Don’t you dare call it a hot dog.
No, the hot wiener is one of Rhode Island’s most famous foods and it might look like a hot dog but that is as close as they get.
Hot wieners are simple. A frankfurter of pork and veal in a steamed bun and topped with onions, mustard, celery salt, and a meat sauce as secretive as the herbs and spices at KFC. And that’s it. Order them by the dozen, grab a “coffee milk” and you’ve done it properly Rhode Island style.
They’re called “New York System” after a marketing strategy from the 1900s to denote that they were authentic Coney Island-style dogs right around the time the food first made its way to Rhode Island. The name stuck, despite not having any actual relation to New York City at all, and by the 1940s had evolved into a creation purely unique to the state. And the arguable first* to serve up hot wieners? The Olneyville New York System.
Olneyville, a neighborhood in Providence, is home to Olneyville New York System, the joint that has been feeding neighbors hot weiners since it was founded in 1946. Four generations later the same Greek family still owns it.
Through the years they’ve become infamous, having been featured on food shows, in newspapers, and in 2014 even won the coveted James Beard award. It’s bright and unmistakable neon sign is a warm beacon for late-night feasting or early morning munching and despite reduced hours thanks to the pandemic, still churn out delicious foods by the bag full for most of the hours of each day.
Pre-pandemic the counter and booths would be chock full ‘round the clock. Now it is take-out and to-go orders only until things even out, curves are flattened, and the world goes back to normal. For the best glimpse of Olneyville New York System from the before times, read The Humans of Olneyville New York System by Rhode Island Monthly’s Jamie Coelho.
Despite the hurdles, the crew hasn’t slowed down and continues to feed locals and visitors alike with armfuls of hot wieners and cups of coffee milk.
Oh, we didn’t forget to mention the coffee milk, another Rhode Island only concoction.
Heavy sweet coffee concentrate is mixed with whole milk to create a devilish drink more akin to a milkshake than a cappuccino. It's surprisingly refreshing and practically required to be paired up with hot wieners at least once.
Olneyville New York System isn’t the only restaurant serving up hot wieners, and to some, it isn’t even the first, but one thing is for certain: nothing has changed. Since opening the doors in 1946 the recipe, the buns, even the flavor has all stayed the same. That speaks volumes and explains why Olneyville is still the place to have a first hot wiener experience.
Just remember: order it all the way, grab a coffee milk and never, ever call it a hot dog.
Subway? Tipping the gang serving up the hot wieners will often be met with a shout of “Subway!” It’s a throwback from the days when a sub fare was less than a few bucks. Olneyville New York System has two locations in Providence, RI, and are open daily. Check their website for updated hours.