Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Pittsfield relishes hot dog culture - and ties to the champ

In the 1950s, before fast food chains were established in the Berkshires, we went to "ma and pa" owned eateries for our dogs, burgers, fries and other such fare.

Long gone are favorites such as Red's Dairy Bar, the Guernsey Dairy Bar, Emily's Snack Bar, Angie's, the Dutch Kitchen, the Penguin, the Quarry and dozens more throughout the Berkshires.

I have to admit I was partial to hot dogs back then. A visit to any of these for franks was a real treat. But my favorite for its foot-long hot dogs was Dopey's in Lanesborough.

It is still functioning as Bob's Country Restaurant and the "foot-longs" are still on the menu. Although the restaurant's name has changed and there have been several owners since Dopey's, the walls still display the original paintings of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Hot dogs have always had their place in the Berkshires and few, if any, fast food chains have succeeded in competing with the local vendors for the dogs. Grampie's warm weather hot dog cart has been a North Street fixture since 1998. Proprietor and Pittsfield native Ernie Jordan has dished out thousands of his hot chili cheese dogs and kielbasas with mustard horseradish sauce and hot sauerkraut piled high over onions and relish.

Of course every local has his/her favorite between Teo's and the Hot Dog Ranch for the best mini hot dogs, meat sauce, chili, onions and condiments. Gourmands will claim one eatery over the other based on the tastiest sauce or dogs that have the greatest a "snap" or those with the most outstanding buns.

One of the only old time drive-ins in the Berkshires is Pedrin's in North Adams, where chili cheese dogs are a popular fare. Also a North Adams favorite for mini dogs is Jack's Hot Dog Stand on Eagle Street, an eatery in the same family for 100 years. Jack's has had contests in the past to see who can down the most hot dogs in one sitting. A few years ago a Williams College student won gorging himself with 28 dogs.

The most famous hot dog eating contest has been held each year since 1972 on the Fourth of July at the famous Nathan's of Coney Island, N.Y. Here the qualifying contestants stand up on a platform with a long table with plenty of water. Contestants have 10 minutes to eat and keep down as many of Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs and buns as they can while a huge crowd cheers for them.

The contest has many rules governing things like the size of partially eaten dogs, how to handle ties, posting the number eaten by each, penalties, etc. In 2011 Nathan's inaugurated its first competition for women. The winner of the men's competition gets a year's possession of the much coveted jewel covered yellow Mustard Belt. The winner of the women's contest receives a "bejeweled" pink belt.

In 10 of the past 11 years, the male hot dog eating champ has been Joey "the Jaws" Chestnut, who this year beat his own record by scarfing down a whopping 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

(The women's winner managed to do 41 franks.) Joey's closest competitor only made it to 60 of Nathan's finest. Despite the protests of several animal rights activists in the crowd, Joey was undaunted in setting the new record. Hot dogs are just one of many eating contests that Joey has entered and named the winner. His resume includes pizza, chicken, wings, chili, shrimp cocktail, deep fried asparagus and many more foodstuffs.

I share about the remarkable food machine, Joey, as he has local roots. Joey's dad, Merle Chestnut, who lives in California, grew up in Pittsfield and is a 1964 graduate of Pittsfield High School. His aunt, Beverly Chestnut Morelli, graduated PHS in 1965, and still lives in South County. Both were Pittsfield "Baby Boomers!"

Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at jesjmskali@aol.com.


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