Last week Suzen and I were visiting my daughter Kelly in Seattle. We took a day trip to Portland to, ostensibly, visit my mother, but I will admit to an additional motive: it’s been four years since I had my last Roakes hot dog.
For those of you who don’t know, there has been great dialog here about Roakes, about it’s chili sauce dating from the 1930’s or 40’s. I had my first Roakes 61 years ago and had the fortune to live just a half mile from the place. It was on my way to school, to junior high, to senior high, to college. Sadly, I now live in New York City. I cannot have my daily hot dog — I’m serious, I did 4 or 5 a week.
After four years, what can I say? The exploding image above is all too true. There is, I sadly say, a problem at Roakes. Or a problem with me, perhaps, but even Suzen noticed there was difference.
Or differences. The famed sauce color was slightly duller. The flavor less biting. It’s still very good, it’s quite similar to what it was, but it is not the same. Yes, I asked for the recipe. No, I was refused.
The chili sauce is made twice a week, in a separate room by one person in secret. What can be going on? Well, what is the likelihood that a recipe can survive unchanged for decades. I’ve thought about it, and I think that there is far more likelihood of change, than constancy. This is a meat based sauce. What’s the chance that the — surely economy — beef being use has the same characteristics as 60 years ago. Just think how pork has changed in our lifetime. Are the spices the same? Are the same spice manufacturers even around? What if onions are used and there was a shift from red to white or some other presumably harmless adjustment?
No, I think there are many avenues for change here and some evolution in the sauce is likely, if not inevitably. Can I live with that. Hell, no.
I have a path that may provide a solution. Look for tomorrow’s Cookbook Review of Haute Dogs by Russell Van Kraayenburg. He has a page devoted to classic chili sauce with a variety of regional options. To be continued.
And, if anyone out there can comment on this, I would appreciate input. I don’t think I am wrong, and I would be very disappointed to be confirmed as right.