Heids of Liverpool

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Published on: July 17, 2010

Heid’s hot dog stand has been an icon in Liverpool for decades.  You can find discussions and fan pages across the Internet from people who remember the various incarnations with fondness.  And yet. . . there are people who have never been.

Frankly, I don’t blame them.  It can be a real turn-off to drive past the place on a sweltering summer Saturday afternoon and see a line out the door.  Waiting for what – a hot dog?  Or seeing ads at the beginning of the year – in the dead of winter – to  c’mon in for the February 2-fer-1 special.  Who wants to freeze their tail off, brave the CNY Weather Gods – maybe slide into a ditch and get your car dinged?  All for a hot dog?  How good can they actually be?

Recently, on my way back from Carousel (or DestiNY or whatever), I was feeling a bit peckish.  Amazingly, on a bright summer’s afternoon, there was no line out the door, and very few cars in the lot, so I made a quick turn in and parked.  Inside, there were only two gents in the cafeteria-style line ahead of me.  You order all the “slow” foods first – sausage, fries, etc.  The waitress seemed surprised that I only wanted a small soda.  From what I could see, the fries are popular with almost everyone who walks in the door.  I get them occasionally because this is one of the few places that offers malt vinegar to shake onto them.

But this time I wanted a simple, fast snack – something to tide me over.  I ordered a double coney with chili, and snagged a half-pickle while I waited.  One of the fry cooks tried to give me an order of fries, and again seemed surprised when I turned them down; they belonged to the gentleman ahead of me.  Hey, I know I’m not the skinniest moke around, but do I have a sign around my neck saying “Will work for fries?”  Yeesh.

For those that aren’t familiar, a coney or snappy is white in color, being made primarily with veal.  They have a different taste than the  franks – a little lighter, with different spices added.  I took my tray into the attached dining area (there’s also an outdoor tent-covered patio) and slathered the thing with spicy brown mustard.

My drink of choice that day was a Diet Pepsi.  I know – blasphemy!  The traditional Heid’s drink is birch beer.  The fellow in line ahead of me asked what it was, and the girl at the register described it as “like ginger ale, but with a kick.”  Good ginger ale has a kick, as ginger ale fans know.  The most distinctive thing about birch beer, I think, is the coloring which stains your mouth for hours after you drink it.  Hey – I like the taste!  I just wanted a Diet.

Eating at Heid’s is not a high-end experience.  Actually, the whole process is a bit of a pain.  It’s right on a major intersection, and you can get stuck there for several turns of the light unless someone polite lets you out.  You go left through the line, then swim your way back upstream to get to either the indoor or outdoor dining area.  The food is good, but basic.  So what’s the attraction?

In a word – nostalgia.  I didn’t grow up around here, but thousands upon thousands of people made Heid’s part of their first social experiences.  And if you didn’t stop here, you probably had some place similar wherever you were. Stopping by after movies with friends.  A cheap, safe (well lighted!) place your steady girl’s parents wouldn’t object to for a dinner date.  A place where you could afford to buy your new in-laws a meal after getting your first paycheck from a local factory.  The look of the place may have changed, but the smells, tastes and sounds – senses that burn memories into our brain – are nearly the same as they were 50 or more years ago.

The meal costs a little more, but it’s still quite affordable.  A double coney, half a pickle and a small soda only set me back $4.19 .  Not bad for the all-American snack.

The place is a little rough around the edges, but also pretty clean.  You bus your own table, but I did see someone wiping them down when I first got there.  It ain’t the Ritz, but would you want to eat a dog in a fancy place?  I think not.

Would I wait through the line in 90+ degree heat?  Not on your life.  But when you can duck in and out, it’s a great place for a snack or meal.

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