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This was written several years ago. Much of it still applies, though there has been a development where one of the food products is concerned, a development which is good news for Central New Yorkers who have transplanted themselves in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and any other Southern state served by Publix supermarkets. This year (2013) the Publix meat department has added Hofmann's hot dogs and snappys (or "snappy grillers" as they are now called). Both are wonderful products, though I tend to favor the snappys. However, I think Hofmann's would be better served by more eye-appealing, modern packaging of their products.


No matter the distance we’ve traveled, no matter how long we’ve lived elsewhere, no matter how much we hate the winters that prompted our move . . . there are times every Central New Yorker wants to go home.

Usually when we’re hungry.

That's been my experience since moving to Bluffton, SC, in 2002. Bluffton, a few miles east of Hilton Head Island, is the South Carolina's fastest growing community, a magnet for retired and restless Northerners, several of whom moved here from the Syracuse area. I meet them all the time and our conversations quickly turn to food.

Like the owner of a Bluffton salon who, when she learned I'd planned a trip to Solvay for a high school reunion, asked if I’d do her this favor: “Bring me back some salt potatoes.”

Or the former Liverpool resident I met at a Fourth of July party for neighborhood residents. She nodded agreement when her husband, a Wisconsin native, complained that whenever they go back to New York to see her family, “she drags me to some crummy restaurant for some white hot dogs.”

Or the Solvay cousin who has lived in the Bluffton area for ten years. When her husband discovered I was about to go online to order those white hot dogs – called “snappys” by their makers, the Hofmann Sausage Company – he called to ask that I order an extra twenty pounds for his family. A few minutes later he called again to request that I also order ten pounds of Hofmann’s regular hot dogs. (He had called me a month earlier from Florida where he was visiting his brother who wanted the Hofmann website information.)

Or the former Baldwinsville resident in the produce department of the Publix supermarket where we introduced ourselves while grousing about the apple selection. “There's no place around here to get Macouns,” I said. “Yeah,” she replied. “If I were home I’d go apple-picking at Beak and Skiff.”

Or the former Syracusan who works at a nearby storage facility. Since she’s been here longer, I thought she might have discovered a good pizza place. She rolled her eyes. “In the South,” she said, “there’s no such thing as good pizza.” We stared at each other a moment, then simultaneously sighed, “Ahhh ... if only we had a Twin Trees.”

FUNNY, I’ve watched lots of TV food shows and not once have I heard anyone rave about the joy of eating in Syracuse.

Yet . . . relocated Central New Yorkers forever crave the foods we left behind.

Salt potatoes, for instance. Nothing says Central New York like salt potatoes.

Sure, you can find potatoes so labeled in supermarkets throughout the country. I bought a bag during my years in Rhode Island. Alas, they were undersized red potatoes, which supports a misleading online recipe that claims salt potatoes “are simply baby red potatoes boiled in lots of salt.”

Excuse me. Salt potatoes are NOT red potatoes, baby or otherwise. Repeat: a red potato is not and can never be a salt potato. Wrong color, wrong skin, wrong texture. (If that Bluffton salon owner had grown up eating salted red potatoes, she would have been just as anxious to leave them behind as she was the snow.)

SO WHAT are real salt potatoes, aka Syracuse salt potatoes?

First, some background. Syracuse, because of its location near natural salt springs, was for many years the country’s most important salt producer. Thus its nickname – The Salt City – and the reason for its Salt Museum. (And also for the name given Syracuse University's abandoned, politically incorrect Indian mascot, The Saltine Warrior.)

Salt potatoes were created in the mid-1800s in a Syracuse salt factory by workers who wanted a cheap and easy lunch. They boiled potatoes in factory brine; the result was much more than your ordinary boiled potatoes. Layered with salt, these tender treats are irresistible, especially when dipped in melted butter.

Apparently those workers used small potatoes, perhaps runts deemed too small for baking. Those tiny taters could have been farmer rejects, thus cheap because they were considered useless.

But they were gold to Syracusan John Hinerwadel who saw their potential and in 1914 began serving salt potatoes as a side dish at his clambakes. (Hinerwadel’s clambakes are another Syracuse food tradition often mentioned during my Bluffton conversations.)

Somewhere along the way, the Hinerwadel family began marketing the salt potatoes now sold in most Central New York supermarkets. The label describes them as U.S. No. 2 Potatoes, which means that, if full grown, they’d be good for baking. (Something you’d never say about the aforementioned red potatoes.)

Hinerwadels salt potatoes are round, about the size of a large gum ball, and shouldn’t be confused with pricy fingerling potatoes featured on some TV cooking shows. Fingerlings, as their name implies, look like stubby fingers.

For the real thing, you don’t have to attend a Hinerwadels clambake or shop at a Central New York supermarket. Hinerwadels salt potatoes can be ordered via a company called Taste of Central New York. They are sold with the salt you cook them in. Just follow the simple directions. You can’t miss. (The day I checked this web page, the link to Taste of Central New York didn't work. Even Googling didn't help. I will continue the check ... in hopes this is only a temporary glitch.)

You may also try going directly to the source and order salt potatoes at hinerwadelsinc.com. Click on "contact us" and send an email of inquiry; the website does not list quantity or price, but I was told that Hinerwadels is selling and shipping their potatoes to those with discriminating taste.

NOW, ABOUT those white hot dogs . . .

They are, by far, the food item mentioned most by relocated Central New Yorkers I've encountered. The folks who make them call them “snappys”, which hints at what makes these pork delights so ... delightful.

They are more commonly known as “coneys,” though some refer to them as “Heid’s hot dogs”, Heid’s being that “crummy restaurant” the Wisconsin man complained about. (Well, he admitted the white hot dogs were delicious; he simply hadn’t understood his wife’s breathless anticipation of her first bite.)

My habit is to call them coneys, which Central New Yorkers pronounce “coon-ees.” I never call them “hot dogs” because those are a separate item both at Heid’s and at Hofmann’s, which makes the best red hot dog I’ve ever tasted. Good as it is, it's no match for the coney/snappy.

It’s difficult to overstate Heid’s importance in the memory bank of a Central New Yorker. A trip to Heid’s is a Syracuse rite of passage. You get your driver’s license, then head for Heid’s. The old, “crummy” Heid’s, that is. When the huge Carousel Mall arrived along the northern edge of the Syracuse city limits several years ago, Heid’s did what seemed a logical thing to do – they opened a restaurant in the mall’s food court.

However, it wasn’t the same. The coneys didn’t taste as good at the mall – and for a very good reason. Turned out it was more than the location that made a difference. The mall came along during the locally famous food fight between Heid’s and Hofmann’s, a period when the restaurant was forced to buy its coneys and hot dogs elsewhere. After all, you can find coneys (or white hot dogs) everywhere. It's only in Syracuse that we make a fuss about them.

Heid's substitute coneys were okay, but okay wasn't good enough. Hofmann's, meanwhile, opened Hofmann Hot Haus, a restaurant that features its snappys, hot dogs and sausages. There are now two Hot Haus locations in the Syracuse area.

Heid’s and Hofmann’s eventually resolved their differences – with Hofmann's again providing the meats and Heid's dropping its request to become privy to Hofmann's secret snappy recipe – but, long story short, there no longer is a Heid’s Restaurant at Carousel Mall.

THE ORIGINAL Heid’s in Liverpool – as you might tell by the photo above – is like something out of American Graffiti and a must stop during each Major visit to Syracuse. (I know people who, when returning home for a visit, go directly from the New York Thruway to Heid’s before continuing on to their parents' home.)

Our visits to Heid’s made a believer of our daughter Meridith, a Rhode Island native who continues to live in the Ocean State. In 2004 my wife and I visited her relatives in York, NY, about 30 miles south of Rochester. We hooked up with Meridith, who drove from Providence, accompanied by her roommate, Kelly, a Colorado native. On the day our York visit ended, Meridith and Kelly were under some stress because they were scheduled to work that evening back in Rhode Island. I assumed they’d drive straight through, which is why I was surprised by the phone call two hours after they'd left us. It was Meridith, doing what people do these days – driving with one hand on the steering wheel, the other on her cell phone.

“I’m in Syracuse,” she said. “I’m trying to find Heid’s.”

Luckily Meridith is blessed with an uncanny sense of direction; as she described the passing landmarks, I knew she was closing in on her destination. I felt like an air traffic controller as I guided her the rest of the way. For Meridith and Kelly, Heid’s was a detour well worth taking.

Heid’s, with its 1950s atmosphere and cholesterol-be-damned frying method, has contributed greatly to the coney’s success, but Hofmann’s deserves most of the credit. The sausage company makes several terrific food products, which, unfortunately, aren’t widely marketed.

However, you can order them online at hofmannsausage.com. Be advised these products are sold in ten-pound boxes; customers must order an even number of boxes because they are shipped in pairs. (My last order – which included some sweet sausage and that request from my cousin’s family – amounted to sixty pounds.) You also can purchase them, perhaps in a smaller amount, through the Taste of Central New York website listed earlier. Heid's also has a website, heidsofliverpool.com.

Also it has come to my attention there is another source for Central New York favorites. It is called Syracuse Crate – website syracusecrate.com – has has several packages called 'Cuse-Crates. My sister recently ordered some goodies and was pleased that her Crate included hot dog buns from Wegman's, which as all Central New Yorkers know, is the best supermarket in the world.

But back to Hofmann's products. You can’t miss when it comes to cooking Hofmann’s meats, but the snappys taste best when prepared the Heid’s way – fried in butter or olive oil.

Actually, you can miss . . . and I found out when a transplanted Central New Yorker offered Hofmann's snappys at a sports bar he opened in a nearby Bluffton shopping center. My first two visits were okay, but subsequently it became clear the place – which changed hands – couldn't get the hang of how to cook snappys. Weird, but the only time in my life that I ever sent food back to the kitchen was the third time I ordered snappys at this Bluffton sports bar. "Just cook 'em til they turn black!" I suggested, but even those simple instructions proved too difficult . . . because the snappys were still lukewarm and undercooked when they were returned to the table by an indifferent waitress who obviously believed a hot dog is a hot dog is a hot dog, so why was I making such a fuss?

My wife and I gave the restaurant one more chance, but the results were even worse. However, that restaurant has since closed, but the really good news is that the Florida-based Publix super market chain now sells what Hofmann's has renamed "snappy grillers" and the company's excellent hot dogs. This change came about this year (2013), which is about 10 years after this piece was originally written. Fittingly, the Publix where I do my shopping is in the same plaza as the former sports bar.

SHAME ON ME. I shouldn’t be eating so many coneys (or snappy grillers). What I need is some fruit. An apple, perhaps.

Well, there we go again. The tastiest apple isn’t available down here.

Our supermarkets have a year-long supply of Gala, Granny Smith, Delicious, Braeburn, Fuji and other varieties, but never any Macouns, which are available elsewhere only in the fall. (Incidentally, Macoun apparently is pronounced Muh-COON, though I’ve a tendency to say Muh-COWN).

A drawback with Macouns is their short shelf life. You really should eat them while they’re crunchy. When they turn soft, they’re almost ordinary. During that brief period when crunchy Macouns are available, I'm as excited about them as Seinfeld's Kramer was when the Macanaw peaches arrived at a neighborhood fruit stand. ("Macanaw peaches, Jerry! Macanaw peaches!!")

So even if our supermarkets sold them for a week or two in October, I probably wouldn’t buy them. Who knows how long since they were picked? Or how they were cared for in the meantime?

For the best Macouns, you have to go to an apple orchard, such as Beak and Skiff, which sits high on a hill off US-20, in the apple country south of Syracuse.

This is not to imply Macouns are a Central New York exclusive. There are apple orchards and good Macouns throughout the Northeast, though Macouns aren’t as plentiful as other varieties. It was developed at the New York State Agriculture Experimental Station in Geneva, NY, in the early 1920s. It's a mix of the MacIntosh and Jersey Black apples, but was named for Canadian fruit grower W. T. Macoun.

Why this apple didn’t catch on until recently is a mystery. I had my first one about twenty-five years ago in Rhode Island, which has wonderful apple orchards, as does Massachusetts.

But Beak and Skiff remains my favorite. And I can count on the crunchiness when I order Macouns during those few fall weeks they are available via beakandskiff.com.

AND THEN there’s pizza, a sore subject with any Yankee who relocated South. Maybe’s it’s the heat, maybe the humidity. Whatever, Southern pizza is limp.

And tasteless, a whole other problem. Maybe the water's to blame, which I mention because some people believe water is the key to great pizza dough. Like the New Yorker I saw on a TV program. He'd moved to California and started a pizza business, but was sure the best water was in New York City. Mind you, he didn’t say this was good drinking water; his only concern was its effect on dough. Obviously, he couldn’t import enough New York City water for his purposes, so he did the next best thing – he had it chemically analyzed in order to duplicate it on the West Coast.

The problem with Southern pizza goes deeper than water. Like maybe the intense heat and the uncertain soil . . . because another sad truth about the South is you can’t grow tasty tomatoes here. Fact is, you have a difficult time growing any kind of tomato. I was taught that tomato plants need plenty of sun, but I guess there’s such a thing as too much sun because in Bluffton I’ve seen tomatoes just give up and die in the relentless summer heat. And early in the season there's another problem here in what they call The Lowcountry. Too much water. It has no place to go, so it sits just inches below the surface. (This area might be better named after that fictitious George Clooney group who lip-synched "A Man of Constant Sorrow" in "Brother, Where Art Thou?" They were called The Soggy Bottom Boys.)

Another reason South Carolina pizza is so . . . uh . . . bland may be the influx of Midwesterners who grew up in towns where their only choice – besides frozen – was Domino’s.

Bluffton offers no mouth-watering, memorable pizza topped – but not overwhelmed – by a flavorful sauce. When it comes to that kind of pizza, many people believe New York City sets the standard.

(Some misguided souls also rave about Chicago pizza, which for my money is best served as a detour on "The Amazing Race," which once used it to separate those with steel-lined stomachs from the rest of the pack. Clearly, deep-dish pizza is an acquired taste.)

Central New Yorkers know the very best pizza was created in 1956 at a restaurant on the western edge of Syracuse, across the street from my hometown of Solvay.

Twin Trees Restaurant now has other locations and is the perennial winner in the annual “best pizza in Central New York” competition, which, I know, is like mentioning Miss Fargo in the same breath as Miss Universe, but trust me, Twin Trees pizza has everything going for it – great crust and a flavorful sauce that blends in with the other ingredients, best of which is the sausage. Twin Trees pizza also is a great leftover – cold or reheated.

(An unusual feature of a Twin Trees pizza is the way it is cut, not in pie-like wedges, but once down the middle, with each half then crosscut in pieces about two inches wide.)

It came as no surprise to learn my three-day high school reunion would begin with an informal gathering at which the main attraction will be Twin Trees pizza. That is so Central New York.

OBVIOUSLY I remain a Central New Yorker at heart, though I actually spent a larger chunk of my life in Rhode Island, from 1969 to 2002.

Relocated Rhode Islanders – if you can find them – likely spend even more time than Central New Yorkers reminiscing about food because the Ocean State is a foodie paradise. If you like to dine seven times a day, skip the cruise and vacation in Rhode Island. Enjoy the ultimate delight – eat your way through Providence, which may have more great restaurants per capita than any city in the country.

However, Rhode Islanders are notorious for seldom venturing beyond the state border (except for trips to Foxboro and Fenway), though I've been told a few of them have retired to Florida. All I know is I've seen only five Rhode Island license plates here in five years, four of them on cars headed for Hilton Head. The fifth belonged to my daughter Laura, who has since settled in Atlanta, one of the Rhode Islanders who got away.

Naturally, Rhode Island has several wonderful pizza places, my favorites being Tommy’s, Pizza Pie-er and Alforno, though no one else refers to Alforno as a pizza place because it’s an honored, nationally known restaurant. However, what I remember best about my meals there was the grilled pizza, served as an appetizer. It's one of those foods you can’t stop eating. It also prompted me to grill the dough I buy here at the Publix supermarket because this puts the crunch into a South Carolina pizza. (If you attempt to make pizza on your gas grill, be sure you've got one that allows you to adjust the flame. I do mine with the control set halfway between medium and low.)

Caserta’s is probably Rhode Island’s favorite pizza place. One of my Providence Journal co-workers, who picks up a Caserta’s pizza every Friday night, once found herself standing next to Alec Baldwin. He was in Rhode Island making a movie and likely had been told Caserta's made the state's best pizza. It has a distinctive crust, thick and chewy, and an unusually spicy sauce. Things may have changed, but the two knocks on Caserta's used to be the often-unfriendly attitude of their staff and a tendency to overcook their pizzas. (Another Seinfeld reference: My fear at Caserta's was if I complained, the waitress would snatch the box from my hands and yell, "No pizza for you!")

My love affair with pizza actually began in Ohio in 1959 while I was a graduate student at Kent State University. A roommate introduced me to Montoni's, which became a famous name in the Funky Winkerbean comic strip, created by Tom Batiuk (rhymes with "attic"). Batiuk graduated from Kent State and later taught art there before he launched Funky. Various websites say Batiuk patterned his strip's Montoni's after an Akron pizza place called Luigi's; all I know is there was an actual family-run Montoni's in downtown Kent, at least through the 1960s, and it bore a strong resemblance to the restaurant in the comic strip. A Batiuk family member emailed me to confirm that the comic strip Montoni's indeed was inspired by the one in downtown Kent.

Should you think I'm inconsistent, tracing my pizza history to Ohio after chiding Midwesterners about their taste in pizza . . . well, let me say this about that: My sense of geography always made me resist the popular notion that northeast Ohio is in the Midwest. To me it's America's Near East. Besides, there's a world of difference between Cleveland, which dominates the congested northeast corner of the state, and the rest of Ohio, which is decidedly more rural.

But back to Rhode Island . . .

Among other things, the Ocean State may well be the our doughnut capital. People there joke the state has a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner, only a slight exaggeration.

That's why I was surprised – dismayed even – when I arrived in Bluffton and discovered the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts was in Savannah where there were only two of them – and both closed within a couple of years. (Since then two Dunkin' Donuts have opened in Beaufort County, SC, where I live – one in the city of Beaufort, about 20 miles from my house, the other in Hardeeville, about 12 miles away.)

But as popular as Dunkin’ Donuts is in Rhode Island, the state's ultimate doughnut place is Allie’s, in North Kingstown. An Allie’s doughnut, which looks and tastes homemade, is to a Rhode Islander what a Heid’s-Hofmann’s snappy is to a Central New Yorker.

Still the food item displaced Rhode Islanders spend the most time fantasizing about is a simple beverage made of lemon, sugar and crushed ice. It is much on my mind during the brutal Bluffton summers. Just looking at the photo (left) stirs up withdrawal pangs.

What I wouldn’t give right now for a Del’s.

It’d be perfect with some salt potatoes.

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