I am E.C. Childers, and I welcome you to Cleveland. Well, virtually. Let me start by saying, I love this city. Friends from other places make jokes about swimming with four-eyed frogs and asking if we glow when we’re done at the beach, but seriously, have you ever spent more than a day in Cleveland? If you’re not careful, you’ll fall in love with this port city. Its heyday may have been during the Industrial Age, but the tenacious people of the CLE have been bringing it back to life. From east side to west side, from the Shoreway to Tremont, this area is coming back. I mean, they’re hosting the most conservative party ever in Cleveland: if the Republicans feel safe here how bad can it be?
Hands down, autumn is my favorite season. The weather is perfect, the temperatures are perfect, and the colors are perfect. There’s nothing like a hot cup of tea on a cool, crisp autumn day. It’s also a plus that humidity is close to zero, so the weather always appears crisp. And on those occasions that it rains, even the dreary weather has this vague sense of coziness that inspires you to cozy up in a big sweater with a good book and just laze the days away.
Unfortunately, I’m a law student, and that’s not an option.
There is no U.S. city that could replace my love for Cleveland. That being said, I love to travel and so, for vacation this year, the Baker and I visited my aunt and uncle in the Houston area (the start of my unintended hiatus).
While there, we attended some pool parties, caught up with friends and family, and had some seriously amazing food. Starting on day one, we were able to really immerse ourselves in a new foodie paradise.
‘Where did she go?’ you might ask yourself. Well, I do have an answer, so bear with me.
Since I have last posted, I have been on a vacation, been struck with pneumonia whilst simultaneously moving, left my job, and have gone back to school. While it is never an acceptable excuse for a blogger to simply say, ‘I’ve been busy,’ but I really have, and I hope you will forgive me, since I’m giving you a wonderful picture of my cat, Clarence, trying to help me study!
I will be back with tales pertaining to excellent recipes and restaurants. Just a preview for you, but I plan to cover a pizzeria in Little Italy, one of the most famous sandwich places in Cleveland, and a wonderful down home meal I affectionately call, ‘Hillbilly cabbage’. I’ve even kind of figured out something to do with the exercise tab. I promise you, it is coming. So please, don’t forget me!
Hey y’all, you miss me?
Probably not. That’s okay. I apologize anyway for the late post, it has been a hectic time. But hey, it’s hectic for all of us.
Today’s post is about hot dogs. People either love them, hate them, or are very specific about them. Me personally, I have my favorites, and I also have places I won’t touch them (i.e. you won’t catch me at a Weiner King or at Skyline eating one. And definitely not the movie theater. I worked there. DON’T eat the hot dogs). But these two places know how to do a dog right.
However, my question is: Who does it best?
The Happy Dog is a staple bar in Cleveland. If someone has gone barhopping in Cleveland, chances are, they’ve eaten/drank here. They’re pretty good at having both classic and local brews on tap, such as Fat Head’s Bumbleberry, and there is a Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter that is a great pair with one of their dogs.
What’s unique about this place starts right off the bat: You have choices. Tons and tons of choice. Don’t bring someone here who has a hard time deciding, you’ll be here all night.
It starts right with the dog. Do you want locally made, all-beef, or field-roast Veggie-Vegan? After that, what do want on it? The list goes on for quite a while: Bourobon pork-n-beans, bacon-spiked southern-style greens, chorizo chili, “Everything Bagel” cream cheese, French Brie, Bleu Cheese coleslaw, SpaghettiOs, Froot Loops, Marinated Cremini mushrooms, vegetarian chili, Do Chua (Vietnamese daikon and carrots) and I could continue. This doesn’t even bring in their sauces. And yes, in the picture there is in fact Andy Cap’s hot fries on one of those dogs. You can create the weirdest-sounding, wildest tasting dog out there. This is especially great for the drunk munchies, I have no doubt (though I wouldn’t know). And it’s all for $5.
Their website has a menu of suggested dogs, and says they were on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” per Michael Symon. I’d like to mention I don’t use the Food Network to find my places. This one surprised me. Symon’s combo was chunky peanut butter, “Alien” pickle relish, and sriracha hot chili sauce. I, however, have never been able to find a copy of these suggestions when I’m trying to order, so can’t really give a review for them. Yet.
Looking for fries or tots with that? They have them for another $3, and you can try even more of their sauces, or add some of the hot dog topping for a dollar each.
My personal combo? An all-beef dog with “everything bagel” cream cheese, chorizo chili, and cheddar (I’m a little old school) with a side of tater tots and roasted garlic aioli to dip.
This place is very chill, very typical bar scene. It’s normally free to get in, unless they have live music, then there’s a cover charge. I don’t particularly like to go when they have live music because of both the cover charge and they have a few too many decibels crammed into that place. Seriously. On Friday/Saturday nights, it is LOUD.
River Dog Cafe
I could write a sonnet about this place, if I ever had the patience to work with iambic pentameter. I don’t.
River Dog is much more relaxed and has more of a lunch spot feel than a bar. It is very kid friendly, and has a particularly delicious on-tap Root Beer. On top of customizable dogs, which is why I group them with the Happy Dog, they have a list of ready-made suggestions that you can still tweak to personal preference and a full non-dog menu.
It is rather unfortunate that I live less than ten minutes from this place. So tempting, all the time.
River Dog prides that most, if not all ingredients they use are made in the Cleveland area, which is really nice. Their dogs are also nitrate-free (uncured). Their dog choices are a little wider: they have a vegetarian option, the all-beef, kielbasa, bratwurst and I’ve seen them have a turkey dog, but that is a rare special that goes quick.
Toppings include their chili (which is slightly sweet, but not in Cincy-chili range), house slaw, kimchi, fried pickles, goat cheese, Honey truffle glaze, to name a few.
If you want to be slightly adventurous, but don’t want to dive right in, I’d start with the Jenny Dog. Brie cheese, Crispy Bacon and a honey truffle glaze. It sounds odd, but this combination is sweet, light and just get your toes into the pond that doesn’t include ketchup. It’s a personal favorite and I often have to tell myself to get something else. Last time we went, Baker added chopped onions and fried pickles. He really enjoyed it.
I always enjoy the Adam Bomb, which is beef brisket, creamy cheddar sauce, bacon and fresh herb mix or the Derby dog which is their version of a chili dog. I’ve never had anything bad from this place.
NOTE: Try the cheddar sauce. It’s house-made, and it’s the best. Put it on anything.
With all the choices when it comes to their hot dogs, it’s been really hard to try anything else on the menu. Their totchos, which is their cheddar sauce, sour cream and chili on their tater tots, are great. The mac and cheese is wonderful and made to order, and a pretty solid pasta salad.
Entrée-wise, they have breakfast, all served on corn tortillas, wraps, rolls, bowls, and café sandwiches. Of their café sandwiches, we’ve only ever tried the duck BLT, which the Baker described as “tender and tasty, which fresh veggies and the bacon is always fantastic.”
River Dog also has “heat and eat” meals, meaning they’ll prepare a meal for your family for you to take home and cook at a later date. They also just entered the Cleveland food truck scene.
While the Happy Dog always holds fond memories of when the Baker and I were first dating, the River Dog Café wins out with choices and a bit of a friendlier environment. It also helps I never have to worry about my ear drums or a cover charge when walking in the door.
Don’t get me wrong, the Happy Dog is awesome, and we love going there. But if there’s a competition, even the made-up one in my head, the River Dog wins out.
It’s hard to figure out where to place the West Side Market. On the one hand, they sell ready-made food and have a cafe. On the other, I generally only shop there for recipe ingredients and the occasional sweet. So place it where you will, the West Side Market is beyond categorization.
Some recipes you can take pictures of and they’re so mouth-wateringly tantalizing you are kind of fantasizing about licking the screen, but you’re at work and that would be considered weird. You know that if the recipe is as good as it looks, then you’ll probably gain weight even as you buy the ingredients to make it.
This is not one of those recipes.