Monday, October 12, 2009

Hot Dogs That Will Make You Say, "Meh"

When I traveled to Warren, Ohio a while ago to try a restaurant that I had found on the Internet, I happened upon another local Warren establishment along my route. After returning home and doing some research, I discovered that not only is the The Original Hot Dog Shoppe uniquely a Warren restaurant, but that it also has a devoted following based on the comments left on the Yahoo Maps page. They are located at the corner of Rt. 45 (Tod Rd.) and West Market Street and have ample parking to the right and behind the restaurant.

Here is a photo of what to expect when you arrive. Note that the hot dog at the top of the spire spins:

I was a little confused at first on the proper procedure for ordering my meal. I will therefore break it down for you, gentle reader. Immediately inside the door is a wall menu and several cash registers. If you wish to order your meal to go, simply walk up to a cashier, place your order, pay for it, and then wait for it to be packaged up. If, on the other hand, you want to actually eat at the restaurant like I did today, you simply find an empty seat at one of the long luncheon counters and sit down. A server will approach you shortly and take care of you.

I found a seat that had a good shot of the wall menu:

This place is bare basics: hot dogs, burgers, fries, and chili. That's it. By the way, the first three dogs listed on the menu are all the same basic hot dog but with various toppings. The "Super Dog" is a one-quarter pound hot dog that you can have dressed any way you'd like.

I decided on a cheddar and chili dog, a cheddar and kraut dog, and a small order of fries with "sauce". I wasn't really sure what the sauce was, but someone next to me ordered it that way and several posters to the Yahoo Maps site listed it as their preferred way of ordering the fries, too. I figured I'd just roll with the punches.

First up, my lemonade. Well, technically, my pink lemonade:

I was hoping that this was actually going to be homemade lemonade. The menu does list several varieties of soft drinks, but I could see from the soda fountain taps that these were simply national brands -- Barq's root beer, Fanta cherry soda, etc. What I didn't see on any of the taps was lemonade. Apparently I missed the tap where the pink lemonade was dispensed.

After just a few minutes, my lunch platter arrived:

And a close-up of my hot dogs:

And my fries with "sauce":

It turns out that the "sauce" is simply more of the chili ladled over the fries. I started with the cheddar and chili dog first. I was somewhat startled that I didn't see any cheese on either dog. Resigned to the fact that the shredded cheddar must be underneath the dog instead of on top of it, I took a bite. That's when I made the shocking discovery that they weren't using shredded cheddar cheese on their dogs, but cheddar cheese sauce. You know, the same kind you get at the concessions stand at high school football games to go with your tortilla chips. I looked up at the grill line and sure enough, an unopened can of cheddar cheese sauce was sitting on the counter top. I have nothing against cheddar cheese sauce, per se, but I kind of felt like there was a bit of lack of truth in advertising going on here.

The cheddar and chili dog overall was simply average. The bun and dog were nothing special. It was the flavor of the chili on top of my dog that kept nagging away at me. I knew I had tasted this flavor before, but I couldn't put my finger on it yet. It was a fairly rich and heavily spiced meaty tomato sauce, although the emphasis was more on sauce than meat.

The cheddar and kraut dog was also a bit of a disappointment. The kraut had been griddled briefly before being laid on top of my dog and while this did give it some texture and color, the kraut was almost completely devoid of any acid or salt. It's like they had taken the kraut and soaked it in water before they used it. The combination of the kraut and the cheddar cheese sauce was interesting and might have worked if the kraut had more punch, but as it stood this dog was also average, although slightly better than my cheddar and chili hot dog.

I knew going into the Hot Dog Shoppe that their fries are the "fresh cut" variety from which I normally shy away because they are all limp and greasy. But, having no other choices for a side, and given the fact that so many people recommended getting them with the "sauce", I went ahead and ordered them. The fries were exactly what I was expecting, so I won't belabor that point with incessant complaints. The chili on the fries was a nice idea in that it added a nice textural contrast. However, the wet chili tended to exacerbate the "moistness" of the french fries themselves.

As I sat there eating my sauced fries (and thinking to myself that probably the only way I would truly enjoy this meal is if I was sauced myself), I returned to that nagging feeling about the chili they served. The restaurant makes a point of making sure you know that the chili is homemade. I searched my memory for a minute and it suddenly hit me: I remember eating a strikingly similar chili back in my college days, when canned foods were not only convenient, but cheap, too. The brand of chili, you might ask? Hormel meat chili with no beans. Yes, that was it!

Now, gentle reader, I am in no way stating that the Hot Dog Shoppe is not making their own chili on a daily basis completely from scratch. However, what I am saying is that by employing your favorite brand of hot dog and hot dog bun and then going to your local supermarket and picking up these handy items,

you can save yourself the time and gas required to drive out to Warren, Ohio and still have a very similar experience. From all of the positive comments I'd read on the web about this restaurant, I was expecting a lot more. Unfortunately, what I found was something I could make myself at home using ingredients I didn't have to drive 45 minutes each way to get.

If you happen to be on the west side of Warren for some completely unrelated reason, stop by and experience this local favorite for yourself. Otherwise, I'd say this place isn't worth the trip.

Hot Dog Shoppe on Urbanspoon


elecpenciljim said...

I couldn't disagree with you more. I love the Hot Dog Shoppe and have gone there for years. I live between it and the one in Girard and go to one or the other several times a month.

Tino said...

@elecpenciljim: It doesn't surprise me to find that you disagree with what I wrote. Based on the sheer number of patrons in the restaurant on the day that I visited, I'm sure there are many more who might disagree as well. Had I grown up in Warren or Girard eating at this establishment often, perhaps I would have a different point of view rather than as an outsider visiting for the first time.

All that said, I stand by what I wrote about my experience. In every review I do, I try and get as many tastes as I can muster during my visit before rendering my final opinion. And in the end, it IS just that, my opinion.

Look at it this way ... at least you won't have to compete with me for a seat at one of the long lunch tables.

John said...

The Hot Dog Shoppe's sauce is made with ketchup, ground beef, and chili powder, not Hormel Chili

Tino said...

@John: Perhaps you missed this line in the blog post:

"Now, gentle reader, I am in no way stating that the Hot Dog Shoppe is not making their own chili on a daily basis completely from scratch."

Lindsey. said...

I think it must be one of those hometown things that you love when you grow up on it. I grew up by the Jib Jab in Girard, and every time my family goes back to visit (we live in Michigan now) we stop to get fries with extra cheese. My siblings and I would swear it's the best cheese in the world. However, out-of-towners we've brought to eat there always wonder why we're so fascinated by it.

Tino said...

@Lindsey: I think you hit the nail right on the head. My meal wasn't bad, it just didn't live up to the hype of all the comments on the Internet (and there were a ton).

Anonymous said...

I Love The hot dog shoppe's hot dogs with sauce and also Belleria's pizza. I did not understand at first why people like certain foods the way they do BUT, after moving to columbus, oh and eating at donatos pizza and phillips coney island I can see how hometown favorites become legend! Me personally I will always pick my hometown favorite over any other.

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