One of my favorite things about a foodigenous is that the people eating it, usually don't know that it's unique. A perfect example of this is the top cut hot dog bun ubiquitously available throughout New England but little known elsewhere. For these Bill Belichick loving people, a top cut bun is the norm. Sometimes I feel like saying "yo Boston, do you even know that your hot dog buns open up weird bro? And what's up with dropping those R's?" I kid.
It wasn't until the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St Louis World's Fair of 1904, that the hot dog was eaten on a bun. Prior to that the dog was served hot dog a mano, more like a hot hand than a hot dog, am I right? No seriously folks, but it was a German food exhibitor Antoine Feuchtwanger who unintentionally changed the course of food history forever. When Antoine’s customers failed to return the promotional gloves he lent out to help hold his scalding hot wieners, he asked his brother-in law, a baker, for warm rolls for his hot sausages to sit in. They were a hit.
Another food lore, though often discredited, suggests that it was a British born concessionaire Harry Stevens who is responsible for creating the hot dog bun. The story goes that during a freakishly chilly weather game in 1901, having no luck selling cold beverages or ice cream, Stevens ordered his Polo Grounds staff to procure as many warm rolls as they could get their hands on. The sausage and roll combo was marketed as “Get your hot wieners, get your Hot Dogs here,” said with old-timey inflection. The combination quickly sold out and the rest, as they say, is history.
The New England style hot dog bun, a distinct version designed with a pre-cut slit on the
top, has an undisputed origin story. Howard Johnson's, the country's most famous chain restaurant in the 1940's was looking for a more efficient vehicle to serve their fried Ipswich clam sandwich. They reached out to a Maine baker J.J. Nissen who returned with the split top roll that was crusty on the top, with flat sides perfect for toasting and grilling. The addition of dry milk as an ingredient makes the bread much softer than it's side loaded cousin.
This new bun was so versatile, not only was it sturdy enough for the cornmeal crusted clam strip sandwich but they also used it to house Howard Johnson's famous grilled Frankforts. Like most good things thankfully, imitators quickly copied J.J. Nissen’s top loading bun recipe and bakers flooded grocery stores throughout the region. Nowadays charred New England Style buns are packed full of succulent mayo-y lobster meat or brushed with butter and grilled alongside red casing snappers in most Mainers’ backyard BBQs. Their popularity has even creeped over the eastern border of the Empire State and are used for the regional favorite, Plattsburgh's New York Michigan Hots.
Outside of New England, these buns can be found in parts of Florida and Arizona where the local grocery stores cater to the snow bird population. And while Howard Johnson’s is no longer in operation, some current chain restaurants like Legal Seafood continue to properly showcase the Lobster Roll using the buttery toasted top filled bun.
For anyone not able to buy this New England favorite, check out King Arthur Flour’s easy to follow recipe and make it at home.