Sunday, January 13, 2008

Yocco's "The Hot Dog King"

In the mid-90's I was driving from Pittsburgh to NYC with great regularity. I would take PA-I76 to I80 to I78, before finally hitting the home stretch that is the Jersey Turnpike. For a few years it seemed like I was making this trip every other month or so, mainly to discover the cultural wonders of the lower east side and import some bizarre trend or experience to my quiet home town. While New York City never fails to deliver in that respect, the biggest impression was made on the journey home by a billboard advertising the legendary "Yocco's" restaurant chain of Allentown, PA. Seen only from the west bound lane of I-78, the wary (i.e. hungover) traveler was rewarded by the image of a menacing, anthropomorphic hot dog, wearing a crown and holding a BBQ fork with an impaled hot dog on the end, presumably one of his loyal hot dog subjects. Clearly a retro illustration without any sense of irony, it stands as one the most mind blowing images I would see on many a trip to the big apple. Since I could never leave the city in anything less than a contemplative state, the Yocco's billboard always amused me with it's cartoon character from a bygone era, a mascot that would seem to possess a drive and ambition bordering on insane if compared to anything found in McDonaldland. If the Hot Dog king were any indication, one would expect McDonaldland to more closely resemble North Korea. Indeed, the fact that Yocco's only exists within the relative confines of the Allentown/ Bethlehem area could indicate that the major powers in fast food have utilized some sort of preemptive strike, most likely to keep the tyrant in check.
"Hot Dogs With A Personality"
It would be ten years before I finally enjoyed my first hot dog at Yocco's, a happy accident when I realized my brother had moved to the same Allentown, PA that Yocco's called home. I don't know if it's the Hot Dog King's subtle use of demagoguery or if those 'dogs are, in fact, awesome. Whatever the case may be, if you're in Allentown and reading this, don't tell me or you might be expected to Fed Ex me a "Dog Pack" sometime in the near future. Nowadays, my trip east pretty much end in Easton, where I visit my bro's family and then eat Yocco's. I know I was driving home, alone, when I decided I should finally check in on the place and see what it's all about. I had gained some insight after viewing Rick Seebak's "The Hot Dog Program" which dutifully mentions the Hot Dog King, if not properly advising the viewer of how fantastic Yocco's is. I had also read about it in an issue of the great zine "Snack Bar Confidential" but said reviewer was highly critical of the fare. Probably a health nut. Finally, now in the information age, I went online to find all sorts of praise, mostly from transplanted natives. It was online that I realized how one should order when at Yocco's; two "Yocco's" a side of Pierogies, and a chocolate milk. When they finally removed the billboard I guess it became a mission to finally see what exactly the Hot Dog King was really offering.
Since trying my first Yocco's I make a point to stop on the way home after every trip. Yocco's is for real. Maybe not exactly wholesome eats, but very much so in the sense that it's a regional dish that isn't found anywhere else, relying on regional outlets to provide the various ingrediants. Although Mrs. T's pierogies are everywhere the steel industry was, you usually don't see them deep fried and offered by way of the drive thru window. The buns are baked at the local starch powerhouse and stand above the typical plastic wrap variety found at the grocers. The dogs and milk are also shining regional examples of local household staples that have somehow managed to avoid being absorbed into the Wal-Mart model of retail. And then there's the sauce. You see, Yocco's has a secret, and "the secret's in Yocco's sauce." A chili sauce, to be precise, a thin, brownish red drizzling with only a hint of beef, that when coupled with mustard and onions, rockets this pup into hot dog heaven. When you ask for a "Yocco's," that's how it's served, a dog with chili sauce, mustard, and onions, and as simple as that sounds, I am pressed to find better.
My family thinks I'm crazy. They don't get what the fuss is all about, and can't stand that there's no sauerkraut at this place. Then again, they didn't have to see that billboard on the way home from so many studio parties. Once I stopped on the way TO my brother's place, and found that they had mistakingly given me an extra hot dog. I try to limit my consumpuntion to just two Yocco's per visit, but this time I was happy to make an exception. Elated, actually. Later that evening, as I slept, I dreamed that I made the trip all the way back to the 'burgh and found yet another, hot, fresh, delicious Yocco's while cleaning my car. I woke up somehow disappointed, at 8am, despite knowing this particular dream was somehow more attainable than, say, Anna Nicole Smith or the ability to fly. I decided not to stop on the way back, because I don't want to kill my Yocco's experience. I want to know the malevolent Hot Dog King is still driving his minions, with an iron fist, into my grateful belly the next time I make my way to Eastern Pennsylvania. I'm part of and privy to his homicidal reign, god help me. Long Live Yocco's "The Hot Dog King!"

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