By Kristin A. Baryn
SC Staff Writer
Growing up on Brooklyn, New York’s streets, one gets used to the flavors of certain foods, and nothing else will ever compare. When I get homesick, it has more to do with pizza, bagels, and Chinese food from Chinatown than the actual place. Of course, what I miss most is the access to a quick hot dog (with mustard, sauerkraut and relish) from a street vendor. Locals call them dirty water dogs, which do not sound the slightest bit appealing; however, they are delicious. Unfortunately, a Sabrett hot dog cart does not frequent the streets of the Poconos until now (sort of).
Cruising down Main Street in Stroudsburg on a lunch break (letting my stomach lead) that familiar yellow and blue striped umbrella that screamed Sabrett caught my eye, and I pulled over instantly. Walking towards what I assumed would be a mobile cart—and impending nostalgic delight—I quickly realized that my plan was thwarted. The street being devoid of that steaming cart on wheels, with its quick-handed person (a long, two-pronged fork in one hand and a bun in the other) dispersing wieners in napkins to rushing passer-bys, crushed me. However, before I turned around to head back to the car, it occurred to me that The Cheeky Monkey no longer occupied Main Street, and a business called Cat’s Incredible Dogs stands in its place. Hopeful—and with a rumbling stomach—I headed in.
Upon entering, I stopped suddenly for both the smell and the atmosphere brought me home. Two double tables and six singles take up the dining room floor. Between the two high, bar-style tables stands the “Dog Grooming Station,” where customers can “dress” their dogs with a variety of hot sauces, ketchups, mustards, and even steak sauce. I have officially walked in to frankfurter heaven! Mostly seventies (with a sprinkle of sixties and eighties) memorabilia adorns the walls. For example, patrons will see photos of famous stars such as Jimmy Hendrix, Lucille Ball, and Sylvester Stallone after walking into Cats, and a sign by the register, displaying a picture of Johnny Cash, alerted patrons of the cash only policy. Along with the beverage cooler, the old-fashioned looking popcorn popper, and the huge menu above the counter, is the wheel. That is right, if customers cannot decide on a frank from the menu, they have the opportunity to spin the wheel of hot dogs to decide for them. Just as the atmosphere, bright colors of the restaurant, and nostalgia draw you in, so do husband and wife team Cat and Steve Ohocinski.
The Ohocinskis (originally from Lodi, New Jersey and now living in Dingmans Ferry, Pa) had a shop in Matamoras, Pa and purchased the Main Street cite as a prospective second location, but they eventually abandoned the idea of two stores. Thus, they closed down their shop in Matamoras and moved into 526 Main Street, making it the new home of Cat’s Incredible Dogs.
The Ohocinskis made going into Cat’s a pleasant, welcoming, and fun experience. Mr. Ohocinski introduced himself as Steve and welcomed me into the establishment. He then introduced me to Cat—his wife—and asked me for my name and if I had ever stopped in before. After telling him that I had not, he asked for my order, instructing me to pick any two hot dogs because the first one was on the house: first time customers automatically get one free. Free popcorn also accompanies every order. It was my lucky day! (Now, nothing but topping choice stood in the way of my satisfaction).
The task of getting my hands on “New York’s favorite all beef hot dog” slipped, forgotten, to the back of my mind because a new problem presented itself. How does one choose a frank off a menu that has forty different topping combinations (not to mention the thousands of combinations the mind can come up with)? As I had to have my mustard, sauerkraut, and relish dog, the first choice was easy. Choosing a second, however, troubled me. With garnishes such as corn chips, coleslaw, different cheeses, chili, macaroni and cheese, tater tots, and jalapeños, and names like the “Junkyard Dog,” “Mt. Fuji,” “The Wrecker,” and “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” I understood the presence of the wheel! Every hot dog -unless it is plain- costs $2.50 plus tax, and in the end, I ordered another of my favorites: chili, cheddar cheese, and fresh, diced onions.
When I ordered chili, Steve (as he asked me to call him) told me about “Cat’s Original Recipe: Sweet and Tangy Beef and Beer Sauce,” served with mustard and onions. I promised to try it on my next visit. However, he beat me to it, for while I sat and ate my lunch, he brought me —and a fellow patron—a free sample of half a dog smothered with Cat’s signature sauce (and I am not ashamed to admit that I devoured every tasty morsel).
While enjoying my lunch, I engaged in conversation with Steve and Cat, asking them questions about their business and divulging my excitement on their new location choice. The store opens for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00am to 5:00pm, operating occasionally at night for certain Sherman Theater events. Steve hopes that within the year Cat’s will open at least one night a week on a regular basis, running specials for delivery or pick-up. Though the business would be open to the public, he admits that the evening would primarily focus on appealing to East Stroudsburg University’s students, where his son Chris (part-time employee in the store and junior at E.S.U.) majors in athletic training. Steve also made sure to mention that whoever “likes” the catsincredibledogs.com facebook page has a chance to win a free lunch -there will be one lucky winner every week.
As the conversation continued, I learned that Cat’s Incredible Dogs served only as a “day job” to Cat and Steve. When Steve disclosed his and Cat’s primary profession, I have to admit, I was interested, intrigued, and surprised. I had to bite my tongue in order to keep myself from requesting that Steve demonstrate his skill on me, for I have never been in the presence of a hypnotist. Yes, Steve—accompanied by Cat—travels to high schools and colleges in the surrounding states and performs as a comedy hypnotist with Cat as his assistant, he hypnotizes students and has them partake in ridiculous antics for the sheer enjoyment of the crowd.
They have performed at universities such as Rutgers, Princeton, and Yale, and venues such as Six Flags Great Adventure. Steve stated, “It’s our main gig.” For information about their show, go to circusofthemind.com. (No wonder I couldn’t help but smile in their presence).
After I finished eating my lunch and chatting with my new favorite small business owners, I advanced to the register to pay for my meal. To my surprise, Steve announced that my hot dogs were on him, and I only had to pay a buck for my soda. I thanked them both, and the response I received in return was, “We just want to thank everyone who has come in so far and supported us. We look forward to meeting more students in the future.” Cat also added, “We have a lot of fun here.”
I paid my dollar (thanking them again) and returned to my table to collect my belongings. While I put my jacket on, Cat and Steve had just finished up with a large take-out order for a patient customer. Cat filled the boxes, while Steve bagged some free samples of Cat’s Original. She told the patron, “Now you can eat those on the way and pretend you never had them, or you can share them with your friends.”
When the customer left the store, Cat explained that the person “running for the order, mastering parking, coming in and waiting deserves a little extra reward.” She laughingly said, “I may not be a good business woman.”
Well Cat, guess what? You are an A in my book. I decided that every time I visit Cat’s Incredible Dogs, I will try a different menu item until I have tasted them all. I invite everyone to support your fellow classmate’s small family business and drop in to say hello to Steve and Cat (and of course enjoy a yummy Sabrett wiener minus the dirty water)!
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