San Francisco And The Hot Dog

Schwarz Sausage CompanyI felt that I couldn’t talk about a burger joint yesterday without giving some time to that venerable processed tubular meat product known as the Hot Dog. I wrote an article some time ago about Treasure Island Hot Dogs that I couldn’t find very much info on, but Uncle Frank from the Hot Dog Hall of Fame [yes there is one] who mentioned Schwarz Sausage Company of San Francisco so I did a little more digging.

While the Hamburger originated in Hamburg, Germany by Russian traders who brought their habit of eating raw minced meat [ala steak tartare] the Hot Dog started it’s life in Frankfurt, Germany as well as Vienna, Austria [where the name weiner comes from]. It wasn’t until Germans brought them to America that some schmuck here got the idea of wrapping them in bread so you didn’t burn your hands while walking around eating them.

The Hot Dog predates the origin of the Hamburger in the U.S. by a number of years and it has spread all over the U.S. in various forms creating localized renditions through out the country. It was here that I had to start my search. If they are everywhere what would make them so special to San Francisco? We have dungeoness crab that while you can find it all up and down the coast, it tastes different here. Then of course there’s sourdough bread that only can exist here because of our local bacteria that even if you got some starter and were using it in another part of the country it would last you a couple of weeks and then it would be gone.

So what is so San Francisco about the Hot Dog? Well as it turns out if you’ve ever gone to a local sporting event and purchased a hot dog [not sushi and chardonnay] you probably had a Schwarz Sausage Company hot dog. They began life in a part of the Mission District sometime around 1911 in a part that was known as Germantown. That was the first I had heard of a Germantown being in San Francisco, but we are a city of change after all. There was also Casper’s Hot Dogs, but they actually started in San Leandro in 1934 so their close, but no hot dog, er, cigar.

Schwarz also was a big supplier of the public schools so those hot dogs you ate growing up here were probably from Schwarz. They make several types and not just the all beef type, but they also have some with pork and veal inside and while I tend to gloss over the hot dog at times as being more about what you put on it than in it, you can taste a difference between them. While Schwarz has been bought by Engelhart Gourmet Foods and moved to Fairfield, CA they still have a consumer outlet in the part of Mission that’s referred to now as La Lengua.

Say, did I just say sometime in Spanish? Well the San Francisco experience for hot dogs is usually found by street vendors in the Mission who sell grilled hot dogs wrapped in bacon. Apparently the Mexican immigrants brought that from Mexico and it has caught on here at least in the Mission. We don’t have too many hot dog joints and when you do find them they’re more fast food than localized. The best place [in my opinion] to get a hot dog is from a hot dog stand. While I have grown over the years learning to put different things on a hot dog [note I used to put only mayo on a hot dog that would creep out anyone who watched me do it and eat it] I’ve found that grilled hot dogs never did it for me. Now if you wrap it in bacon that changes things because the bacon fat would keep the hot dog from blistering and well, as we all know, everything is better with bacon.

Note that if the danger dogs from a Mission Street cart scare you there’s always the palace of tubular meat products, the Rosamunde Sausage Grill that makes it smothered in onions called the Mission Street that I notice is available at every location except the Haight Street location. Well, at least they have it at their Mission Street location.

Sigmund Stern Grove

Since my daughter’s off from school now we have to find things to entertain her so we took her for a trip to Sigmund Stern Grove the other day. It’s really come a long way from when I was a kid and it’s a definitely good place to take a walk.

It was purchased by Rosalie Meyer Stern after the original owner George Greene who Trocadero Inn that’s still there, but closed it in 1916 with the oncoming of prohibition he was afraid that that bootleggers would make their way to his hidden hideaway. Rosalie donated the area she named after her late husband to the City of San Francisco in 1931. She was the President of the city’s Playground Commission which would now be SF Parks and Recreation.

When I was a kid it was the place to go on the weekends to drink beer. During the day on the weekends they might have a concert or two. Not the type they have today, but mostly local rock bands nothing as big as they get today. It was always a place for music and in 2005 got a major overhaul by Lawrence Halprin giving it a new stage better natural seating with a sort of bleachers being made out of grass and rock.

The east end where the Trocadero Inn is [I don’t know what it’s called today, but I’m sure it’s had a few renovations and is available for rental for events I still believe] is a heavily wooded area with picnic spots and grills. If you’re lucky and are having a big party you’ll want to get the double bricked in grills up in the northeast end. There’s a pond in the midst of the trees that used to have koi in it, but I didn’t see any this time. It was a great place to have a picnic when I was a kid and we always loved running around the trees.

In the middle is the concert area that’s pretty massive.The stage now has a hangar of lights and there’s lots of lights around the seating area as well for night time concerts. I didn’t get close enough, but there did look like there was a concession stand for those who forgot to bring some food during the concerts. Be careful when you walk around the place because since there’s grass there’s gopher holes. Not as many as in other places and I’ll have to find out what they do to keep it that way.

On the west end you’ll find dogs. Lots of dogs. It’s become an open dog run area and it’s huge so you’ll see lots of big dogs that need the exercise out there. At the far west end is Laguna Puerca [literally pig lake]. It’s one of the few natural lakes in San Francisco and you can tell by all the pond scum and duckweed floating around. I would not suggest you go for a swim there on a warm day. the water is pretty nasty. There’s also a building where they hold the Pine Lake summer camp. Oh, by the way they changed the name from Pig Lake to Pine Lake. Image is everything needless to say.

Up and around the north end there are lots of trails for hikers so there really is something for everyone here. There’s not a whole lot of parking here, but there is an east and west lot that the only connection is a service road that’s not available to the public. I prefer to enter through the west entrance off of Crestlake Avenue as it’s much wider than the road in from 19th Avenue. My daughter enjoyed the trip especially being around all the dogs. The owners will warn you if their dogs aren’t good around kids, but we didn’t find that to be the case. Enjoy the pictures.

That Waving Guy

If you’ve ever driven by 33rd and Vicente on the weekends [sometimes during the week] you’ll see a guy sitting in a wheelchair with a little white dog in his lap. He waves to every car that drives by hoping they’ll wave back. We always do and he always smiles at us. I happened to catch him yesterday and decided to stop and talk to him.

He’s an interesting guy. His name is John and his dog is named Winston Churchill. He told me he’s been sitting out and waving for the past five years when he and his wife Pat were in Mexico and he [like I] suffered a stroke. He can’t do much, so sitting and waving at people is pretty good entertainment for him. His seemed to be a lot worse than mine though as he pointed to his right side when he told me and used his left hand to shake mine. He had a bit of trouble speaking which I remember having as well, but as I said, mine was minor.

I didn’t get to ask him too many questions because he was telling me all about his and Pat’s trip to Mexico and how it was always warm and beautiful and he kept going on about the posole that it was the best in the world. Which I’m sure isn’t hard to deny considering posole in Scotland would probably be awful.

So I finally got to meet him and John is a nice guy. He doesn’t stay out there very long, but I did learn that I’m a good guy which he told me after Winston started trying to climb on me. John’s a happy guy all things considered and Winston knows people. I told him that I was going to write about him and I always hold my promises. Here’s to you John!

Pink Slime

Seeing as it’s the weekend I can move away from San Francisco and talk about a term coined by Dr. Gerald Zirnstein, Pink Slime. It’s a term used to describe boneless lean beef trimmings that are ground up and processed as an additive to regular ground meat. Since the term is a pejorative one to denigrate this product I thought I’d do a little background research about this horrific meat product that is on everyone’s lips nowadays.

When I first heard the term it was used to reference ground up chicken that  being used to make chicken nuggets. There was no reference to it being used in ground beef, but apparently now I’ve found at least a dozen articles on it yesterday. There are two companies making this product and they are BPI and Cargill. Most of the articles while not mentioning BPI are focusing on it because they use Ammonium hydroxide to sterilize the meat because they are trimmings usually considered not fit for human consumption. This isn’t added to the meat, but the meat is washed and rinsed in it. The meat which people are saying isn’t fit for human consumption wouldn’t really be allowed for humans to eat, so it’s more like meat humans don’t normally eat. To those in the nose to tail brand of eating this is what is known as offal. When you slice open a cow the insides containing intestines, liver, kidneys, heart, etc are what come out and there are very few people that are meat eaters that go for this [except for the few liver and onions types or the steak and kidney pie types]. This is edible, but takes a bit of cleaning up before you cook it. Cargill by the way uses anti-microbial treatments to make it safer to eat not ammonium hydroxide.

Now if you go for the muscle parts of the meat that most of us eat there’s nothing used to sterilize it which is part of the reason we get food poisoning, mad cow and all those other diseases. Pink slime is a sterile, processed meat product. Sounds awful doesn’t it? Let’s talk about Tofu for a minute. It’s a processed, fermented soybean product that doesn’t occur in nature. If we called it processed rotting bean paste it wouldn’t be a good advertising tag line. Would you purchase bee barf? I bet you have. That’s called honey. A study was done in New York where they walked around Central Park telling everyone about the horrors of consuming dihydromonoxide. It’s present in everything we consume and if you consume too much of it, it will kill you. As it turns out, the public doesn’t know basic chemistry enough to understand that what they were talking about was H20, i.e. water.

I am not saying that beef innards are high on my list of things to eat. I’ve never eaten sweetbreads [nice name for a sales pitch] nor have I had kidneys or liver [I may have had foie gras once], but the grinding together of these innards and sterilizing them still leaves them as being 100% beef in origin. I remember a local hamburger joint when I was a kid that sold 25¢ hamburgers that everyone said used sawdust as a meat filler. THAT would be a questionable additive. Come to think of it I have eaten 100% beef hot dogs so I’m sure there were some innards mixed in.

Jamie Oliver who I enjoy watching demonstrated the way he thought Pink Slime was made by grinding meat and dumping ammonia on it saying this was how it’s made. That’s not true. The innards and trimmings when ground are exposed to ammonia gas then washed [BPI] or exposed to antibiotics [Cargill]. Much different than what was being told to us. There was a study published about the perils of Pink Slime which was later pulled as having some serious errors and that it was not harmful to human consumption.

What we have is people reading food labels and seeing ingredients that don’t sound like they’re fit for human consumption and then isolating them then writing up everything about the horrors of what this will do to you supposedly. Pretty much everything we eat today has been processed in one form or another. You don’t know what portions of the cow go into your ground beef. A can of soup usually has more than half you daily salt intake. Many of your store bought fresh baked cookies contain anti-freeze to make them soft. I’m not even sure if the picture I used up above is truly Pink Slime. It’s been associated with it, but I have yet to see a video that proves this to be true. Most of the fast food restaurants have stopped including Pink Slime because of the public outcry, but if you buy a beef and bean burrito from your local 7-11 look at the ingredients and I’m sure you’ll see beef heart as the source of beef. I shudder to think what their nacho cheese is made of. It always looked like yellow Elmer’s glue to me.

In the end, it’s not something I’d choose to eat, but the vilifying of an ingredient that when you take a look at it isn’t as horrible as it sounds by the name someone has applied to it just gets my yellow journalism radar turned up to 11. Now it’s time for me to go and have a cup of rotten dried leaves steeped in boiling dihyromonoxide with a spoonful of bee barf [That’s tea].