At the counter of Texas Chili in Port Chester, New York, a customer declared, “The only difference between this place and Hubba is that this place is cleaner.” Maybe so. It is newer, that’s for sure, having been opened several years back by a couple of former employees of Hubba (aka Pat’s Hubba Hubba) just a block up Main Street. The menu is virtually identical, although here it is printed in color on shiny paper whereas at Hubba it is written in permanent marker on paper plates pinned to the wall, and the specialty of the house – a hot dog topped with chili – looks the same.
I hesitate to evaluate the differences based on a visit to each in a single day. Who knows how much the toasted bun varies from day to day or if the chili changes from hour to hour as it cooks? I will say that when I visited around lunch time, the ground-beef, no-bean chili that blanketed my split-and-grilled weenie (the traditional configuration, with chopped onions on top) was significantly hotter than that we had just sampled at Hubba. It was three-alarm, at least, but with a sneaky heat profile that builds slowly, so that by the time your face is turning red and beads of sweat are breaking out on your brow, you are practically done with your first dog. But unless you are allergic to hot food, you will eat another. It’s not painful-hot, just exuberant; and its vivid pepper taste sings beautiful harmony with the crusty, porky little frank it covers. As for the onions on top, my dining partner Katherine Curry exclaimed, “You know the chili is hot when the onions are a sweet relief.” That they are: a crisp, cool counterbalance for the chili dog, doing what onions so seldom do: upholding the salubrious banner of an actual vegetable. It is traditional for hot dogs in this area to be served in little, no-account white-bread buns; and on that account, Texas chili actually ups the ante by not just toasting it, but grilling it in butter (or maybe buttery-flavored grease), adding a note of unctuous luxe to a package that is unctuous in so many other ways.
When we started gesturing mutely in hopes the waitress would bring us water to salve our combusting tongues, the commentator at the counter suggested we have Texas water instead. “It’s like the Hubba water over there,” he said, pointing a thumb back to the other chili dog joint, then directing our attention to two side-by-side fountain coolers, one of which contained a liquid that was pale pink – water splashed with a barely perceptible dash of Hawaiian punch.
Hamburgers, sandwiches and even breakfast also are served … all are available with chili.