It seems that whenever I'm determined to like something, I end up being disappointed. Walter's Hot Dog Stand in Mamaroneck is the latest example of a place that, in my opinion, does not live up to its superlative reputation. After a couple of visits, I find myself more bemused than ever by the accolades lavished upon it by such august publications as Gourmet and The New York Times.
My opinions notwithstanding, the lines tell of a success story. Students from Mamaroneck High School across the street, as well as devotees from much farther afield, happily wait on lengthy queues for singles, doubles, and fries. The counter is lined with postcards sent from around the world by loyal customers lamenting the absence of "civilized" food in the exotic locales they find themselves. There is also an impressive array of celebrities—including Bette Davis, Jonathan Winters, Gene Rayburn, Joan Rivers, Jimmy Fallon, and others—who have frequented Walter's over the years. What draws them all here?
One's first impression, even before seeing the menu, is of Walter's distinctive architecture: a Chinese-style pagoda. A vestige from the days of roadside attractions, the building was erected in 1928, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year. With its oxidized copper roof, ornamental carp, and hanging lanterns, this dog's casing really stands out. To play up the motif further, the letters on Walter's sign were drawn to resemble Chinese characters, with wieners representing strokes.
But is a pagoda enough to attract consistent crowds? Let's take a closer look inside the bun. Walter's hot dogs are different. They're made from a mixture of beef, pork, and veal using a recipe developed by founder Walter Warrington and a local meat company. (The same patented formula is still used today, albeit now under the manufacture of Boar's Head.) But wait, there's more. The franks are split lengthwise, cooked on a griddle with a "secret" butter-based sauce, and served on a toasted bun. Portion sizes include single ($2.10), double ($4), and diminutive puppy ($1.15) dogs. Toppings are limited to Walter's proprietary mustard-relish blend (whose latter component is scarcely noticeable), plain brown mustard, and ketchup. No sauerkraut!
Walter's "split dogs" may sound intriguing, but how good are they? I like a hot dog that is juicy and one that snaps when I bite into it. Splitting it, however, eliminates either possibility. Furthermore, I find an all-beef content to be tastier than Walter's bologna-like meat blend. Frankly, I prefer the taste and consistency of Nathan's frankfurters on Coney Island and, of course, the ones at Verona Park. I don't dislike Walter's hot dogs; I simply don't deem them superior. "They're … pretty good," I tried to reassure one of my Comestaccomplices. "They're not pretty good!" came the reply.
Established by Walter Warrington in 1919, and now under the ownership of his youthful 88-year-old son Gene, Walter's Hot Dog Stand remains a family business. Peter Fellows, husband of Gene's daughter Jeanne, is the manager. Sadly, for me, this is a case of the tale wagging the dog. It's the sort of place I want to love. I just wish I could.
Walter's Hot Dog Stand
937 Palmer Avenue
Mamaroneck, N.Y. 10543-5410 (map)
By train: Metro-North New Haven Line to Mamaroneck
By bus: 60, 61