All New England Books

The Hot Wiener: A Rhode Island Icon

The Hot Wiener: A Rhode Island Icon

By Grace Lentini

Hot wieners are firmly planted in Rhode Island’s culinary psyche. They’re to the Ocean State what cheesesteak is to Philly, what barbecue is to Kansas City and what street tacos are to Los Angeles. Everyone has the wienie joint (their words, not ours) they grew up with, their gold standard against which all others are judged. There’s The Original New York System on Smith Street in Providence, Olneyville NY System, Sparky’s Coney Island System in East Providence (now closed), Wein-O-Rama in Cranston, Rod’s Grille in Warren, New York Lunch in Woonsocket, Sam’s New York System in North Providence, Snoopy’s Diner in North Kingstown and plenty more scattered throughout.
We wanted to know who served the very first hot wiener, so we asked wienie joint owners across the state, and the answer was always the same: hot wieners started at the Original New York System (424 Smith Street, Providence. 331-5349). It’s the OG of the wienie.
No matter where you go, getting them “all the way” is always the same: steamed bun, wienie, mustard, meat sauce, onion, celery salt. Of course you don’t have to get them all the way, but what fun is that? That’s like getting a cheesesteak without the cheese: you just don’t do it. However, what differs joint to joint is the meat sauce, with each place remaining as true as possible to their original recipe, some over 70 years old.

Iconic Ingredients
There are distinct differences between hot dogs and hot wieners: hot dogs are typically very processed, with a hodge podge of different cuts of meat. Hot wieners on the other hand are made with beef, pork, veal, spices and one preservative. There are two types of hot wieners that wienie joints use: ones in a natural casing, and ones without. According to Greg Stevens, the owner of Olneyville NY System(18 Plainfield Street, Providence. 621-9500, who is directly related to the family who first served hot wieners in RI, it’s tradition to serve hot wieners that have a natural casing. The wieners with a casing come as one long rope, meaning that each wiener must be cut by hand. Most joints get theirs from either Little Rhody Brand Frankfurts and Wieners (831-0815,, which makes skinless and rope wieners, or from All American (294-5455,, who carry Marcello’s skinless, pre-formed wieners.
The consensus on hot wiener buns is that Homestead Baking Company of East Providence (145 North Broadway, Rumford. 434-0551, bakes the buns that virtually everyone uses. “We make [the buns] sweeter than the typical hot dog roll,” says Homestead General Manager TJ Pascalides. “Restaurants are super particular about how they steam them up. Everyone has a different steamer and everyone leaves them in for a different amount of time, so we have to use a strong flour.”
To get an idea of the demand for the buns, Homestead receives shipments of 200,000 pounds of spring wheat flour at a time via railway. Three railway cars fit alongside the bakery, where the flour is then moved to three flour silos. One silo holds 150,000 pounds of flour, the other two hold 125,000 pounds each. Just as the meat sauce recipes never change at the restaurants, the bun recipe has also remained the same: sugar, water, flour and yeast.
As far as the onions sprinkled on top of the wieners, survey says that white onions are used. Everyone uses celery salt, although any information about the brand was held close to the vest. The mustard? Well, it’s not French’s. That’s about all the info the owners were willing to reveal. Same with the sauce. Everyone is tight lipped about their secret recipes, but some said that one of the most important factors in making a perfectly spreadable meat sauce is to use 70/30 ground beef. Fat is flavor, and no one’s eating a hot wiener for its health benefits.

Who Served them First?
It was in the early 1900s that Greek immigrants came to New York, passing through Ellis Island and settling in Brooklyn (most likely in the Coney Island section). As the Greeks moved out of Brooklyn and across the country, they brought with them and served up a form of hot dog or hot wiener which they covered in a Coney Island meat sauce.
We caught up with Greg to learn about his family history, and where the first hot wiener was served. As the story goes, Augustus Pappas and his son Ernie opened the Original New York System on Smith Street in Providence in 1927. In the late 1930s, Augustus Pappas fell ill, so Ernie called on his cousins Anthony and Nicholas Stavrianakos (Greg’s great grandfather and grandfather, respectively) to help run the restaurant. In 1933, Greg’s father, Peter, was born in New York where his name was shortened from Stavrianakos to Stevens. In 1946, Ernie no longer needed help running the Smith Street location. His son Gus eventually took over in the ‘60s, running the place until he retired in 2014. Once Gus retired, the business changed ownership and eventually had its doors closed for ten months. This past July, restaurateur Taner Zoprak bought the business, and plans to keep to the original recipes.
Back to Anthony and Nicholas. The father and son team branched out on their own after leaving the Original New York System and bought a small restaurant located at 11 Olneyville Square (where the bar Lonely Street is currently located). The restaurant was located right next to a taxi stand, which in 1954 was built over into a restaurant (the current location of Olneyville NY System). Anthony and Nicholas bought that space in 1964, and have been there ever since. In 1957 Nicholas passed away, and in 1958, Anthony passed away at age 97, working until his last day. Greg’s father Peter took over the business in 1958. Greg was born in 1960, and when he was old enough he worked at Olneyville NY System on weekends and during the summers. At the ripe age of 15 he knew he was going to join the family business, and in 1979 he started working full time, side by side with his dad until the early ‘90s when Peter retired. Greg and his sister Stephanie Stevens-Turini have operated the restaurant ever since.

More Wienie Joints
The Original New York System and Olneyville NY System opened their restaurants with the express goal of being hot wiener joints. Of course there’s plenty else on their menus, but folks typically go there for the wienies. Other restaurants have followed suit, while others have simply added hot wieners to their menu to get folks through the door.
Rod’s Grille in Warren in one of the restaurants that has had hot wieners on their menu since the day they opened in 1955. Meghan Rodrigues is the fourth generation to work at Rod’s Grille and credits her great grandmother with creating the meat sauce they use until this day. “My dad, grandmother or I make the sauce,” she says. “No one else knows the recipe. You have to follow every single step of the recipe or the taste will change.” Unlike the sauce at either the Original New York System or Olneyville, there is a touch of spice in it, which slowly builds as you eat it. Meghan also puts less onions on it compared to other places; she doesn’t want the onions to overpower the secret sauce. The sauce is so popular that their regulars regularly add it to other menu items, like the burgers.

The Future of Hot Wieners
One thing that rings true at every hot wiener restaurant is the need to stay true to the ingredients. “We’ve tried other products and they just don’t taste the same,” says Meghan Rodrigues. Greg Stevens of Olneyville is of the same mind. “Do not change a thing. That’s the theory with Olneyville NY System,” he says. “When people come in and have their hot wiener and coffee milk I’ll ask, ‘does it taste exactly as you remember?’ If they say yes, that’s the best compliment I can get. Keeping everything the same… it’s harder than it looks.”

The Origin of the Coney Island Hot Dog Is a Uniquely American Story

They also have very little to do with the New York City amusement park
By Erick Trickey

This July 4, as with every July 4 going back to the 1970s, an all-American display of gluttony will feature rubber-stomached competitive eaters once again gorging themselves in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Brooklyn’s Coney Island. This year’s gastronomic battle, at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues, will honor the 100th anniversary of the founding of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs at the same corner in 1916.
It’s a patriotic event, and not just because it’ll be echoed at holiday barbecues across the country. The hot dog, that quintessential American food, has been associated with Coney Island, America’s most storied amusement resort, since frankfurter first met bun. But Nathan’s century-old triumph of entrepreneurship is only part of the Ellis-Island-meets-Coney-Island story. Thanks to immigrants from Northern and Eastern Europe alike, the name “Coney Island hot dog” means one thing in New York, another in the Midwest and beyond.
Historians disagree on the hot dog’s origin story, but many credit Charles Feltman, a Coney Island pie-wagon vendor, with inventing the fast food, serving hot dachshund sausages in milk rolls as early as 1867. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Councilsays Feltman opened a hot dog stand on Coney Island in 1871 and sold 3,684 sausages that year. Wieners took Feltman far. By the turn of the century, he’d gone upscale, with Feltman’s German Gardens, a huge complex of restaurants and beer gardens on Surf Avenue that employed 1,200 waiters. Though seafood became Feltman’s specialty, he still had seven grills dedicated to hot dogs, which he sold in the 1910s for ten cents apiece.
Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant with a day job as a restaurant delivery boy, worked Sunday afternoons at Feltman’s German Gardens, slicing rolls. According to Handwerker’s 1974 New York Times obituary, Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor, who worked as singing waiters on Coney Island before they found fame, encouraged Handwerker to strike out from Feltman’s and sell hot dogs for a nickel instead of a dime. In 1916, he did just that, opening a small hot-dog stand at Surf and Stillwell with his wife, Ida. The subway’s extension to Coney Island in 1920 brought countless New Yorkers to his stand. “Society people, politicians, actors and sportsmen flocked to Nathan’s,” the obituary recalled, “brushing shoulders with truck drivers, laborers, and housewives.” Franklin D. Roosevelt famously served Nathan’s hot dogs at a 1936 lawn party for Britain’s George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (mother of the now-reigning Queen Elizabeth II).
Meanwhile, outside New York, the Coney Island name evokes an entirely different hot-dog tradition. In Michigan, “Coney Island” doesn’t mean an amusement park, but one of an estimated 500 diners in the Metro Detroit area alone  that serve Greek food and “Coney dogs” -- hot dogs smothered in chili or ground beef, plus mustard and onions. There are plenty more elsewhere in Michigan, across the Midwest, and beyond.
The Coney dog was spread across the eastern U.S. by various Greek and Macedonian immigrants in the 1900s and 1910s. The restaurateurs were part of the great wave of Greek migration to the U.S. – 343,000 people between 1900 and 1919 – who fled the economic desolation caused by Greece’s 1893 bankruptcy and a crash in the price of currants, then Greece’s main export. “Many of them passed through New York’s Ellis Island and heard about or visited Coney Island, later borrowing this name for their hot dogs, according to one legend,” wrote Katherine Yung and Joe Grimm in their 2012 book Coney Detroit.
In that era, Americans associated New York’s Coney Island with hot dog authenticity. Back then, the name “hot dog” was out of favor; amid the concern about meat-packing standards inspired by Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle, it still carried a hint of suggestion that the cheap sausages were made of dog meat. Handwerker called then “red hots,” others “Coney Island hots.”
Naming the inventor of the Coney dog – the first person to slather chili or sprinkle ground beef on a sausage – is a fool’s errand. Various Coney Island restaurants in Michigan and Indiana vie for the title, claiming founding dates in the mid-1910s, but they don’t appear in city directories from the era until the 1920s. Many Greeks and Macedonians likely hit upon the idea of dressing hot dogs in variations on saltsa kima, their homeland’s spicy tomato-based meat sauce. “The Coney Island’s formidable beef topping with a sweet-hot twang has a marked Greek accent,” wrote Jane and Michael Stern in their 2009 book 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late.
It’s easy, though, to locate the Coney dog’s ground zero, the Midwest’s version of Surf and Stillwell: the corner of West Lafayette Boulevard and Michigan Avenue in Detroit.
There, Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island have carried on a sibling rivalry for 80 years. For generations of Detroiters, their chili-topped weiners have been the ultimate urban-diner experience, the workingman’s lunch and the late-night craving after last call. Brothers William “Bill” Keros and Constantine “Gust” Keros, former sheepherders from the Greek village of Dara, founded the two diners to serve hot dogs to autoworkers. Each restaurant boasts it opened first, with American Coney staking a claim to a 1917 founding, Lafayette Coney to 1914. But city directories tell a different story than family and business oral history: the Coney Detroit authors say the brothers opened Lafayette Coney together in 1923, and Gust Keros opened American Coney in 1936 after a falling-out with his brother.
Outside metropolitan Detroit, Coney dog variations abound. In Michigan cities such as Flint, Jackson and Kalamazoo, their topping isn’t chili, but a sauce that’s mostly ground beef, often including beef hearts. A few Coney Island restaurants still exist outside Michigan, from the Coney Island Grill in St. Petersburg, Florida, to George’s Coney Island in Worcester, Massachusetts. Cincinnati’s version of Coney sauce is a chili, invented in 1922 by Macedonian immigrants Tom and John Kiradjieff as their own spiced version of saltsa kima. That iteration doesn't just go on hot dogs-- it's also served with spaghetti or as a stand-alone chili.

Closer to New York City, the names change. Rhode Islanders call their Greek-immigrant chili-dog diners “New York System” restaurants, and they serve “hot wieners” – never hot dogs. “They are made in a systemic way,” wrote the Sterns in 500 Things to Eat, “by lining up all the dogs in buns and dressing them assembly-line-style.” 

But in far upstate New York, around Plattsburgh, they’re called Michigans, probably thanks to 1920s Detroit expatriates Eula and Garth Otis. From there, they smuggled themselves across the Canadian border, where the Montreal-area hot-dog chain Resto Lafleur offers a steamed or grilled “hot-dog Michigan” and poutine with “la sauce Michigan.”
Today, Nathan’s is an international chain, with more than 300 restaurants and stands, mostly on the East Coast. It’s added a chili dog to its menu. In another example of hazy hot-dog lore, Nathan’s apocryphally claims it’s about to host its 100th hot-dog-eating contest – actually a creation of carnival-barker-style bunkum that started in the 1970s. Meanwhile, Coney Island blogger and historian Michael Quinn is reviving the Feltman’s red-hots brand, which went extinct with Feltman’s restaurant in 1954. He’s teamed up with a sausage-maker to make a red hot in homage to the original, which he’s selling at pop-up events. In a history-minded revenge, Quinn sells hot dogs for half of Nathan’s price.

Travel Channel's 'Bizarre Foods' focuses on R.I. cuisine

The state's cuisine is featured, from seafood to Italian and Portuguese specialties.
Journal Food Editor

Rhode Island's iconic foods and its history of ethnic specialties will be celebrated on television Tuesday night when Andrew Zimmern hosts "Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations" on the Travel Channel at 9 p.m.
Producers for the badly named show came calling back in September to film hot wieners, coffee milk, quahogs, jonnycakes, snail salad, chowder, stuffies and salt cod. Though the show's "Delicious Destination" is billed as Providence, food was featured from around the state. The show was available for screening by critics.
It's a wonderfully produced melange of the delicious and the quirky. It begins with a burger at the Haven Brothers food truck. It includes that famous pizza at Al Forno being made by chef David Reynoso, the thick ice cream drinks Awful Awfuls from Newport Creamery, and wieners all the way at Olneyville New York System.
There's a big focus on seafood, clams on the half shell and other preparations that bring with them flavors that reflect a sea-to-table cuisine. Hemenway's Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar plates some lovely clams early on in the hourlong show. Perry Raso makes stuffies at his Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingstown.
Don't watch this show on an empty stomach, by the way.
Portuguese soul food, salt cod or bacalhau, is given plenty of screen time, both at O Dinis in East Providence and at North American Salt and Fresh Fish Corp. in Pawtucket, where fish is turned into dry, salted cod.
In his commentary, which was filmed after production in Rhode Island wrapped up, Zimmern talks about how the state attracted seafaring people from Europe, and with them came many traditions.
To show one of those traditions, a production team arrived at O Dinis to film second-generation restaurateur Natalia Paiva-Neves, who works with her father, Dinis Paiva. Producers had seen YouTube videos of her cooking and called. Since she's dreamed of stepping up to the granite counter in a TV kitchen, she was on board.
They filmed her talking about how cod is soul food here in New England and of the importance of sharing her Portuguese traditions with her children. Those two passions intersect when she heads into the kitchen to cook Bacalhau ne Brasa, a taste of Portugal on a plate, with accompanying boiled potatoes and onion and garlic sautéed in olive oil.
The visit to the salt cod production facility is fascinating. It reveals how whole cods caught in cold sea waters are butterflied before salt is shoveled over them to remove all liquid and moisture. That's why they have to be de-salted to make cod dishes.
Italian traditions are shared from Champlin's in Galilee, where they make a scungilli, or snail, salad.
Native Americans are credited with their role in local foods, not just with johnnycakes, which are featured from Jigger's Diner in East Greenwich, but also for their role in creating Rhode Island's clear broth chowder. If you didn't know or remember that local quahogs have purple in the shell, you will now because you'll learn they were used for wampum due to their color.
Throughout the hour, regular Rhode Islanders star in "Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations" as they are interviewed while they sip, slurp and savor all the treasured foods of their home.


State seafood pilgrimage: The best of Rhode Island


Larry Olmsted, Special for USA TODAY

The scene: Coastal New England is dotted with seafood shacks and eateries of every description, and no visit is complete without the region's famous fresh lobster, clams and chowder. But while you can find the staples like lobster rolls and oysters on the half shell everywhere, there are surprising hyper-local specialties and notable regional differences between neighboring states separated by just a few miles. Maine is best known for its lobster, in the shell and in the hot dog bun; Connecticut created the now-legendarywhite clam pizza; and Massachusetts proudly invented the fried clam on Boston's North Shore.
But when it comes to regionalized New England seafood, no state stands alone like Rhode Island, which has its own unique and eponymous form of clam chowder, claims the stuffed clam -- or stuffie in Rhody-speak -- as its own invention, uses hot peppers to spice up Rhode Island-style calamari, and loves clam cakes, largely overlooked in the rest of the region. These four dishes form the basis of must-try Rhode Island seafood specialties, and after asking numerous locals where to find the best, I got little but partisan disagreement.
However, a couple of names kept coming up, which led me to the Matunuck Oyster Bar, on the southeastern-most tip of the state near the Connecticut border; the full service Flo's Clam Shack in Middleton, abutting tourist-mad Newport; and the lesser-known but atmospheric Flo's Drive-In in Portsmouth. All three are on the southern coast, and Matunuck is the most full-service restaurant, with indoor dining, table service and full raw bar, but also ample outdoor seating and full bar overlooking the surf. It sits right along the road on a narrow spit of land with water on both sides, and it is so popular that the valet parking lot stretches down the coastline.
The Newport Flo's looks like a classic sea captain's house just off ultra-popular Easton's beach, which connects Newport and Middleton. It has outdoor seating plus indoor dining with oyster bar and kitschy décor with life vests and fishing rods hanging from the ceiling. There is almost always a line to get in, from a tiny back parking lot that usually overflows.
The simplest and easiest to visit of the three is Flo's Drive-In, a lower-key sibling of Flo's Clam Shack. A classic coastal joint, it is one simple small building with windows for ordering and picking up, picnic tables for dining, everything served in styrofoam clamshell containers, plastic sauce cups and brown paper bags, with a limited menu and little else - except the feel of New England ocean escapism at its best. They even hand out lobster-shaped buzzers to let you know when your food, cooked to order, is ready. Since 1936 this has been the site of the first Flo's, originally a chicken coop, twice destroyed by hurricanes and last rebuilt in 1991.
Reason to visit: Flo's clam cakes, Matunuck Oyster Bar's R.I.-style calamari
The food: Rhode Island clam chowder is quite distinct from both of its better known rivals, New England (white, thick, creamy and potato-laden) and Manhattan (red, thin, tomato-infused broth). It is the most straightforward take on the genre, clear broth (usually made with at least some clam juice) with minimal filling of red skin potato chunks, celery and clams. Some places add a bit of diced bacon. The emphasis is on the bivalves themselves and while it's thin, between the clams and clam broth, it packs in briny clam flavor, salty and tasting of the ocean. It's also one of those things appreciated more if you grew up with it -- if you like clams, it is worth trying for the novelty, but frankly, it is hard to imagine loving this soup. Flo's does a thicker style with more potato cut into bigger cubes, and while still brothy, this thickens it a bit. I preferred the purity of Matunuck's version more, with its pronounced clam taste, though the small added pieces of bacon made it even saltier.
Since last year, calamari has been the official "state appetizer," but not all squid is Rhode Island-style calamari. In the rest of the country, fried calamari is pretty consistent, served plain with cocktail sauce on the side. In the Ocean State they toss it with slices of pickled hot peppers, banana, cherry or pepperoncini (or a combo), and usually some of the vinegar they came in, sometimes made a bit creamier with the addition of garlic butter. The bite of the peppers and the tang of vinegar go perfectly with the oily fried squid, and when this dish is good, it is great, so much so that you may never want to eat fried calamari any other way. Matunuck does a fancified version that still focuses on very tasty and fresh squid, an ample serving tossed with just a few slices of hot pepper but also with a delicious, fresh and lemony aioli and baby arugula leaves. The result is still mainly excellent fried squid, but the flavor is amplified by the acidity of the dressing and nicely offset by the bite of the peppers and pepperiness of the lettuce. Flo's takes a completely different approach, serving a basic order of fried calamari with a chopped mix of hot peppers in a plastic container on the side to serve yourself. No matter how much I added it didn't integrate well, and for this regional staple, Matunuck won hands down.
The advantage quickly swung back to Flo's when it came to clam cakes. These are basically clam-studded fritters of dough, and like any fritter, the challenge is balancing the taste of the featured ingredient with the batter. I've had a fair amount of clam cakes, and most have disappointed, often doughy, oily and tasteless. But not at Flo's, where I had the best clam cakes of my life, and the single most standout thing on this coastal trip. They were fresh fried and doughy but light, studded with some corn kernels as well as clam, which gave them just a bit of sweetness – like a seafood version of Italian zeppoli or doughnuts. Hot, fluffy and balanced, I couldn't stop eating them. No wonder both people in line ahead of me were there just to take out clam cakes, a dozen each – a big order – but this is what Flo's is justifiably famous for. Their combo meal special is a cup of R.I. chowder and three clam cakes, a good local sampling.
The only real disappointment of the trip was the stuffies, I asked my friend Amy, a food-loving Providence native, where to go and she said simply "My house. You have to make them yourself. I've never had a good stuffie in a restaurant." The ones at Matunuck were big and lived up to their name in that they were certainly stuffed. Each was chock-full of small bread cubes, like bagged Pepperidge Farm mix for turkey, with far too much breading for the clam. The ones served at Flo's looked more promising and homey, with two assembled into a sort of closed clam held together with a rubber band. But inside was a stuffing paste, a smooth amalgam of breading and barely discernible clam meat, with no chunks. Because they had some bits of jalapeño and nice spices, the stuffing was actually quite flavorful, but not clam-flavored, and the consistency of mashed potatoes.
Flo's is well worth a visit for its signature clam cakes, and I'd definitely go back to Matunuck for its very fresh take on the state's unique calamari (while I was exploring these four local specialties, Matunuck Oyster Bar is also acclaimed for its oysters, and operates its own 7-acre aquaculture oyster farm in nearby Potter Pond, as well as its own vegetable farm supplying the delicious baby arugula).
Pilgrimage-worthy?: Yes, collectively because these unique Rhode Island specialties are just hard to find anyplace else.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: Matunuck Oyster Bar, 629 Succotash Road, Matunuck, 401-783-4202,; Flo's Clam Shack, 4 Wave Ave., Middletown, 401-847-8141,; Flo's Drive-In, Park Avenue, Island Beach Park, Portsmouth.
MORE: Read previous columns

Larry Olmsted has been writing about food and travel for more than 15 years. An avid eater and cook, he has attended cooking classes in Italy, judged a barbecue contest and once dined with Julia Child. Follow him on Twitter, @TravelFoodGuy, and if there's a unique American eatery you think he should visit, send him an e-mail Some of the venues reviewed by this column provided complimentary services.

Hot Weiner Eating Contest supports Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Man of the Year hopeful

Meri R. Kennedy

In his second attempt to be honored as Man of the Year by raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Rhode Island, Ace Aceto – with organizational help from comedian Mike Murray – held a hot weiner eating contest at Olneyville New York System on Reservoir Avenue.
Also a comedian, Aceto has spent most of his adult life working in the health field in one capacity or another. He was an EMT for 10 years in North Providence, worked as a pharmacy tech for CVS and is currently employed by GlaxoSmithKline as a public health accounts manager in the vaccine division. Last year, he was able to raise $20,000 in just 10 weeks, and the results of this year’s fundraising competition will be announced next week.
There were 16 participants in the hot weiner competition, which was held on April 19. Geoffrey Esper won as he ate 29-1/2 all-the-way wieners in just 15 minutes.
There were approximately 100 onlookers, including Mayor Allan Fung, a former classmate of Aceto; 15-year-old Emma Katzen from Barrington, who is the society’s Girl of the Year; and K.J. Ricci from North Providence, who is Boy of the Year. Both Emma and K.J. are in remission from leukemia.
If Aceto wins Man of the Year honors next week, he will let both Emma and K.J. shave his head during the grand finale on April 25. He has approximately $5,000 more to raise.

All the food at the event was donated by New York System’s owners, Greg Stevens and Stephanie Stevens-Turini. There was also musical entertainment, along with face painting for children.

America's best wieners? R.I. diner draws a crowd

Larry Olmsted

The scene: A true Rhode Island institution, Olneyville N.Y. System looks like a frozen-in-time urban diner, which it is, but that is where all similarities to any other eatery end. As you enter, you pass the sidewalk takeout window, which does a brisk late-night business, and prominently displayed in the window is the large griddle on which the hot wieners are cooked. Everything else is, let's just say, window dressing. Hot wieners, basically miniature frankfurter-like sausages, are the reason the restaurant exists – and thrives - in its gritty namesake neighborhood of Olneyville. Inside, a worn counter with pink diner stools runs the entire length of the left-hand side, with two rows of booths in alternating pink and beige Formica occupying the rest of the space. Behind the counter, as in any classic coffee shop or diner, is an array of working equipment like coffee urns and milkshake mixers, all in plain sight, and running across the top of this wall are signs for numerous menu choices, from tuna melts to breakfast sandwiches to salads. But no one comes for any of that – the owner estimates that 98 out of 100 diners order the same thing: between three and six wieners, fries and a drink.
One reason all the other items remain in existence is that the family owners do not like change, which is why the place looks like it did when it opened in 1946. "People don't know how hard it is to keep it the same. The biggest compliment we get is 'it's just like I remember.' Everything is original, even the Formica, and every now and then we get a Formica nut who comes in and is amazed by it," said third generation sibling owner, Gregory Stevens. The last time the menu changed was six years ago, when he begrudgingly added the option of chili cheese fries – hardly a revolution since chili and fries were already popular here, and regulars kept asking for the combo. "I don't get it, I'm old school, but kids today love chili cheese fries," says Stevens.
The bigger change is its newfound even greater popularity, especially after multiple TV appearances with food personalities like Guy Fieri, Andrew Zimmern and Adam Richman. Two years ago it also became the only miniature sausage specialist to ever win a prestigious James Beard Award, as an American Classic. The medal is subtly displayed on the wall in back, and the boosted profile means that in addition to the eclectic mix of locals, college students, workers, police and late-night bar patrons, you now add tourists. Truly everyone comes here, which is why from about midnight to closing at three, the line wraps around the comer. While there is an ordering lingo for regulars such as "five, light on onions," staff is friendly, explanatory and it's not the kind of intimidating place where you are rushed and expected to know the slang. There are two additional satellite locations, both long established and just three and five miles away.
The food: There is much argument about the origin of the term "New York System," but like Detroit's famed "Coney" joints, it seems connected to a perceived association between the Big Apple and hot dogs. A surprising number of Rhode Island eateries have the term in their name, of which Olneyville is by far the most famous. Smith Street New York System dates to 1927, and one of the sets of cousins who ran it launched Olneyville almost twenty years later. Whatever the origin, in the Ocean State the term refers to places serving small sausages, aka hot wieners. They are similar to hot dogs, but one of the two cardinal rules at Olneyville is to never call them hot dogs (the other is to never, ever put ketchup on them). They are small, but not as tiny as the mini-dogs popular in New York's capital region and Cincinnati, both of which have been profiled in this column. About 3/4 the size of a conventional frank, they are a blend of veal and pork, all meat with no fillers, a custom recipe made at a local meat plant. They are served on an appropriately scaled New England-style hot dog bun, which is to say, slit rather than hinged, with flat, exposed soft white bread sides, instead of rounded brown crust exterior. The buns are steamed and a wiener "all the way" has celery salt, mustard, chopped onions and wiener sauce, which is what they call chili.
The already-smoked sausages are placed on the grill in the window, which has a dip in the middle where oil collects, and they are cooked in this "puddle." When you order, the counter man lines up buns on his forearm and places the links in them with tongs, then tops them, and this is a big part of the Olneyville show and tradition: longtime staffers can do up to fifty – five layered rows of ten wieners – on one arm before turning to the counter to dispense them.
The hot wieners are skinless and have a crisp snappiness to their fried exterior, with a more meaty and nuanced sausage flavor than the typical hot dog. The chili is thick and pasty, almost a spread, all meat and spice and no liquid, and it is good but not very strong. Like the rest of the complementary toppings, none overpowers the others or the main event, the wiener. These are quite good, and every patron has their personal preference on the topping choices. They are almost always accompanied by french fries, which are standard but done well, fried frequently and served hot, oily and satisfying. The third component of the standard meal is Rhode Island's signature beverage, coffee milk, an oddly addictive mix of milk and sweetened coffee syrup, sort of the coffee version of chocolate milk. It is so wildly popular in the Ocean State that children get the option of it in school cafeteria lunches instead of regular milk. It's milder than an iced coffee and delicious, even if you don't like coffee. You can also think of it as your dessert, since this is something Olneyville N.Y. System does not, and likely never will, serve.
The restaurant captures a unique sense of place like few others and is a must if you visit Providence. I loved the food, but it is made even better by its history, oddity and beloved authenticity.
What regulars say: "Four all the way, fries, coffee milk." The person in front of me said this. So did the person behind me.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: Not quite, but close, special food in a special place and must for those near Providence.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $-$$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: 18 Plainfield Street, Providence, plus two nearby locations; 401-621-9500;
MORE: Read previous columns

Larry Olmsted has been writing about food and travel for more than 15 years. An avid eater and cook, he has attended cooking classes in Italy, judged a barbecue contest and once dined with Julia Child. Follow him on Twitter, @TravelFoodGuy, and if there's a unique American eatery you think he should visit, send him an e-mail at Some of the venues reviewed by this column provided complimentary services.

LA Eatery Has Rhode Island Roots


Seafood takes center stage at Providence in Los Angeles.

Foodies in Los Angeles are flocking to a restaurant named after Rhode Island’s capital city.
The restaurant Providence has received two stars from the Michelin Guide. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Elisabeth Harrison spoke with Head Chef Michael Cimarusti
efore he opened a top-rated restaurant in Los Angeles, Chef Michael Cimarusti grew up spending vacations with his grandparents in Rhode Island.
He remembers summers on Scarborough Beach, where the clam cakes were to die for.
"There used to be a shack literally, like, right in the middle of Scarborough Beach," Cimarusti reminisced. "We’d spend all day on the beach and around noon or one o’clock my mother or my grandfather would give us 10 bucks, and we’d go get a dozen or a half dozen, and those are some of my earliest and fondest food memories."
Cimarusti says fishing with his grandfather was another inspiration for his restaurant Providence, which focuses on seafood.
He uses razor clams for his version of clam cakes, and a recipe from his grandmother's kitchen.
"I have a handwritten copy of her recipe, and that’s something that’s been on our menu since we opened just because, God, I love clam cakes when they’re done right."
Providence features multi-course tasting menus and dinners that can last several hours. But for simpler fare, Cimarusti has also opened Connie and Ted’s, a restaurant named in honor of his grandparents .
The menu includes Rhode Island specialties like fried clams and stuffies.
"We do traditional Rhode Island chowder there, along with Portuguese fisherman’s stew. All sorts of classic Rhode Island fare that I remember eating growing up," said Cimarusti.