Only two things
have changed at Charlie's Pool Room since Joe and John
Fencz's grandmother decided that the men playing pool
needed something to eat and started serving hot dogs.
First the Fencz's switched from a kerosene to a gas
stove. Then, in the 70's, they upgraded from a 8"
diameter skillet to a 12" skillet. Other
than that it is the same hot dog Grandmother Fencz served
The dogs are slow
cooked to order in oil over a low heat until hot all the
way through. The buns are steamed to order on a
stove top steamer. Then each dog goes on a steamed bun. On
top, Mrs. Fencz's special, sweet sour Hungarian onion
sauce. The recipe is secret, but Joe is convinced
that no one could make it even if they knew all the
ingredients. The onions have to be cooked just
right. Each ingredient has to be added at the
The basic hot dog
has just the sauce. Most order it with fresh
chopped onions. Those in the know order Mealies.
The Mealie is topped with sauce, chopped onions and
precisely cut and placed strips of hot peppers.
The blue plate special is an order of five hot dogs or
Mealies. It is served on a blue plate.
But enough about
the dogs. That is only half the story. The
second half is Charlie's Pool Room, the last of Alpha's
two pool rooms and the longest running business in
Alpha. You enter into an old time candy store.
Penny candy now goes for two cents and the sales are
rung up on a 1920 NCR register that the Joe and John's
grandparents bought second hand and paid off at
$10 a month over
a couple of years. Off the candy store is what
used to be their father's barber shop. He lost an
arm in the second world war and taught himself to cut
hair with his one functional arm.
In back the lone
pool table, a new-fangled arcade game and a big round community
table for hot dog eating.
The third half of
the story are Joe and John Fencz, themselves.
John cooks the dogs. Joe makes the sauce and
hosts. Pretty good host too. I walked
through the door for the first time. Joe greeted
me with a smile, a handshake and a "You're Holly Moore."
That has never happened before. But back in 2002 a
customer had sent
me an email about Charlie's Pool Room. I
wrote telling the customer that I'd get there sooner or
later. He showed my email to Joe. Then Joe saw me on TV a couple of years
ago. He's been watching the door ever since. June 2005
2009: Penny candy is up from two to three cents.
Other than that, nothing has changed. That is