I’ve been in New York since the middle of last week, enjoying the sites and staying with Auntie Pasti and Corn-y Uncle on the Upper West Side. Empanada Boy was with me until early this morning when he left to go back to Chicago for work. I’m staying for two more weeks to take care of my cousin Momotaro while his parents are in Japan. EB and I had a great few days, visiting all of his favorite haunts from his New York days. We went to his old apartment in Park Slope and out to Coney Island (to be featured in another post soon). But there was one place on the Upper West Side that EB had been craving: Gray’s Papaya.
Gray’s Papaya is a New York City standard. It’s open 24 hours a day, year-round. It serves a few other food items, but it’s mostly known for its hot dogs. These thin little numbers are all-beef and come with grilled onions and sauerkraut. Unlike Chicago dogs, these are traditionally eaten with ketchup and mustard. Gray’s also serves a variety of fruit drinks, including the namesake papaya, orange, grape, piÃ±a colada, coconut “champagne” and banana daquiri. The classic order, the Recession Special, includes two hot dogs and drink. EB ordered one with a papaya drink. I had a single dog. The papaya drink was fresh and fruity. The hot dogs had great snap to them, with surprisingly good quality meat. The grilled onions are blended with some kind of red sauce that EB and I had trouble defining. All we knew was that we liked what we tasted.
Beyond the simple fare offered here, watching the guys at the counter can provide tons of great entertainment. After years of doing nothing else, these guys know how to make a hot dog. There is one guy who just stands at the cooking station, rotating the dogs and maintaining a substantial number on the back burner at all times. There is another guy in charge of condiments and another at the cash register. Above them are signs with messages like “Best Damn Frankfruter You’ll Ever Eat” and “Gray’s Famous Papaya is Better Than Dom Perignon.”
EB’s favorite sign was outside the restaurant. Hung in the window was a huge placard reading: “Yes, Senator Obama: We are ready to believe again.” When hot dogs and liberal politics combine, it is heaven on earth for Empanada Boy. There aren’t many other near-perfect things you can get for just $3.50.
Gray’s Papaya (two other NY locations)
2090 Broadway (72nd St.)
New York, NY 10023