When is a chili dog not a chili dog...

The Capitol Lunch
New Britain, CT

Okay, I know that a few of my past efforts have dealt with my reminiscing of times gone by as it relates to food. Well, I want to warn you, we're heading down memory lane again...

When I was in Junior High, my Dad worked as a route sales driver for a potato chip company, so he used to go out to all of the area supermarkets with cases of chips so he could go out and pack out the shelves. I used to go with him when I wasn't in school to help out on the heavier days, and on one of those days we happened to be in New Britain. It was around lunchtime and he suggested a quick bite. Now I had already been to a couple of his regular haunts, so I was curious to see where we were headed. He parked on a street by a big church and led me into a tiny little lunch counter PACKED with people. This was my first sight of Capitol Lunch, Central Connecticut's hot dog Mecca.

We walked to the back of the tiny space, placed our order with the man standing behind the counter, and were sort of swept along by the crowd towards the register. By the time we were at the register (less than 3 minutes) our dogs were ready to go. I couldn't believe how fast this place moved. We stepped outside, ate them quickly, and were on our way in less than 10 minutes. Of course back then, I didn't know what good stuff was, so I ate my dogs plain with a dash of ketchup. My appreciation for their famous meat sauce was still a few years beyond me. But even plain, they were great and I always would remember that day.

Then there was College. I attended Central Connecticut State University, just a few miles down the road from Capitol Lunch, so it became a regular place to get a BIG (We took bets on who could eat the most without getting sick) lunch or dinner. And it was at this time that I had my Hot Dog epiphany and learned to love the meat sauce. Of course the restaurant's proximity to a MONSTER package store (Liquor Depot is across the street) added to the charm in those days. We would get a six pack of Heffenreffer and wait until the line from the lunch rush dwindled down.

It was this recollection of my first experiences that I was thinking about as I stood in line with Avery last week. We were of course in Cappy's (as it is affectionately known) current location a few doors down from where they started. It's a much larger space, with a cafeteria style line for orders. But the main draw is still the same... Hot Dogs with their famous meat sauce.

Contrary to the rumors that had reached me of late, they STILL use only New Britain's own Martin Rosol meats. I have even been told that Martin Rosol make's a special casing JUST for Capitol Lunch, slightly smaller than their average dog. All I know is they are awfully good. They're grilled, and then left on a cooler area of the grill to stay warm, waiting to be served. The ordering process is pretty standard: How many dogs you want, what you want on it (my standard is sauce, ketchup, and onions) and whether it's for here or to go. And unlike some of the other stands I've reviewed, they do have other items just as good as the dogs, including burgers (with or without sauce) fries and onion rings. Then just like I did when I was a kid, you just move along the line to the register where they get your drink, ring everything up and hand you your food.

A few words on the sauce. There has been a great deal of debate as to exactly WHAT's in it. I've heard far out tales of everything from finely ground hot dogs from the day before, to cloves and coffee grounds. What I CAN tell you about it is it is NOT a chili. It's more savory than spicy. But it is absolutely perfect the way it is, even if it does repeat on you for about 12 hours afterward. And unlike Blackie's famous relish, you can buy the sauce. Pints are available at the counter.

And last but not least, there's the price. While they are NOT as cheap as they once were,(I can remember them being 65 cents back in the day) they are still affordable. I still have as many as three and a coke for lunch, and it sets me back just a shade over 5 bucks. And if you feel you can eat more than three, go for it. My record in college was six...