Miami hasn’t outgrown Arbetter’s hot dogs in 60 years for the same reason no one ever outgrows Abuelita’s hard candies.
They’re simple. They’re satisfying. And they remind us of our youth.
Arbetter’s celebrated its six decades in business July 4. The celebration coincided with National Hot Dog Month, which was convenient since David and Jill Arbetter, the brother and sister who manage the business, haven’t been able to pin down the exact date their parents opened their first Miami stand in 1959. They picked a day to honor their hot dogs the way one would for a beloved shelter dog.
It’s an unlikely milestone for Arbetter’s, a restaurant whose entire menu involves a combination of four things: hot dogs, cheese, French fries, and a secret-recipe chili that is made from scratch every morning.
Yet for Miamians, particularly in the western suburbs, Arbetter’s is one of the few restaurants that still checks all the important boxes.
It’s affordable enough (dogs with all the basic fixin’s start at $2.39) for a nearby Columbus high school student to take a date. It’s quick enough for a family with three screaming kids to get their dogs and go. And casual enough where suits and shorts are both welcome.
“It’s one of the most egalitarian places in Miami,” said David Arbetter, 55. He and his sister stepped in to keep Arbetter’s going after their father, Robert, and oldest brother, Ronnie, died.
And the restaurant itself is a scrapbook of Miami history, with photographs of everyone from University of Miami and local high school football legends to the Boston great Larry Bird, a hero to the founder, Robert Arbetter, who was raised in Saugus, Mass. (When the Celtics or the Red Sox win a championship, Arbetter’s doles out free bowls of their baked beans.)
Robert Arbetter’s love of all things Boston was so great that he turned down the chance to study medicine after playing baseball at UM (and serving in the Army in Korea) to open a hot dog stand like the one his father used to take him to in Boston’s West End, Joe and Nemo’s. You can still order a dog the way Robert liked it, an All-Around with mustard, diced onions and sweet relish.
But don’t be fooled: The secret to Arbetter’s is the chili.
The late Flaminia Arbetter, Robert’s wife, turned a recipe for Sunday gravy that her parents brought with them from Arquata del Tronto, a valley town two hours northeast of Rome, into the chili that is the true star at Arbetter’s. She made it every morning in her kitchen in Westchester and carried it with her on the bus to the restaurant’s first location on Flagler Street and 18th Avenue. Her recipe used at the remaining Westchester store, on Bird Road since 1971, remains unchanged.
Flaminia’s chili is hearty, meaty, a blend of spices that when cooked for hours becomes the Oscar gown that transforms a simple Norma Jean into a Marilyn.
“My mom was the best cook I’ve met in my entire life,” David Arbetter said.
On the maybe-possibly anniversary of Arbetter’s, we let David Arbetter order for us.
First course: Start with an original
It all started with this: a chili dog. It’s Flaminia’s chili generously ladled over the original pork-and-beef dog, bejeweled with diced (nearly minced) onions. The dogs are boiled and steamed in classic fashion. It’s as close as you can get to the taste of the original, and it’s hard to beat. If you order just one thing on the menu, let it be a chili dog.
Second course: a classic
Over the years, David Arbetter has added other franks to its menu but has never taken away. Among those additions are all-beef Sabrett hot dogs. They come in a standard, just-longer-than-bun-length size , jumbo and a ridiculous half-pound Monster Dog.
These dogs, instead of being steamed, are cooked on the grill to charred majesty. The all-beef dog has a stronger smoked flavor and goes well with vinegary sauerkraut and a squirt of yellow mustard.
Amuse bouche: fries
Some people argue against French fries you can’t eat with your fingers. To those people I say: stop arguing and pick up a fork. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a bowl of fries fresh out of the fryer, topped with Flaminia’s chili and a ladle of lustrous cheese sauce of dubious origin.
Arbetter’s hot dogs
Details: Anniversary party noon-5 p.m. July 4 at 8747 SW 40th St.., Westchester