By Craig Davis, Craigslegz.com
TOLEDO, Ohio — When the joint has a “We Love You Jamie Farr” banner prominently displayed you know you are in Toledo, Ohio.
If you do find yourself in Toledo, you must make a lunch stop at Tony Packo’s.
That directive comes from M-A-S-H star Farr, who put Packo’s on the map when his character, homesick Cpl. Max Klinger, said during an episode of the 1970s Korean War sitcom, “If you’re ever in Toledo, Ohio, on the Hungarian side of town, Tony Packo’s got the greatest Hungarian hot dogs.”
Klinger mentioned Packo’s in five subsequent episodes in lamenting what he missed of home.
An impressive array of notable diners have followed his advice to sample those meaty hot dogs, spicy chili and pucker-worthy pickles. Their signatures make up the signed hot dog bun hall of fame on the walls of the restaurant.
Burt Reynolds is said to have started the tradition when he responded to an autograph request by signing a bun. There are now about 1,000 of them from entertainers, sports personalities and politicians encased in plastic.
The juxtaposition of the signed buns is random and amusing, such as drole Bob Dole grouped with Jerry Seinfeld, Dorothy Hamill and Jerry Van Dyke, and Don Shula with Pat Paulsen.
Packo’s has been around since 1932. I wasn’t aware of it when I went to college 20 miles away in Bowling Green, Ohio. A friend introduced me to the must-stop on a recent hockey trip to Detroit.
This is not a scenic side trip, a rust belt hideaway across the Maumee River from downtown Toledo. It is a classic blue-collar eatery that will satisfy your hunger and pleasantly warm your insides on a frigid winter day.
No nouveau cuisine or organic health food here. You get yourself a double-dog special loaded with chili, and they give you a heaping bowl of Packo’s pickles on the side.
The heartburn comes later, and you don’t mind because it is all so satisfying going down.
Tony Packo created the chili as a sauce for what he called his Hungarian hotdogs, and the recipe is a closely guarded secret. But it’s not an Old Country creation.
Packo was the son of Hungarian immigrants, but he grew up right here. So it’s a Toledo original, just like Farr’s Klinger, who tried every cross-dressing trick to get a ticket back home.
Packo’s has that sort of magnetism as a local institution. Curiosity seekers can’t resist coming from all over to see what the fuss is all about.
Is it the hot dogs? The chili? The pickles?
Mark all of the above. And don’t forget to sign the bun.