Recently I was on a day trip to the York, Maine area. That means I had to revisit a couple of favorite places. One is Nubble Light and the other is Flo’s hot dog stand. Both go back a long way with me. My folks used to take me to the beaches of York when I was a child and the Nubble was always a stop that had to be made before returning home. And why not? It was then and remains now one of the most photogenic lighthouse scenes in the world.
My experience with Flo’s doesn’t go back quite that far but in the very early ‘80’s I was riding shotgun heading towards a sales call in the Portland area when my colleague told me he was pulling over to visit a special place for lunch. Flo Stacy, who back in 1959 had purchased the little building we entered, was holding court taking orders for her steamed hot dogs. Those in the know would order Flo’s special dog featuring a secret hot sauce and mayo. You could order a soft drink with your dog, but that’s about it. And don’t complain about the lack of a menu or the speed at which you were served as that might bring a less than friendly response from the lady who was known to be cantankerous at times. Some, in fact, suggest that if Jerry Seinfeld had seen her in action he would have anointed her as “the Hot Dog Nazi”.
These days Flo’s is operated by her daughter-in-law Gail. But the worshippers still come from all over to relish (sic) the experience. You place your order, the price is immediately calculated in Gail’s head (sometimes on large orders she cheats and uses a pencil and pad to help do the math), she takes your money and only then rings it up in the old cash register. Then you wait, because your dog is prepared just for you and must be freshly cooked. That’s the Flo’s way. And that’s why I won’t dispute their claim on a sign proudly displayed inside saying “Best hot dog on Route 1 from Maine to Key West”.
Now there is a problem with this method especially in the summer season. The line of people waiting to be served can extend out the door as there is little space inside. That affected me on my latest stop. I was pressed for time and gave up on waiting. And I knew that Flo’s success has caused competition to spring up nearby. When you take Exit 7 off of I-95 (the last exit before the toll gates) the ramp leads you to an access road that promptly brings you to Route 1. Not long after you turn left there to head north you will see a place called Wild Willy’s on the right side of the road. It is less than three miles south from Flo’s. Jim Williams, the proprietor of Wild Willy’s, apparently decided in the year 2000 that he could use a similar formula to Flo’s and apply it to hamburgers. So, when you order, they will openly tell you that there will be a wait of up to 15 minutes while your order that includes a half pound of meat is grilled just the way you want it.
The burger I ordered was the “Buffalo Bill” bisonburger—medium rare. That somehow made me feel less guilty than ordering a beefburger because there is less fat and cholesterol. For you Kevin Costner and Dancing with Wolves fans, you may select the “Tatonka” bisonburger. Wild Willy’s has a slightly larger menu, too, as you can order French fries and beer or even a grilled chicken sandwich. And the burger joint has successfully expanded into about a half dozen other New England locations.
By the way, I did spend a few minutes taking in the beauty of Nubble Light and the ocean views surrounding it. And, I also took the opportunity to drive a few hundred yards up the hill on Nubble Road to stop at Brown’s Ice Cream. That is yet another York establishment with a small, focused menu but an exceptionally good one.
The moral of the story I guess is that in Maine even those food items you expect will be served to you in a flash may not materialize that way. But the results are worth the wait.