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Film-maker samples Connecticut hot dogs

Summer greets sun-starved humans each year with a healthy dose of beach weather, ice cream and that all-American summer food, hot dogs.

The hot dog has been revered for years as a perfectly portable and gratifying roadside snack, and New Britain native Mark Kotlinski made it his personal mission to document 10 unique hot dog establishments throughout Connecticut. The result? "A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour," which Kotlinski, a freelance video producer and editor, promotes as "a delicious documentary of Connecticut's hot dog culture."

Kotlinski, 41, searched high and low for the dogs he featured, which include floating hot dog stands (Weiners on Water, an establishment on a boat on the Connecticut River in East Haddam), dogs from his childhood (Capitol Lunch in New Britain) and dogs in southeastern Connecticut (Bobby's Place II in Sound View in Old Lyme, now closed. The original Bobby's Place, on Pennsylvania Avenue in Niantic, is still open).

We talked to Kotlinski over the phone last week to find out what it is about hot dogs that made him devote a good eight months of his life to documenting them. Kotlinski told us The Documentary Channel picked up his hot dog-cumentary and will start airing it this summer.

The DVD is available on Amazon and at www.ctoriginals.com.

Why did you make this documentary?

I was moving back from New York City, and I was coming back to Connecticut on the weekends, and I wanted to kind of get reacclimated with the state. And I said, oh let me think of a project that I can do documentary-wise that will kind of kill two birds with one stone. I've always been a fan of Rick Sebak. He does these kind of quirky documentaries for PBS, and he did (one) called "A Hot Dog (Program)."

(As to why he chose to feature hot dogs:) I think it's a universal thing, and then there's just so many different varieties of it in our state. We don't have one kind of standard type hot dog in our state. So we have a good diversity of places that I wanted to highlight.

Why do you think hot dogs are so popular?

It's very portable, and it's quick, but it's good. I also think it has to do with a lot of European people coming to the state - Germans, Polish, and they're really raised on eating sausage and things like that. And just putting it in bread makes it really portable.

How did you choose what eateries to feature?

I tried to show a cross-section of places all around the state. I didn't want them all to be in one location. So I tried to find places that weren't being covered by other programs and have an undiscovered kind of thing. I wanted to surprise some people. I wanted to say, OK, I'm going to put in a couple of the quote-unquote well-known ones, and I said I'm going to put in a few surprises. I really tried to spread it out evenly across the state.

How many hot dogs did you end up eating during this documentary?

Entirely way too many. First, we said, OK, let's get two dogs, and then you go to the next one, you have another dog, and wow, (by) the third one, I'm kind of full already. So we had to limit ourselves to one hot dog in each place to split because it becomes too much.

What was your favorite hot dog spot?

Most people will tell you the best hot dog is the one they grew up on. So it was the one that their dad or grandfather or somebody took them to when they were growing up. So my documentary isn't about the best hot dogs, it's just showing, giving them the diversity. You make the choice, because that's part of the fun is going to visit these places, using this as a template and saying, oh, I'm going to do my own hot dog tour because I like so and so and he didn't cover that but I'm going to there, I'm going to try one of the ones that Mark had in the film. It makes it fun that way. You make the call.

(As to which is his favorite:) It goes back to the one I kind of grew up on. My grandfather took me there, it was the first hot dog stand I ever went to. It was Capitol Lunch in New Britain. But, see, that one isn't around, Capitol Lunch moved. The one I used to go to was real small, like had one little counter, the grill was in the window. And you'd be walking by on Main Street and you'd look in and there's hot dogs right there. It was like the best advertisement they could have. They don't do that anymore because they moved to a bigger place, but the hot dogs are still the same. So it's as much nostalgia as it is good hot dog.

If you could open a hot dog eatery, how would you serve your dogs?

No one does it, but I would include horseradish. I like spicy food, and it's got a nice kick to it. And no matter what else you put onto it, let's say you just put mustard on there, well, if you put mustard and horseradish, it makes it more interesting. Horseradish complements anything you put it with, I think, in terms of hot dogs.

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