Drive by Hot Dog Heaven at high noon, and the scene is eternally the same: Hordes of "red hot" lovers are hunched over baskets of dogs and fries on the patio tables, chowing down, generally oblivious to the noise and traffic fumes of Colonial Drive.
Pull over by the landmark neon hot-dog sign to climb in line with the rest of the seekers, but be prepared to choose from among the three dozen variations – that's right, three dozen. There are Southern dogs heaped with slaw, Chicago dogs smothered with peppers, pickles, relish and tomatoes, and New York dogs topped with mustard and onions. And every variety is available in regular and jumbo size.
For more than 10 years, owner Mike Feld, a native Chicagoan, has served the same brand of hot dogs he lived on for years in the Windy City. The Vienna Beef brand is made with lean bull beef, all-natural casings and no artificial fillers. Feld steams each hot dog to assure the most thorough cooking.
We placed our order and then claimed our red plastic baskets brimming with fries. We took a seat at the only indoor space available, a small nook with bar seating, surrounded by Chicago photography and autographed pictures of radio hosts and a former Miss Florida. It didn't take long to devour the jumbo Reuben basket ($5.09), with the hot dog topped with Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese.
We also liked the jumbo chili, cheese and slaw dog basket ($4.99), which comes with a choice of chili with or without beans. The beanless packed a punch, but wasn't too greasy or spicy. And the fries were the way fries should be: sizzling and crisp outside, steamy inside.
With all the focus on hot dogs, it wasn't surprising to find that some of the side items we sampled were marginally acceptable. The potato salad and beans were completely forgettable, but the macaroni pasta salad was an improvement. The Chicago hot tamale (99 cents) was so overprocessed and spicy that we didn't dare take more than a bite.
A much better go-with choice would be a root-beer float ($2.99). They also whip up some tall shakes ($2.99) with pumpkin and vanilla ice cream, or fudge swirl with cookies and cream.
The aroma of dogs and fries hangs in the room, broken only by blasts of wind and traffic every time the door opens. While the setting may not be pretty, the Hot Dog Heaven is worthy of a visit the next time you need a frankfurter fix.