I attend a lot of charity events during the year... for children's health, cancer research, Planned Parenthood, all the rest... and they usually have one thing in common: All seem to feature free Pink's hotdogs and the fixings from a portable stand they have set up. I recently asked the Pinks -- Richard, Gloria and Beverly -- why they did so many benefits, and they smiled and said, "We believe in giving back to the community which has been so good to us for some 75 years." Yes, it was that long ago that their parents began the Pink's saga. And lately I have noticed that more and more private parties are featuring a Pinks' hotdog stand, a result of their energetic entry into catering in the past few years. At the recent Beverly Hills Food & Wine meet, I spoke to Aileen Watanabe, the woman who handles the Pink's catering operation, about this, and she said that they were ending a record-breaking year. They can cater from 150 people to an event for 10,000... and she was just preparing a proposal to serve 10,000 hotdogs in three hours for one.
The story is well-known by now but worth repeating... how in 1939 Richard's parents, Betty and Paul, saw a newspaper ad and bought a second-hand hot dog cart for $50 of borrowed money; they walked it from downtown up to the corner of Melrose and La Brea, an empty weed-strewn field. They ran an extension cord from a friend's hardware store a block away to heat the burner and were in business selling hot dogs with chili, mustard and onions on a bun for ten cents. Business boomed, and in '41, the rent on their corner went from $15 to $25 a month and they bought the property. But several years later the Health Department got on their case and they had to build a more permanent stucco structure facing the street, which is still the base for their current operation. In the '50s, they added some neon lights so they could stay open later. The movie studios in the neighborhood started expanding and everyone was a Pink's fan, and they have survived and thrived for some seven decades. I first met Richard and wife Gloria, who manages the stand with the help of his sister Beverly, some years ago and they have become fast friends. They are getting ready to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the legendary stand next year. You of course know that it is located at 709 N. La Brea Ave. just off the corner of Melrose (323-931-4223), (for catering call 323-979-3878), and you will see long lines any time of the day or night. But the line moves quickly and one night at 1am I was standing beside conductor Essa Pekka Salonen and cellist Yo Yo Ma! I still stop there often on the way home from downtown's LA Opera and LA Phil.
It may be the only hot dog stand in the world which has its own parking lot attendant to guide you into a space, no charge, and I have seen Rolls Royces and Mercedes besides pickup trucks and motorcycles here. I have written before about Martha Stewart, who was driving up La Brea with her camera crew when her teamster drive pointed out the famed facility and she got out to explore it. When Gloria spotted her, she invited them to a patio table; the TV star perused the menu and, on the spot, the Martha Stewart dog was invented... a 10" stretch dog with mustard and relish, onions, chopped tomatoes (a first), and sauerkraut, topped with bacon and sour cream. I notice, no chili -- a serious omission). It is now on the menu at $6.45, a bargain. They have 38 dogs at last count on the menu, and over the years I have worked my way through about a dozen. Beverly once told me that the most Pink's dogs ever to be eaten at one sitting was by Orson Welles, who downed 18 of these suckers in a night. And Gloria told me that they serve between 1,500 and 2,000 dogs on an average day, more on holidays. Richard has said that in a year they go through 55,000 pounds of hot dogs, 48,000 pounds of chili, 52,000 pounds of Polish sausage, 130,000 pounds of fries, 15,000 pounds of burgers, 130,000 tortillas. Speaking of that chili, I consider myself an expert on chili, having eaten my way through Texas seeking the perfect bowl of 'red.' But the late Betty Pink's chili defeated me. I have tasted it many times over the years and to this day I can't put my finger on all of the ingredients in that glowing orange goo which coats my mouth, stains my shirt and fingers, and keeps me up for hours. It is delicious. Gloria once gave me a container of it to take home, and the next day I put it atop scrambled eggs. Heavenly. It's not the chunky chili of the old Chasen's or of any other place on earth. It is a power unto itself and probably capable of powering interstellar flight.
I'm a Brooklyn kid who grew up eating Nathan's hot dogs at Coney Island all summer long. (It was in 1916 that Nathan Handwerker at his stand there coined the term 'hot dog' because it resembled his dachshund.) To qualify as a real hot dog, the crescent tube must be smoked or boiled, pre-cooked in some way before it reaches its final destiny by being boiled (my choice, for just a moment or three) or grilled (usually too dry) or God forbid baked or microwaved. The dogs at Pink's are made by Hoffy's in Los Angeles; they have the natural casing which snaps when you bite into the dog, juices spurting into your mouth, the rich garlicky beefy flavor mingling with the sour tang of hot sauerkraut (always my choice), the vinegary zip of yellow mustard, nestled in a steamed soft bun ($3.70), which creates the gems of flavor until there is nothing left. Time for another.
Everyone comes here. Everyone. It's legend that Bruce Willis proposed to Demi Moore in the parking lot (not a good idea, me thinks). Pink's does have a very good hamburger, including a monster called the Double Pastrami Swiss Cheese Burger at $7.80, the most expensive item on the extensive menu. Of it, my buddy Merrill Shindler said, "Never eat anything bigger than your head." They even have a turkey burger, but why bother? An order of Chili Fries with Cheese ($4.45) will test the cast-iron consistency of your stomach. I happen to love the Guacamole ($1.60 for a full cup), chunky, mildly spiced, which is made by a long-time employee early every morning. Mexican is part of the equation now. Order a Polish dog made especially for them in Eagle Rock with a big flour tortilla wrapped around it, with two slices of cheese, three slices of bacon, chili and onions ($6.55) and for another $2.50 they'll add a second sausage. That's a burrito made in heaven.
I enjoy standing in line at midnight with a real cross-section of people from my adopted city, exchanging witticisms in English and Spanish, watching their amazing servers take an order, prepare and deliver a dog in less than 30 seconds. They remain open until 2am every night but Friday and Saturday, when 3am is the norm. And as I noted before you will be stunned at who you may see standing on line in the wee hours. Once I saw Bill Cosby and a bunch of bikers. I've talked to some of the people behind the counter and all use the word 'family'. "We are all part of the Pink's family." And now that I have been somewhat adopted by them, I proudly wear my orange stains on my shirt and tire and a smudge of mustard at the corner of my lip, dreaming of the next chili dog with sauerkraut and mustard which will pass my lips. And who said that Los Angeles wasn't a wonderland?
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