Packo’s pickles, chili dogs a Toledo tradition

Tony Packo's has been a popular eatery in Toledo, Ohio, since 1932. Craigslegz.com

Tony Packo’s has been a popular eatery in Toledo, Ohio, since 1932. Craigslegz.com

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.

Jamie Farr's Cpl. Klinger sang the praises of Packo's on M-A-S-H in the 1970s. Craigslegz.com

Jamie Farr’s Cpl. Klinger sang the praises of Packo’s on M-A-S-H in the 1970s. Craigslegz.com

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.

An eclectic assortment of celebrities have eaten at Tony Packo's and signed buns that decorate the walls. Craigslegz.com

An eclectic assortment of celebrities have eaten at Tony Packo’s and signed buns that decorate the walls. Craigslegz.com

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s