Happy Dog and Honey Hut

Tonight we worked the local angle on dinner. After my trip to the Tremont Farmers’ Market, we headed up to the Happy Dog for some of Eric Williams’ hot dog heaven. The chef from Ohio City’s much-loved, Mod-Mex restaurant Momocho updated this neighborhood bar last year with a creative tubesteak menu. Situated at Detroit and 58th in the vibrant Gordon Square Arts District, the corner taproom centers around a large oval bar with old-fashioned round stools…the kind you used to spin on endlessly as a child. (Avoid doing this now or the combination of craft brews, hot dogs and french fries may prove too much for your adult stomach!) The front of the room is dominated by a stage where live, local bands perform most nights of the week. A few booths line one wall, but the majority of the seating is at the bar.

The menu is a single sheet of paper, printed on both sides with lists. The front offers a choice of a quarter pound hot dog or a vegan option, followed by dozens of toppings. Ketchups and mustards; barbecue, steak and hot sauces; chimichurri, chutney, mole, aioli, remoulade and hollandaise; garlic tomato jam and even peanut butter are just some of the condiment choices. Vegetables make a healthy showing, too, ranging from tomatoes, onions and dill pickle spears to giardiniera, piquillo peppers and marinated portobellos. House made additions vary, but might include bourbon baked beans, sauteed rainbow chard spiked with nubs of Nueske’s bacon, Caribbean coleslaw or garlicky escarole. Would you like cheese with that? How about brie, smoked gouda, Tillamook cheddar or even Cheez Whiz? Are you still wanting more? There’s two kinds of chili, bacon and even a fried egg if you really want to gild the lily. Still not enough? Maybe rainbow sprinkles or Froot Loops will crown your pup.

The back of the menu allows you to choose either french fries or “tater tots.” Then you’ll need to pick the dipping sauces to go with them. Most of the same options for the dogs are offered here as well, some at an extra cost. As with the front of the page, you can choose as many things as you would like. (One supposes choosing EVERYTHING would be frowned upon!) The menu looks like one of those multiple choice tests from school where you fill in the little circles next to what you’d like. Tiny pencils are provided at each table. Luckily, the order slips are read by a person and not a computer, so you won’t lose points for being messy. A laminated sheet also offers some popular combinations, but mostly you are encouraged to customize your own.

My combination of garlic tomato jam, chard and cheddar was a real winner. The skin of the sausage had some definite snap to it from time spent on the flat top griddle. It was big enough to feel substantial without being too big to eat. The tots were excellent. Lighter than the traditional kind, it’s the sauces that really make these outstanding. Creole remoulade was cool and creamy, with a bit of a kick; house made ketchup was like what you want the stuff in the packets to really taste like; Brazilian chimichurri offered a bracing bite of vinegar to stand up to the crispy potatoes.

There is a full bar here, but the setting really dictates that beer is the drink of choice. Hot dogs and martinis just doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it? The beer list is large and generally reasonably priced. There are Happy Hour specials until 7 pm, like $2 domestic bottles. Seasonal brews, select imports and more than twenty draughts round out the options. There are even classics like Stroh’s, Black Label and Pabst Blue Ribbon, this last served in a 16 ounce can. What more could one ask for?

The Happy Dog is open from 4 pm everyday except Fridays, when they open at 11am. There is street parking or a small lot across 58th Street. The hot dogs, served on a poppyseed bun, are $5 each with as many toppings as you can stand. Each order of fries or tots, served with dipping sauces, is $2.50, with premium toppings adding a dollar to that price. Service is friendly and efficient. It’s an unusual and yet simple concept. The hard part is making up your mind how to dress your dog!

What better for dessert after meal like this than ice cream? We made our way south to our neighborhood favorite, the Honey Hut. Open only eight months out of the year, the Hut offers a small roster of regular flavors along with a couple of special ones that rotate as the seasons change. There are shakes and sundaes and malts and sodas…all the usual suspects. There’s also something called The Destroyer for $20 that I have seen only once and it was obscenely huge! Even the regular size dishes of ice cream are two scoops, so you can choose two different flavors every time. We had Chocolate Pecan, loaded with salty, toasted nuts, and Chocolate Cherry Chocolate Chip, a seasonal offering. I sometimes love a Red Raspberry sundae, especially with Raspberry or Blackberry ice cream. This is topped with real raspberries, not just syrup. The other standby is the Turtle sundae. I like this one made with Coconut ice cream. Hot Fudge, Hot Caramel and salted pecans on top of this flavor remind me of an Almond Joy bar.

I have been to Malley’s for ice cream and I have been to Mitchell’s. I have tried East Coast Frozen Custard, Rosati’s and even Dairy Queen. To my mind, Honey Hut beats them all. It’s a real neighborhood place, attracting Little League teams, families and the local firemen, too. Young and old, married and single, every shape, size and color…sooner or later, everybody ends up at the Hut. Starting on St. Patrick’s Day and going through the Saturday before Thanksgiving, they are open from 11 am until late into the evening, mostly depending on how busy they are. Get yourself some Honey Hut today!