Out in Wakefield, MA, immediately off of Route 95 is the most unassuming stop for, probably the best hot dogs and sausages you'll have in your life. Now just as a heads up, this will be one of the more personal posts I will talk about, but Fred's Franks helped me out in so many ways.... weird right? I mean, without a doubt, this is one of those places where good food doesn't mean sitting at a white-clothed table or even having silverware at all. Here, it means having a great product, talking to the people around you, from all walks of life, and ethnicities to enjoy good food- in this case, a great Weiner.
Back in my first year in college, life got really tough for me. (that's been about a decade now?? Holy crap..) I took a leave of absence from college in order to get my life back together. From March to May I was mostly by myself. My parents and sister all went off to work midweek, and all my friends were, well, in college. On top of all that, I couldn't drive at the time either because I had a seizure disorder (well, still have, but it's crazy controlled now). I was living in Reading MA at the time which made it harder to get around (no easy access to a subway of any kind), so I would just end up sitting around the house all day. My mom and sister both suggested that I should go down the road and walk around Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield to exercise, OR just to get out the house. Lake Quannapowitt was only a 15-minute walk from my parents' house and since I had literally all day, everyday—so, sure, I'll do it.
The first time I walked down to the lake, I noticed a strange sight; a little car with a huge steaming barrel grill on a trailer behind it. There was also a HUGE line, filled mostly with businessmen and women enjoying pleasant conversations during their lunch break, all with hot dog buns in hand. I walked up to the little cart and there were selling hot dogs of all sizes, and different types of sausages, burgers, chicken sandwiches etc. Just looking at the menu was all it took to make my mouth water but, I had no money—DAMN! I'm a sucker for a great GRILLED hot dog (I really hate boiled hot dogs—I just feel like I shouldn't be eating it if it's not grilled..). So, unfortunately, I had to walk right by this great mini food truck to walk around the lake. The entire time I was just thinking of how nice this walk would be if I had a nice grilled hot dog, and what I wouldn't give to just have four dollars right now. When I finished the full length around the lake (about 4 miles) I saw the cart again. The line was shorter by mid-afternoon, but fellow lake walkers/runners were still lining up to enjoy a tasty dog after their workout.
As I began heading home, I just couldn't get hot dogs out of my head. When I got home I tried to make myself one. I had pan seared it, because if I tried to use my dad's fancy propane grill, he would've killed me. And to be honest, I probably would've broke it somehow, or just probably burn the house down.... (might be too soon for that joke since that same house just went into flames about 2 months ago... everyone is safe though..) My hot dog was....meh. Half-burnt with ketchup, inside my parents' stuffy house... yeah, it just really wasn't the same. Food always tastes better when someone else makes it right? So tomorrow, I was determined to get myself a proper dog.
The next day rolls around and I went down to the lake again and went straight to that hopping hot dog joint with $20 in hand. I
figured that would be sufficient for a dog, a lemonade, and a tip (I was in the food industry world already, even then). My time had come, and I walked up like I was finally chosen to see Santa. I chose the jumbo weiner and Carl, the hot dog man, handed me a large hot dog bun with wax paper to hold it easier. After handing me my bun Carl gave me a very wide smile, the kind that made me feel like I was part of his family. Which was a very nice feeling for me since, at this point in time, I felt very lonely (not to be too depressing). I moved out of the way for the next person, and now I was standing with all the businessmen and women on their lunch break, all patiently waiting until they were chosen. Every so often Carl would open his barrel grill to turn the dogs (or burgers) so they would be perfectly grilled. Once they looked good to him, Carl called out "Chorizo & mini shnurble!" and two young women walked up. Man, that shnurble looked goooooood! An all-beef pearl hot dog and two pieces of chorizo served on a bed of sweet cabbage with mayo and a special sauce—YES PLEASE! Next he called out, "bratwurst & monster dog!" And two co-workers wearing clean pressed shirts and khaki pants walked up. I suddenly noticed everyone heading to a table of condiments once they got their hot dogs. And it's not a normal condiment selection either. Other standard and less-than-awesome places would have ketchup, yellow mustard and maybe relish—also, who actually likes yellow mustard? Like Kramer from Seinfeld said, "What, this yellow stuff? No, I said mustard, Jerry. Dijon." Luckily Fred's Franks had much more than just dijon... they had housemade cabbage, sweet cabbage, housemade habanero sauce, spicy mustard, XXX mustard, housemade relish and different versions of each. Their condiment selection is extremely impressive, not to mention made from the heart. I was so excited by all the choices I started pouring everything I could fit in my bun before I even got my jumbo dog. But just as I was finished Carl called out, "One Jumbo Dog!" That's me! I was chosen! He carefully placed it in my hot dog sub roll, smiled at me and said, "enjoy dear." And I did! I walked over toward the shore and sat on a bench with a pristine view of the lake. Oh man, this was a terrific dog, and all the condiments I chose were just as good as the next. When I was finally finished I was pleasantly full and satisfied (it took me awhile as I was trying to savor every bite and make this moment last). I sat on that bench for a while and turned to look at Fred's Franks again and smiled. I headed on to walk around the lake again and even sat on the lawn and started drawing peacefully. Afterwards, I walked back home thinking about the great day I had... I got out of the house, I had a hot dog, and I was even doing art again. From that day on I walked down to Fred's Franks every day (unless it rained). I even started making friends with regulars (which I was one now) from local businessmen and women to fellow lake walkers and joggers. I felt like I was part of a community again... I even tried all of the variety of combos Carl offered- his regular, jumbo or monster hot dog, sausages with peppers and onions from sweet, hot or Chinese, and even his specialty sausages, like linguica, kielbasa, or bratwurst- I had them all and loved them all—each more
fantastic than the last.
Fred's Franks has a pretty big following, and it was even featured on Phantom Gourmet—but this place holds a lot of meaning for me. It got me out of the house, it got me doing things that I loved again at a time when I didn't want to do anything. and even made some friendships from standing in line. I'm sure you won't go every day like I did- but if you haven't tried a Fred Frank you need to go. Carl probably has no idea the effect his place had on me, but it definitely has a special place in my heart. Anytime I'm visiting my parents in nice weather, I'll be sure to visit Fred's Franks again, right on Lake Quannapowitt. It will be hard to miss, there's usually a long line eager to try his tasty dogs.
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