In the annals and aisles of snack cake history, Hostess seems to get all the recognition. I am sure that’s because being a nationally distributed brand, it’s been easier to get a hold of Suzy Q’s and SnoBalls and the iconic Twinkie. But while the lunches of my school days did sometimes involve me peeling apart the remnants of an obliterated Hostess cupcake, I have always pledged my allegiance and had a very fervent love for the Devil Dog.
Manufactured by Drake’s Cakes, the Devil Dog is a hot dog-shaped chocolate cake and creme filling sandwich that comes one to a pack and usually about a dozen or so per box. It’s a lot like Hostess’s Suzy Q, except it’s far superior. Sure, the Suzy Q is actually bigger and has more creme filling, but Hostess’s insistence on moist-right-out-of-the-wrapper cake often leads to those cakes being unnecessarily sticky and ultimately leads to the cake sticking to your hand.
That cake, by the way, is nearly impossible get off with a napkin. I have lost count of the number of times I have purchased a Suzy Q or a Twinkie at a convenience store, marveled in disgust at how much grease was left behind on th white cardboard, at it anyway, and then had to find a place to wash my hands after I was done eating. I don’t know about you, but this is quite irritating, especially because it shouldn’t happen. Icing, I can understand. In fact, anyone who buys a Suzy Q is well aware of the potential for icing fingers, much like sticking one’s hand into a bag of Cheetos will turn the fingers orange. But the cake is supposed to hold the icing in and provide a barrier of protection from mess, not be the reason for it.
Devil Dogs have never had this problem. Drake’s has always made the cake a little dryer than Hostess’s, so there’s no grease on cardboard and no mess in your hand. Furthermore, a Devil Dog’s being slimmer makes it dunkable in a glass of milk and more compact so it will fit better into a brown-bagged lunch. Now, I know students don’t really bring brown bags to school anymore (in fact, the majority of them buy whatever processed, reprocessed, fried, frozen, and reheated crap their cafeteria serves), but for most of my twelve years from first grade until I graduated high school, I brought my lunch and after I moved up past my Voltron lunchbox days, I would come downstairs every morning to find that my dad had packed my lunch, which often included a sandwich (for years it was turkey with butter, which grossed out my friends and now grosses me out; as well as one of my dad’s epic meat loaf sandwiches, which grossed out my friends and are still awesome); a frozen Yoo-Hoo box, which would thaw and get the bottom of the bag so wet that it would break; and some sort of snack cake.
The snack cake usually varied, but my sister and I had our favorites, so there would be eight weeks straight of Entenmann’s fudge brownies or something by Little Debbie. Then, Dad would change things up because he got sick of buying the same stuff, we got sick of eating the same stuff, or we actually had the chance to go grocery shopping with him.
But anyway, on those rare Sunday mornings when I got to go to Waldbaum’s, I reveled in the trip not only because I was getting out of the pews, but because i was going to spend an hour actually doing something useful. The Waldbaum’s in Oakdale was a little more claustrophobic than the supermarkets everyone is used to shopping at today. For instance, whereas my current Harris Teeter has high ceilings with exposed girders and an almost “open air” produce, bakery deli, and meat section, Waldbaum’s had nothing but aisles with the bakery, et. al in the back. All of the produce sat on a long, narrow shelf that you found right as you came in, and that aisle was followed by row upon row upon row of health and beauty, drinks, stuffings, packaged goods, and whatever else we needed. we hit every aisle and I’m sure I helped make things easier by grabbing items off the shelves and driving the cart, of course, we’d always bottleneck at the deli counter where even though my dad was one of the regulars and could chat up just about any of the women working the slicers, he’d still wind up pulling number 11 when they were on number 2. But considering they knew Wayne wanted the Alpine Lace Swiss sliced paper-thin, it wouldn’t take long once our number was called.
We didn’t get to the snack cakes until the veyr end of our Waldbaum’s journey. They were located near the bread and cereal, on the second to last aisle, which had two big display endcaps. The first was for Entenmann’s (which I no doubt will cover in a later entry) and the other, toward the back of the store near the rolls, was the Drake’s Cakes. This is where, if I were with him, I would get my Devil Dogs, especially if it was during the baseball season and the bottom of the box had baseball cards.
Now, getting home wasn’t the end of shopping. The bags had to be brought in and sorted, which meant that nancy and I carried the brown paper bags in from the car while dad separated their contents into what went in the fridge, what went downstairs in the pantry, and what went into the upstairs linen closet. Then, when he was done with all of that and had separated all of the meat into freezer bags, Nancy and I would stand at the counter like hungry birds for our favorite part of sunday morning: the stating of the cold cuts. He’d peel off a paper-thin slice of roast beef, turkey, or cheese, and would allow us to sample before he wrapped the meats and cheeses into foil and put them in the fridge. THen, after all that was done, we’d sit down to a very late breakfast.
The Devil Dogs stayed int heir box unless I got a snack attack before Monday and then I could take one out of its wrapper and pour myself a glass of milk. Dunking a Devil Dog is a very tricky process. The cake is dry enough to act like a sponge and soak up as much as possible. In fact, I have seen a Devil Dog soak up half a glass of milk kin just a second or two. But the ting is, once the dog was soaked, mere seconds remained in which you could pull it out of the milk before it fell off and landed in the bottom of the glass. I often did it in one fell swoop, making sure i had enough dry dog in my hand while I dunked so I could pull it out of the milk and get it in my mouth as quickly as possible. If not, I spent a considerable amount of time tilting my head back and slapping the bottom of the glass in an effort to get the chocolate cake out. Having that happen is incredibly defeating, so I only recommend dunking to the most skilled of snack eaters.
Devil Dogs and other Drake’s Cakes were not really available when I left for college in the fall of 1995, but it’s not like I didn’t fatten myself up with a ton of other snacks. They were there whenever I came home, though, and definitely found their way into my lunches and dinners when I spent my summer days picking up garbage and renting umbrellas at Robert Moses State Park. Then, in November of 1996, I began dating the girl who would eventually become my wife, and because we were in a long-distance relationship, we spent a lot of weekends at her parents’ house in Virginia, as it was roughly equidistant from each of our colleges.
About a year in, I got to know her parents very well and they began to expect my visits on the weekends and since Devil Dogs were available in their local grocery store, there was always a box waiting for me. And it wasn’t just one weekend but just about every weekend that I was down there — I got to dunk Devil Dogs into a glass of whole milk just like when I was at my parents’ house on Long Island. If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what was. In fact, one of her ideas for my groom’s cake at our wedding was a giant Devil Dog, but she went with a stack of books.
I haven’t seen Devil Dogs or any Drake’s Cakes in years, although I could order them off of eBay if I was crazy enough, and I honestly probably don’t need to eat such fattening stuff. But I do have to say that it’s a little disappointing that I won’t get to slide a Devil Dog into my son’s lunchbox or teach him how to skillfully dunk it in milk. But who knows–once he’s ready for the challenge, we might have Devil Dogs down here.