Kostanzer: "hot-dog artist" Pauly. Photo: Jon Gardiner
On the eve of Duke versus Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium, in early March, Paul Kostanzer, the thirty-eight-year-old proprietor of "Pauly Dogs," Duke's on-campus hot-dog vendor, stood beside his pushcart, a stainless-steel ship afloat in a sea of tents, alone in the middle of Krzyzewskiville. Next to the cart was a table lined with condiments, which seemed to be the real attraction, the hot dog serving as mere vehicle for Cajun chili powder and raw onions and crushed cherry pepper and steak seasoning and pickle juice and a bunch of other stuff that would, after a trip from the hands to the mouth, fuel imminent bouncing and cheering.
"There are still people out there who will eat a plain dog," said Kostanzer, whom everyone calls "Pauly." "But I change 'em by the end of the semester."
Kostanzer is known as much for his condiments as the meat they get slathered on and for blending ingredients no ballpark vendor would dare attempt. "It's called 'The Thing,'" he said of his signature serving. "I started making this dog one day: barbeque sauce, five-blend Mexican cheese, garlic, red peppers, Texas Pete. And I said, 'Try this out.' And people came back and said, 'Hey Pauly, make me that thing you made me last time.' So I said, 'I'll call it 'The Thing.' "
That night, however, the best condiment wasn't really a thing at all, but the savory fact that Pauly Dogs were free, at least the first 200, and that resulted in a steady stream of traffic from tents to table. "Pauly Dogs are the best dogs in the world! Better than Nathan's!" said a skinny guy in an Abercrombie sweatshirt. "You bet they're better than Nathan's. Better than Nathan's any day," said Kostanzer.
"Hey Pauly! You're the hot-dog artist," said a curly-haired student with a can of Busch Light in one hand. Kostanzer nodded.
Above the cart stood an open blue-and-yellow Sabrett umbrella, a fixture of the New York City street corner, which shields the vendor and his dogs from rain and pigeon droppings, and which shielded Kostanzer, for the most part, from K-ville. "You see these everywhere in Manhattan," he said. "You even see 'em in the movies. There's always a Sabrett sign. You see Lethal Weapon? Mel Gibson's chasing the guy down the street and they're shooting at each other, and there's the hot-dog vendor. The guy doesn't even duck! He just stands there selling hot dogs."
And while all about him passions flared and beer flowed and an army rallied for battle, Kostanzer didn't duck either. In a ketchup-red T-shirt, he went calmly about his business. Every so often, he would yell, "Gimme a pack of jumbos!" to his chunky teenage assistant, Randy, who, with a yellow T-shirt stretched over his girth, strangely resembled the squeezable mustard bottle on the table before him.
Kostanzer did the cooking. He wore white plastic gloves. In large plastic tubs, he stored packs of buns and cold dogs and gallons of condiments. The dogs were heated in four water cookers. It took six minutes at 180 degrees for a dog to become a hot dog. With large steel prongs, he picked up a dog, dripping and steaming, and placed it in a bun. Stacks of wax paper and napkins, provided by Randy, were at the ready. "It's gonna be 'Randy Dogs' pretty soon!" said Randy, chuckling. "What's up, big dog? What'll y'all have?"
After a break in the action, Kostanzer sat down for a rest. "We call 'em 'dirty-water dogs,' 'cause when you put 'em all in the water together, it turns it muddy," he said. "All their juices mix together and they make each other taste better. So it's best if you pack 'em all in the same place and turn up the heat."
Moments later, Kostanzer looked up to find himself surrounded by crazy-eyed tenters. They didn't want hot dogs. Not even "The Thing." They wanted "Pauly." Shavlik Randolph and Sean Dockery were off in the distance playing one-on-one on goals set up in the parking lot. Shelden Williams was talking on his cell phone, oblivious to the uprising. The Crazies broke into chanting (a war cry?): "PAU-LY, PAU-LY, PAU-LY!" And then, out of the masses, appeared a beer bong.