Tweed, Bikes and Dogs
I got to Tremont in the middle of the afternoon hoping to get into Lolita at 5 pm without a reservation. At one point Lolita had a year long waiting list, so it is a little risky showing up without a reservation. My only hope was to be the 1st seated and out of there before the rush, or late night, and be the last seated with the risk of the kitchen running out of certain dishes. I opted for the 5 pm choice. So, I had a couple hours to kill, and I walked around the 'hood looking at galleries, looking for a coffee shop, and seeing what I could see. Then, I stumbled upon the park where there were about 100 people all dressed in 1920s get-ups and riding bikes. I walk up and saw Austin (see photo below) and asked him what was going on. Well, it was the Annual Fantastic Tweed Ride of Cleveland!
It was the 1st nice (it was overcast and cool, but at least not snowing or freezing) weekend in CLE, and bike enthusiasts came out to ride a total of about 30 miles from park to park, refreshment stop to refreshment stop, shenanigan to shenanigan stop, ending up at the Happy Dog for refreshments from the bar, hot dogs and tator tots. Austin said if I wanted some fun food, I should follow the Tweed Ride to Happy Dog, and blog about it. Hmmm, "OK, I'll go", I thought. Off went the Tweed Ride down the 40 blocks to Happy Dog. I walked to my car, got in, worked a plan to get out of the Tremont neighborhood, said goodbye to Michael Symon's Lolita restaurant which will have to wait for another day, and worked my way to W58th and Detroit to Happy Dog.
It took me a while to drive through the curvy, rutted roads of Cleveland to get to the Happy Dog, when I got there, the Tweed Ride had been there long enough for most to have 1 drink down, and another on order. This proves again, in the city, bicycling can be faster than getting in a car, driving, waiting at red lights, circling to find parking, parking, paying the meter and then walking into the joint.
Happy Dog is in the old well established Gordon Square District of CLE. Happy Dog used to be an "old man's bar". Before the bar became Happy Dog, it wasn't that crowded, and you could belly up to the old wooden bar and get a few shots of bottom shelf whiskey, and then call it an evening.
Things have changed and somethings have not changed a bit since the bar became Happy Dog. What hasn't changed is that you can still belly up to the old wooden bar and get a few shots of bottom shelf whiskey. What has changed is the food and beer list. The beer list has all the good standards from Bud to PBR, but it has expanded with a bunch of microbrews too. Chef Eric Williams of Momocho fame came into Happy Dog and revamped the food menu to 3 items to be done very well. The food list has changed as well, from forgettable array of bad bar food, to a striped down hot dog, French fry and tator tot menu.
Before you roll your eyes at hot dog and fries, these are not just any hot dog and fries. The meat hot dogs are custom made from Eric William's own recipe of meats and spice made specifically and only for Happy Dog, and this is the only place where you can actually get a Happy Dog. Vegans fret not, their is a vegan dog option as well, and meat eaters all over CLE say the vegan dog is really darn good here too. The base dog is $5 and you can put as many toppings as you want on the dog as you want at no extra charge. The 50 or so toppings are mostly made in house like vodka sauerkraut, caramelized onions, Brazilian chimichurri, saffron aioli, pickled Italian veggies, fried egg, kim chi, baked beans, housemade ketchup, variety of cheeses, and a bunch more. It is a dizzying number of really awesome toppings.
This day I opted for really agressive flavors including Brazilian chimichurri, Italian pickled veggies, chorizo chili, and locally made and smoked bacon. My dog arrived, on a poppy seed bun with all the toppings on top. The hot dog is 1/4 lb, and has a soft texture without the casing snap. The meat in the hot dog doesn't have the same salt level as the industrially made counterparts, which I am happy about because it more about the hot dog and toppings rather than the added salt. As I was eating this dog and looking at the long list of toppings, I was wishing Nashville had a place like this in Nashville. The old bar, a couple of TVs with the game on, full bar service, a long list of microbrews, and this fantastic hot dog and toppings. If I had this in Nashville, I may never leave!
Then I took time get to my tator tots, and I love tator tots. It is the same deal, an order of fries or tots, enough for 2 - 3 people to share at $2.50 an order, there are about a dozen dipping sauces you can get for the fries and tots without extra charge. I opted for saffron aioli, housemade ketchup, Sriracha hot sauce, and the Brazilian chimichurri. Oh, my favorites were the aioli and chimichurri. Next time I will ask for two shots of each, not just one.
The tots seem to be standard tots, and I asked for cheese on top. I think it was a bit of a waste to get the cheese as you can see. It is just shredded cheese that did not stick to the tots. I was hoping for some wiz or something, but this is how it showed up. Next time, no cheese to get in the way of the tot getting dipped into some dipping sauce.
As I was photographing my meal for my blog, Todd from the Tweed ride said that Michael Symon was in a few days earlier filming for the "Besting Thing I Ever Ate" talking about the hot dogs here. So, I may not have gotten to Michael Symon's Lolita this trip, but I did go where Michael Symon says there is the best hot dog he has ever eaten.