Ferrucci's New York System, which isn't in New York as you might expect, is one of the bright spots in downtown West Warwick, R.I., where many businesses are suffering because of the recession. Locals gather here for breakfast, as well as burgers, fries, wraps and seafood rolls. But the eatery is best known for something else: weenies.
Or wieners. Just don't confuse them with a hot dog. In fact, on my first visit to Ferrucci's I made the mistake of ordering a hot dog. The woman running the grill looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. "You want a what?" she asked.
"Um, a hot dog," I said, "ketchup and mustard."
"We don't have hot dogs here. We have wieners."
Another customer looked at me and said, "You’re not from Rhode Island, are you?"
"A weenie is a Rhode Island thing," says Mike Ferrucci, the restaurant's owner.
Who would have thought that ordering a hot dog -- a staple of American fast food from coast to coast -- would mark me so obviously as an outsider? But it did.
Ferrucci, who came here from the Bronx 15 years ago, may be Rhode Island’s leading expert on the wiener.
"A weenie is basically like a hot dog but smaller," he says. "It's got different ingredients in it."
Ferrucci says a weenie has veal, pork and beef in it, while a hot dog which just has regular beef in it.
“It’s more plumper,” he says. “It’s a Rhode Island thing -- like a Del’s lemonade and a coffee syrup. Out of state, people never heard of that."
It’s true. And if you come here from out of state you should know how to order a wiener. On my first visit to Ferrucci’s the woman running the grill asked me, "Would you like your wiener all the way?"
I have to be honest: Her question made me blush.
But Mike Ferrucci explains, all-the-way is all about the meat sauce.
"The old, famous meat sauce, they call it, simmered on a stove 30, 40, 50 pounds at a time, six different spices for hours,” he says. Ferrucci's all-the-way dog has mustard, the meat sauce, onions and celery salt on it.
So now I know. I ordered a hot dog and ended up with a real Rhode Island education about the wiener, and I left West Warwick well nourished and a bit more worldly.