The other day I was talking with a coworker about the Spot Restaurant in Sidney, Ohio. I was planning a trip up that way to visit our trade show company, and said I had heard of the Spot from friends and seen it on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the Food Network. What ensued was a schooling about some other mid-Ohio foods that I’d never heard of. As it turns out, my coworkers have opened my world to Ohio foods this year previously unknown to this River Yankee. There’s a plethora of great regional foods as you go north of Interstate 70 from Dayton.
Jocelyn’s grandparents are from Sidney, so she told me about another dish that the Sidney Ex-pat diaspora craves when they come into town. That’s something called a Spanish Dog from the B & K Root Beer stand, which unfortunately is now closed for the season. A Spanish Dog? I had never heard of this exotic hot dog variety. She described it to me and said she grew up on them when they visited her grandparents.
The Ohio Spanish Dog is a distant, let’s say English cousin, of our beloved cheese coney. It’s basically sloppy joe sauce on a hot dog in a steamed bun, making a Manwhichey sort of chili dog or coney. It’s the love child of a Cincinnati Coney, and a sloppy joe. Although they’ll put chopped onions and warm Cheese Whiz on it, the original B & K Spanish dog is just the sauce.
B & K stands for the original owners, Bergerson and Keneflick, who opened the first B & K Root Beer stand in Michigan City, Indiana in the md 1940s. Mary and Melvin Bergerson became the long time owners, but there seems to be no information about the partner named Keneflick. Melvin had played for the Green Bay Packers before World War II, and was also a retired high school principal. Mary Bergerson was the one who invented the Spanish sauce. It is a very tomatoey sauce with onions and beef hamburger, salt, pepper, and a little vinegar. Her son said she formulated it as a mild coney sauce.
The sloppy joe, which is a very tomatoey ground beef sauce, was said to have been invented in the 1930s as an offshoot of the loose meat sandwiches served in Sioux City, Iowa, invented by a short order cook named Joe. The term sloppy joe also referred to any cheap restaurant or lunch counter that served cheap food quickly. One of the earliest references to sloppy joes was in 1944 in a Coshocton Ohio Tribune in an ad for The Hamburg Shop, which said the sandwich originated in Cuba.
There were also a related whole family of creamed meat sandwiches served at the plethora of cheap sandwich shops that popped up during the 1930s and 1940s. GIs used to refer to these cheap and quick meals as ‘shit-on-a-shingle.’ Let’s call them cousins of the sloppy joe. Oddly enough there are not any creamed-meat-sauce-over-hot-dog varieties.
The original loose meat sandwiches were just steamed meat in their own au jus. The addition of a tomatoey sauce had various other names like Toasted Deviled Hamburgers, Spanish Hamburgers, Hamburg a la Creole, Beef Mironton, and Minced Beef Spanish Style. Recipes for these show up in early and mid 20th century American cookbooks, with the intent of showing the housewife how they could use up yesterday’s leftover potroast or beef.
Canned sloppy joe became available in 1969 when Conagra/Hunts released Manwhich, which I grew up on in the late 70s and 80s. So, by the post war years, Mary Bergerson had a history of sloppy joe like sandwiches to base her Spanish Sauce on. Well, the tomatoey meaty goodness became a hit and was the most popular item at the B & K Root beer stands, which at one time numbered 238 throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Today, there are now about 17 independently owned B & K Root Beer stands in Ohio and Indiana. Ohio has them in Van Wert, Sidney, Troy, Piqua, Akron, and Cuyahoga Falls. The area about 2.5 miles south of Chicago between Lafayette and Ft. Wayne, Indiana, has locations in Rochester, Logansport, Marion, Peru, Bluffton, Alexandria, two in Kokomo, Monticello, Gas City, and Mishawaka.
There are a few Ohio and Indiana indie Root beer stands that carry the Spanish Dog, like Mr. Weeney.
While we still have root beer stands in Greater Cincinnati, they carry our more familiar Cheese Coney or chili dogs, and the Spanish Hot Dog is only known to those who grew up north of I-70.