Rhode Island’s Hot Wieners (or Hot Weiners)

Richard Vittorioso sent me a message back in early June, right after I posted about visiting the A&W Drive-In restaurant in Smithfield, RI over Memorial Day weekend. Richard and I recently became acquainted in the last year and a half during the time he was writing the autobiography on his life as a radio disk jockey around the Ocean State, the title of the book is “I Could Have Been Famous But Sex, Love and Life Got In The Way”.  

His message stated…. Larry, I’ve been to that A&W and it’s really cool. Reminds me of the old Pink Elephant Drive-In that I included in my book. Have you ever thought of doing something on the New York System and Coney Island Hot Wiener places throughout R.I.?

I told him I was aware of these places and that maybe it was a good idea for a future post, so here it is. I started immediately to do some online research for some history on this culinary phenomenon peculiar to the Ocean State, as well as to find some of the locations of these places. I know I have seen a few of them in my travels searching for diners over the last 30 years, but never kept a mental note on the locations (other than the Olneyville New York System store on Plainfield St. in Providence).

For some historical background, these “Hot Wieners” (sometimes spelled Weiners) are not hot dogs, no sir, these are a slightly different animal (so to speak). They have been around for almost a century, ever since Greek immigrants who had run similar operations on Coney Island (New York) moved north and stuck the New York name to these new shops to gain credibility with the local customers.

As I stated above, never refer to these as “Hot Dogs” or you will get a look of disdain or at least ignored. If you see one as they are cooking, you will notice they do look a little different. In most cases they are not as big around (circumfrentially) as a hot dog. In fact they are made usually of beef, pork and veal cuts and come in long ropes of sausage, not tied off like hot dogs. The different stores that serve them get them as the long ropes and cut them into individual wieners, therefore they have “cut” or square ends. The color is usually a little more reddish than a hot dog too. They are usually served on a steamed bun.

Most people usually order them “all the way” meaning with mustard, meat sauce, onions and a sprinkle of celery salt. The meat sauce is basically a “chili” sauce (no beans). If you are at one of these shops at a busy time and there are a bunch of orders, the person making them (if he is an old-school short order cook) will prepare these “Up d’arm”. They hold one arm out, palm up, and line up the buns between wrist and elbow, then quickly put a wiener in each, squirt on the mustard, dollop the meat sauce, spread the onions, and sprinkle the celery salt. As I have read, at the best places, all this can happen in a matter of seconds.

Hot Wieners “all the way” photo courtesy of Olneyville N.Y. Systems website

So in my research, I put together a list of 11 different shops that serve the traditional “Hot Wiener”. There certainly are many more shops throughout the state than my list reflects but this is only a start. So on July 4th, my wife Denise and my brother Rick joined me for a little excursion into the Ocean State to photograph and hopefully sample some of these Hot Wieners.

I ordered my list of places to start in Warren, RI and work my way using my car’s GPS from there to East Providence, North Providence, Providence and eventually Cranston. Little did I know that July 4th being on a Sunday this year screwed up my plans as every one of these shops were closed that day! At least I got some great photos and a good idea which places I would go back to visit on the next trip.

Rod’s Grille, 6 Washington St.,
Warren, RI 02885, 401-245-9405

Warren is a nice little town near Bristol, RI and Rod’s Grille is a great place for breakfast or lunch. Spelled “Grill” on the sign but “Grille” on their take-out menu, it makes no difference. This is a great place that has been around since 1955. According to their take-out menu, they were voted Best Wieners in the East Bay!

Rod’s offers Breakfast specials & Omelets along with the usual sides of bacon, ham or sausage as well as French Toast and Pancakes. There is also a Bolo Special which is a breakfast sandwich made with a Portuguese Muffin which can be ordered 4 different ways. Besides the Hot Wieners they also offer a number of sandwiches for lunch. Soups, dinner plates and deserts are available along with the usual sides of french fries, onion rings and chicken tenders.

On my return trip to Rod’s Grille on August 2nd, we got there between 10:00 and 10:30 am and I ordered a Hot Wiener with a small Coffee Milk (this is tradition I’m told). I told the waitress this was my first time ordering a Hot Wiener and she said “Oh, a newbie” and laughed. I, not being a “mustard” person ordered it with sauce and salt (in the Hot Wiener lingo), I decided to also forego the onions for my wife’s sake, she has to live with me.

I found the taste to be similar to Coney Island Hot Dogs at Tex Barry’s in Attleboro, as I half expected. So the big difference between Tex Barry’s and Rhode Island Hot Wieners is the “type of sausage” and the fact that celery salt is used on the Wieners. I enjoyed it very much and was looking forward to the next one at the Olneyville New York System shop in Providence.

Rod’s Grille is open at 6:30 am, Monday thru Saturday. Closing at 4:00 pm on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, 7:30 pm on Tuesday and Thursday and 6:00 pm on Fridays.

Olneyville New York System, 20 Plainfield St.,
Providence, RI 02909, 401-621-9500

According to their sign, the Olneyville New York System shop was started in 1946. But according to their website, the history goes like this….

In the 1920’s, Nicholas Stevens and his father Anthony emigrated to the United States from Greece and settled in Brooklyn, New York where they operated a candy shop. In the late 1930’s , they moved their entire family to Rhode Island and opened a small restaurant at 8 Olneyville Square and served hot wieners and a small lunch menu. Then in 1953, they moved to it’s present location around the corner at 20 Plainfield Street and were open 24 hours a day until 1968. In 1981, a second location opened at 1012 Reservoir Ave in Cranston and to this day, the Stevens family continues to operate the two restaurants to what has become a Rhode Island tradition.

The interior of this place is a blast from the past with very little updating. There is more than just Weiners on the menu here as well, I saw breakfasts being cooked on the grill when we were there. They are open from lunch to late night. Their Hot Weiner tasted basically the same as Rod’s Grille’s version! Check out their website at…. http://www.olneyvillenewyorksystem.com/index.html

They have actually 3 locations, the 2nd one  is at ……

Olneyville New York System, 1012 Reservoir Ave.,
Cranston, RI 02910, 401-275-6031

I attempted to go to Wein-O-Rama in Cranston after leaving the Providence Olneyville N.Y. System but as luck would have it, Wein-O-Rama was closed for their 2 week vacation! So on the way home we stopped at the Olneyville in Cranston.

And the third and newest Olneyville N.Y. System location is at……

Olneyville New York System, 1744 Mineral Spring Ave.,
North Providence, RI 02911, 401-383-4155

Wein-O-Rama, 1009 Oaklawn Ave.,
Cranston, RI 02920, 401-943-4990

A close-up of Wein-O-Rama in Cranston

Wein-O-Rama with its sign in the foreground.

One of the BEST signs ever!

As I said above, they were closed on July 4th and also on August 2nd so at some point, I have to get back here, this looks great inside as well as outside. One of the reasons I like this place is its name! I recall Bill Griffith used this in a “Zippy” comic strip a few years ago along with Billy’s Burg-O-Rama in Oxford, Mass. and a bowling alley in Newington, CT called Bowl-O-Rama! Someday Wein-O-Rama, someday!!!!

Original New York System, 424 Smith St.,
Providence, RI 02908, 401-331-5349

The Original New York System has been in operation since 1927. It is a great looking place and one of these days I will check it out also.

Another fantastic sign!

Here are 2 other places I have photographed, if you try them, let me know what they are like.

Sam’s New York System, 1031 Mineral Spring Ave.,
North Providence, RI 02904, 401-722-7922

Sam’s New York System is about a mile and half to 2 miles from the North Providence location of the Olneyville N.Y. System on the same street!

Sparky’s Coney Island Systems, 122 Taunton Ave.,
East Providence, RI 02914, 401-434-9826

Sparky’s is the only place I found that has “Coney Island Systems”
in its name.

One of the guys at the Providence Olneyville N.Y. System said he liked the weiners here as well as the ones they make!

Three other places I have on my list but did not get to are….

Ferrucci Original New York System, 1246 Main St.,
Warwick, RI 02893, 401-821-9849

Nick’s New York System, 280 Cowesett Ave.,
West Warwick, RI 02893, 401-823-5220

Weiner Genie, 80 Higginson Ave.,
Lincoln, RI 02865, 401-726-6641

Information for this post came from various sources including an article I found on Examiner.com written by Donna Diegel (Providence Food Examiner)  entitled “Ever had a hot weiner?” and an article from The Boston Globe’s  August 6, 2006 “Explore New England” section written by Joe Yonan entitled “Don’t call it a hot dog”.