Of the many happy stops I made during my trip home to Maine, a Wednesday morning hot dog binge at Simones in Lewiston was one of the tastiest. The Chestnut Street institution celebrated its 100-year anniversary this summer and I happened to stop by on Hot Dog Day — steamed, red franks were $1.25. I ended up springing for (3!) grilled ones at 44 cents more a piece, as well as the only unsweetened iced-tea WITHOUT lemon that I could find in the ENTIRE STATE OF MAINE after asking at Shaws, Hannafords, Cumberland Farms, Sams and many other drink-purchasing locations. (Have I lived in the South too long? It’s not like I was asking for sweet tea and pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, I just wanted a simple, cold tea – without artificial lemon crap or sugar! But, back to the dogs.) My total, by the way, was less than $8 and the refill was free.
The eatery has come a long way since its first 50 years operating out of a shack made of soda crates. Working life in blue-collar Lewiston has changed some since the booming mills days, but Simones remains a place where you order by condiments (as in 2, with relish and mustard), are treated like family by owners Jimmy and Linda, can discuss the news of the day (communal newspapers litter the counter) and eat simple, affordable food that is cooked in plain sight. In fact, I watched at least 30 red snappers (and several burgers) get lovingly tossed on the grill in the half hour I spent gazing into the mountain of Whoopie Pies stacked in the plastic case in front of me and listening to the man at the end of the counter complain about our nation’s (”worthless”) energy policy.
His grumblings were not out of the place at Simones, which is known as the Maine spot for politicians — both national and local — to convene with “the people.” Sen. Susan Collins was in a few weeks earlier to celebrate the restaurant’s landmark birthday. The Simones’ daughter is one of her aides in Washington. Maybe I should invite them both over for a frank-and-bean supper this fall during the debates. A bi-partisan gathering, of course.
Jessica Strelitz is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.