Rhode Island is a quirky state. Frappes are called cabinets, the state drink is something called coffee milk, and a big blue bug overlooks the interstate.
And then there are hot weiners. Hot weiners are typically small hot dogs made with veal and pork, served in a steamed bun, and topped with celery salt, yellow mustard, chopped onions, and meat sauce. They are often served in restaurants named “New York System” – or occasionally “Coney Island System.”
Part of the Rhode Island hot “weiner” experience is ordering half a dozen or more “up d’ahm.” (That would be “up the arm” to non-Rhodians.) Cooks line up the buns along their arm (sometimes to the shoulder), add the wieners, and slather on the toppings. (Customers know that combination as “all the way.”)
Hot weiners originated within the state’s Greek immigrant community. The “New York System” moniker was an early twentieth-century attempt to give the local offerings some Empire State pizzazz. And spell checkers beware: The traditional spelling – immortalized in neon – is “weiner” rather than the more conventional “wiener.”
Two of the best known “Systems” are in Providence. Augustus Pappas started the first New York System in 1927 (which later appended “Original” to its name). The establishment stayed in the family until 2013; now the Toprak family owns it. Anthony Stavrianakos and his son opened the Olneyville New York System in 1946. Today a fourth generation of the family (now called Stevens) runs the grill. The restaurants have surprisingly similar neon signs.
Finally, Cranston boasts Wein-O-Rama. The eatery is marked by a free-standing neon sign and seemingly drew its inspiration from the mid-century “o-rama” naming craze. Greek immigrant Michael Sotirakos opened the spot in 1962, and and today his sons Ernie and George run the establishment.
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