selling his frankfurters from a converted pie pushcart in Coney Island Brooklyn. By the early twentieth century, Feltman had turned his cart into a city block long Pavillion selling thousands of dogs each day. A venerable Sausage Disney Land. As a result, Coney Island became the epicenter of hot dog culture in America. Waves of immigrants passed through Ellis Island getting their start in Feltman’s kitchen then taking their newfound knowledge elsewhere throughout the country. The diaspora of Greek and Macedonians entering the US at the turn of the century had a particularly poignant effect on the hot dog’s nationwide popularity as they introduced their homeland’s meat sauce recipe as the perfect accouterment.
The Texas Weiner Truth
Remember when Bugs popped out of his bunny hole and said he must have made a left turn in Albuquerque. Well somewhere along the way, 3 Greek brothers Peter, Frank and Nick Koufougeorgas went left and ended up in Dubois PA, while the rest of the Greek and Macedonian hot dog entrepreneurs went to the Midwest. One after the other, hot dog stands with names like American Coney Island, Jackson Coney Island and Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island started to pop up and a “coney dog” became synonymous with a hot dog topped with a seasoned meat sauce, an Americanized version of the native recipe saltsa kima. Technically the name coney dog is erroneous as the true Brooklyn frankfurter was typically served with mustard and sauerkraut. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, The Koufougeorgas bros now going by the last name "George" decided to brand their chili topped hot dog differently when Peter George opened up his first ever Texas Weiner stand attached to the Palace Restaurant. It's over a hundred years later and their family restaurant Texas Hot Dogs , located in Altoona PA, continues to sell the same sauce.
Bill and I scoured through scores of newspaper articles and chased down several leads. We even cross-checked origin stories with public immigration records debunking many claims in the process. We ultimately came to the conclusion Peter George was in fact the inventor of the name Texas Weiner. Sorry New Jersey!
But why Texas, and how in just a matter of months, did the Texas Weiner popularity spread so quickly. Within 2 years, several other Texas Weiner joints popped up in Gettysburg, Scranton and even Rochester New York several years before the Paterson claim. Our objective changed. By connecting the dots of some circumstantial evidence, we theorized with the possibility that Peter George crossed paths with Tom Mix, the John Wayne of the silent film era. Westerns were in vogue and this Hollywood cowboy happened to grow up in Dubois. But it was our interview with Peter George's daughter Niai Lamont, now in her nineties and her grandson Dane who confirmed what we were trying to find out. As probable as the hypothesis sounded, it turns out that Peter George chose the name Texas Hot Weiner to differentiate themselves from the coney. Also, their unique meat sauce, which Peter learned from a Turkish cook while serving in the Balkan War, looked a lot like Texas Chili. While Ms. Lamont remembered the name of the actor Tom Mix, she didn't think he was the inspiration. Ms. Lamont also recounted her father's frustration as competing restaurants copied the name. He even attempted to take legal action but with like many foodigenous stories, imitation often wins.
Is it a lie if you really believe it!
This project was bittersweet. While finding out the true origin of one of my favorite foods was fulfilling, it broke my heart a little to discover Paterson was not the originator. Ever since my first bite of a Libby’s Lunch “all the way’ Texas Weiner I was hooked. I’ll never forget that squirt of the cinnamon laced chili and mustard staining my shirt and my tongue batting around a rogue piece of tangy chopped onion with each chew. It was more than just a hot dog; it was a rite of passage. Libby's was my mom's favorite childhood Texas Weiner stand and she was introduced to it by her father. In addition, her uncle Martin was a hot dog cook down the road. Texas Weiners were in our blood, and I’m not just talking cholesterol. So, when I was told that Paterson was the birthplace of this special chili dog, I believed it. We all did.
Numerous newspaper articles have been written about this unknown Greek pushcart vendor who first put his native kima on a hot dog and proclaimed it to be a Texas Weiner. Famous foodie websites continue to corroborate that false lore even to this day. But putting pride aside, it doesn't really matter who invented it. Texas Weiners are an undeniable part of Passaic County's cultural fabric as we have the highest concentration of hot dog restaurants in the country. Generations of loyal fans all have their favorite and each place has their own signature differences. Some make a thicker sauce, heavy on the cumin, others have a thinner runnier consistency with an undeniably cinnamon aftertaste. But unlike the original hot dog in Altoona, we deep fry our hot dogs in New Jersey. So maybe we can hold on to the truth we invented the deep-fried Texas Weiner. Whether your favorite is The New Corral, Johnny and Hanges, The Hot Grill or even the Plainfield NJ outliers, they all owe a little respect to the brothers from Dubois whose marketing ingenuity brought us this amazing regional food.