Every June, some vibe oracle declares this year’s warmer months to be the summer of [fill in the blank]. Now I’m no diviner, but it looks like the Summer of 2022 is the Summer of the Hot Dog.
Hear me out. In March, Time Out did an NYC hot dog round-up, and in June, Eater rolled out its list of “28 Standout, Snappy Dogs Around NYC.” Soon after, Eater broke the news that the beloved, 90-year old Papaya King’s last standing outlet was in danger of being closed. (It’s true—if you want one final Papaya dog, hop on back of the weepy last-licks-line). Our own Summer issue revealed that we’ve been obsessed with Korean corn dogs, and we felt so seen when the mighty Lizzo recently recorded herself tucking into a series of massive Korean weenies. Full disclosure, a direct causal relationship between these last two phenomena has yet to be found.
But there is a hot dog that both Eater and Time Out missed, a snappy dog so layered and texture-filled that it should surely stand on the podium with Papaya King, Crif, PDT, Katz’s. This mysterious dog is sold by Lenny’s Swedish Hot Dogs, a cart that operates on Sundays outside the Manhattan location of its sister-business, Bon Bon, A Swedish Candy Co.
The beauty of the humble hot dog is that it has been interpreted by so many cultures. Of course, there is the trending Korean corn dog, but also Peruvian salchipapas, the Amsterdam Stoner Dog (topped with pizza toppings), the Argentine Choripán, and flower-shaped Taiwanese pastries sold with hot dogs tucked inside. The Scandinavian dog served at Lenny’s Swedish is in the same vein as the famed Icelandic dog, but instead of lamb sausage, these pork/beef wieners are made right in NYC by Schaller & Weber. Long and skinny, they stick out of their buns like NBA stars trying to sleep on junior mattresses. Lenny’s founder, Leonard Schaltz, considers their flavor and distinctive snap most like the dogs he ate growing up outside of Stockholm.
What makes the Lenny’s Swedish dog so compelling are its Scandi-specific toppings that include Johnny’s mustard, a noticeably sweet condiment that bears a hint of coriander and cinnamon. Johnny’s is not like either French or American mustards—it is a thing specific to northern climes. Then there is your choice of creamy remoulade or shrimp salad; Schaltz uses traditional, packaged, Swedish import versions of both. Either choice makes this dog incredibly rich, and might actually be overkill, but for the gentle acidity of house-made cucumber pickles. Finally, the whole thing is showered with fried onions (also imported) that have the distinctive texture of crushed potato chips—but these are even better because they’re oniony. The result is a layered experience: a snappy dog enriched by sweet and lush condiments, pleasantly offset by acidity and salty, savory crunch.
Schaltz shared a memory of how these hot dogs are eaten in Sweden. “We had, you know, our local candy shop. It was like the corner store where the dads would go and gamble on the weekends, bet on soccer and horses and stuff. And then that store would also have this huge pick-and-mix candy aisle.” Like at Bon Bon, the candy store’s hot dog trade was strictly a side venture. “They would have the hot dogs sort of connected to it. So it’s not as culturally strong as the Swedish tradition of Saturday candy, which is really a Saturday thing, but I would say the hot dogs were a lead-in to fun weekend activities. You know, you’re allowed eat a little bit more unhealthily on the weekend.” Schaltz laughs, “And then when you when you grow up and start going out, you visit the hot dog man after a night of drinking.”
Find Lenny’s Swedish Hot Dogs on Sundays outside of BonBon—A Swedish Candy Co., 130 Allen St., Manhattan.
Photo courtesy of Chef’s Tribute to Citymeals on Wheels.