Frankfurt is that rare combination of Old World charm and modern convenience, an international city with plenty of skyscrapers to remind you that you’re where the European Central Bank headquarters is located, and plenty of beer-and-wurst taverns where you can spot dirndls and lederhosen. There is a famous public garden, an annual international book fair hosting the world’s top literary agents and publishers, and an impressively severe and gorgeously cloistered Goethe House museum.
But let’s face it: The most noteworthy thing in Frankfurt is the frankfurter, and I’m not talking about the city’s denizens (who are called that). I’m talking about hot dogs. Hot dogs are the direct descendants of members of the German sausage family (yes, there are so many kinds of German sausages, or wursts, that they have families of origin) called brühwurst, sausages made from finely chopped raw meat, usually pork or beef or a combination thereof, sometimes smoked, and always parboiled.
The frankfurter has of course become the little snack that could, a true cheap thrill known around the world for being quick to eat and easy to love. In 1987, the city of Frankfurt celebrated the 500th anniversary of the frankfurter. So you missed it by 20-odd years. The good news about Frankfurt is that its food culture is rooted in tradition. The single best place to get a frankfurter in Frankfurt is at Die Kleinmarkthalle, a two-story indoor farmers' market-butcher-fishmonger-florist in the grand European food hall tradition. This one is smaller and more intimate than most, a sweet place with an oyster bar and a tapas bar and vendors selling fresh wild strawberries in December (how’d they do that?), as well as a fairly mind-blowing assortment of pig parts from tongues to tails. The market was erected in the 1890s, and then rebuilt after a firestorm bombing (by the British) in March of 1944. When it reopened, the business occupying Stand 8, toward the back of the building, in an unassuming storefront staffed by just two hardworking fraus, was Metzgerei (Butcher Shop) Schreiber, a family-owned business offering nothing but six kinds of frankfurters: pork; pork with garlic, beef, beef with garlic, Gelbwurst (a Frankfurt special of pale blonde, very mildly flavored sausage that’s a favorite with kids), and Krakow sausage (think kielbasa — smoked pork with lots of garlic).
One afternoon the line for Schreiber’s wrapped around the back side of the market and was populated entirely with locals, a bewildering mix of head-to-toe black-leather-clad dudes who looked like they just came out of a Kraftwerk video standing alongside the World Bank Group’s finest. The line is utterly democratic — this is Germany, after all — and it moves quickly. When you get to the front and the ladies discover you’re an American, all you have to do is decide between "pork or beef?" and let them do the rest. That’s because you have not had a hot dog like this, no matter how much you may swear by Hebrew National or Nathan’s or Vienna Beef brands. Those hot dogs are not frankfurters. The Schreiber's frankfurter — I took the beef — is redolent of nutmeg, full to bursting with sweet-savory juiciness, and possessed of a crunchy outer skin and a smooth almost creamy interior. It is served not in but alongside a homemade wheat-rye roll (mehrkornbrot) with the medium-spicy brownish-yellow German mustard known as mittelscharfer or delikatess-senf on the side. Eating the frankfurter is a DIY operation: Most of the customers enjoying it at the little bars jutting out from either side of the stand made sandwiches of these components, but a few were carefully dipping the sausage into the spot of mustard and quickly following it up with a chew of the bread.
Click here for other featured sandwiches or check out the 2012 Year in Sandwiches and the Sandwich of the Week Slideshow. Know a sandwich that should be featured? Email The Daily Meal or comment below. Better yet, become a contributor and write up your favorite today!