After Spook-A-Rama Jim still wasn’t ready to face the Wonder Wheel, so he, Marilyn, and I headed down Jones Walk then turned left on Surf Avenue, drawn to another legendary attraction.
We walked until we hit Nathan’s Famous between Stillwell Avenue and Schweikerts Walk.
Nathan’s was founded in 1916 by Polish immigrants (like my father) Nathan and Ida Handwerker with their life savings of $300. Somehow Nathan gets all the glory, but it was Ida who created the hot dog recipe using her grandmother’s secret spice mix. They were urged to open the place by then Coney Island singing waiters: Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante.
An odd event sponsored by Nathan’s is their annual Hot Dog Eating Contest which started in the early 1970’s. In 2001 an 128 lb. Japanese competitive eater named Takeru Kobayashi doubled the previous record by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He went on to beat his own record three times. In a different venue in 2003 he lost a hot dog eating contest to a 1089-pound Kodiak bear, but in 2012 redeemed himself by breaking the bear’s record.
Another oddity is the variety on the menu. What other hot dog stand has frog legs and clams on the half shell? My first husband, Andrew and I used to walk there for clams from our apartment on Brighton 2nd Street in the early 1970s.
When Marilyn, Jim, and I got to Nathan’s we were happy to find a table in their outdoor seating area on this perfect fall day.
We got the classic combos—hot dogs with sauerkraut and French fries. Memories are made of this.
In case you think I forgot, here’s an excerpt from my novel, again from my eleven-year-old heroine’s point of view. She talking to a Delta blues singer on the boardwalk.
“I just had a horrible thought,” I said. “Do you think they put real dogs in hot dogs?”
Mississippi laughed. “Don’t you worry yourself none. Hot dogs are made from hog fat and gristle.” He held up the soda bottle. “What kind of Coke’s this?”
“That’s not Coke, that’s a Doctor Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda. Don’t tell me you don’t have celery soda where you come from!”
“We sure enough don’t.”
Kobayashi vs the Bear. It’s very silly.