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By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
Years ago, Carmen Cimini ran his CARM'S CONEYS down on the Balboa Peninsula, and the county rejoiced. They were some of the best hot dogs in the land, wieners from all parts of New York—Coney Island, Syracuse, Rochester and the street vendors of the Big Apple. The lines were always long, the dawgs always excellent, and Cimini gained fans from Merrill Schindler to East Coast transplants. But Carm's mysteriously shut down in 1991, and Cimini disappeared from the culinary scene for almost 15 years.
The man reemerged in October, now in a bright Costa Mesa spot but still steaming the same sausages that earned him such a cult following. Framed yellowed newspaper clippings remind patrons of Carm's storied past; the scent of grilled onions and the clamor of a busy kitchen bring eaters back to the present. And the future? Your midsection expanding a couple of inches after a few bites at Orange County's best overall hot-dog stand.
A cursory glance at Carm's menu won't elicit much of a response from a typical Orange Countian whose only real introduction to regional-style dogs are Chicago, Pink's and Oki. But each of this dive's options offer unique charms. Sabrett's are what New York City carts hawk, a delicious beef frank gussied-up with only tart red onion sauce. The grilled Coney dogs feature all-white veal, juicy with a surprisingly spicy bite at the end; the regular franks come from Hofmann's of Syracuse, a company whose "snappys" (so named because the wiener's natural casing can barely contain the smoky beef within) have filled upstate-New-Yorker guts since 1879. Almost as old as Hofmann's but even better are the red- and white-hots from Zwiegle's, a Rochester concern that makes skinny, lean hot dogs that pass through your palate like pudding. You can order either the "red" or the "white" variety of a Zweigle, the main difference being the whites are a bit milder than the reds' messy joy. All of the hot dogs come sans condiments, just like they slap 'em together in the Empire State; on a nearby counter stand all the relish, pickles, hot peppers, onions and regional mustards your stomach can handle.
Carm's sells more than just hot dogs-bratwurst, burgers, chili, even a couple of breakfast entrées. There's only one downside to Carm's: the wait. I ordered a Coney to go on a recent weekday morning and received my hot dog maybe 15 minutes later. Poor Cimini was in the kitchen, apparently teaching his cooks how to prepare the dawg properly. There were only two other customers at the time. To his credit, Cimini apologized twice for the delay. And to Carm's credit, the Coney—as always, even tardy—was delish.
CARM'S CONEYS, 488 E. 17TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 515-7888.