Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to St. Mark's Place for a Coney Island classic.
From its beginnings as a pie-wagon in the 1860s, to its heyday in the 1920s (when the sprawling restaurant complex served nearly 5,250,000 people a year), the now iconic Feltman's of Coney Island has served up some of the best franks. In fact, its namesake founder, butcher Charles Feltman, is credited with having invented the hot dog.
The Feltman's of yore folded in 1954, but now there's a new outpost that just opened on St. Marks Place. It's a decidedly more modest affair, consisting entirely of a narrow sliding window out onto the sidewalk, a small counter at which you can perch for a minute, and the exuberance of proprietor and Coney Island historian Michael Quinn.
It was Quinn—aided by his brother Joseph and a sausage-maker friend—who rescued the Feltman Red Hot from our fading collective memory last summer, with a pop-up stand in Ditmas Park. And it's Quinn who now spends his days and nights in a minuscule kitchen adjacent to the William Barnacle Tavern.
If you're uncomfortable standing on the sidewalk while wolfing down your dogs, you can order and eat within the tavern, which will also supply you with the alcoholic accompaniments of your choice. But when you go—and you should definitely go, because see below—make sure you talk to Quinn, an excellent conversationalist with a deep knowledge of NYC's past.
There is only one item of the Feltman's menu, and it's a hot dog... but it's likely to be the best hot dog you'll ever eat in your life.
The rebooted Feltman's red hot is made from beef, sea salt, a garlicky seasoning blend, and a marvelously snappy skin. It's uncured, nitrate-free, with no artificial ingredients. Quinn cooks it to the perfect combination of juicy and crisp, with a slight char for added flavor, and it's so good I would be happy just eating the thing plain, like some sort of fat, magical Slim Jim.
The bun is of the Martin's potato sort, which works as well with a dog as it does with a burger, and the yellow cider mustard is both tangy and sharp. You can add a mess of first-rate sauerkraut (griddled to order, not boiled, so it's not all wet) and/or chopped raw onions on top for no extra charge. You can NOT add ketchup, because Quinn correctly refuses to offer that inappropriate condiment. (The National Hot Dog Council has also firmly rejected it.)
And the Feltman's Chili Dog, with or without cheese, is just as a great. Maybe even better. The thick, beefy chili is smoky and rich but the dog still has plenty of presence sticking out there from under the pile.
While the menu is simple, note that Quinn serves his dogs on an actual china plate, which is very old-school style.
Hot dog fans from all over should hit up Feltman's early and often, to experience what an A+ NYC red hot taste like. Of course, these also make for excellent drinking-night snacks, and are worth seeking out even in a neighborhood lousy with other good options. If $4 for a hot dog sounds pricey, keep in mind that's the going rate out at Nathan's, which charges $3.99 for what is in my opinion is the single most overrated "NYC-must-try" thing in town.
Feltman's of Coney Island is located at 80 St. Mark's Place, just west of First Avenue, and is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 11:00. (Feltman's of Coney Island)