Hot Dogs and Hamburgers: Two New(ish) Joints are Slinging the American Staples

StrEat Burger Bistro

Izzy Schachner is one of the only local food truck operators to successfully open a brick-and-mortar restaurant that duplicates the excitement and energy of a mobile food concept. Opened last August in Lakewood, StrEat Burger Bistro comes as close to a food truck with four walls as one can possibly get – and that's precisely why it feels fresh, fun and one-of-a-kind.

"We wanted to maintain the atmosphere and energy around a food truck," says Schachner, who also runs StrEat Mobile Bistro. "The food and menu have that look and feel like it came off a truck."

As with a busy rig, the restaurant's menu is decidedly streamlined, built around just four main menu items that are customized by the diner with various sauces, toppings and add-ons. Even the ordering system is food truck-like, with guests following a breezy three-step process when building their burger.

The four legs of this menu are burgers, salads, mac and cheese and french fries – but the possibilities are limitless. In the burger department, diners choose between a six-ounce beef patty, bacon-studded beef burger, chicken breast, turkey burger, veggie burger or pulled pork. Bun options include classic, wheat, gluten-free waffle or nothing but a plate of greens. The final step of the process is the most challenging: selecting from 14 different treatments that range from kim chi, candied jalapeno and fried egg to crab cake, avocado and garlic aioli.

Some combinations work better than others, like a marinated chicken breast topped with avocado, arugula, tomato, goat cheese and garlic aioli – also known as the Palo Alto ($9.5). The Farmhouse ($9.5) is a classic stack of beef, bacon, cheddar, tomato and fried egg. Too bad the egg was cooked hard.

Food truck operators are the most resourceful cooks around, finding multiple uses for every item they make room on the rig for. At StrEat, nubby cheese curds ($7) are panko-breaded, deep fried and served with marinara dipping sauce. Curds also top the StrEat poutine ($7), a mess of french fries, bacon gravy and aioli. Pulled pork finds its way into buns, onto burgers, atop french fries, and as a meaty garnish to mac and cheese ($10).

Craft beer fans have their pick from "99 bottles of beer on the wall," a wall of colorful coolers filled with local, regional and national beers. Take-out customers can grab one, two or six beers to go at retail prices. Dine-in guests also have their pick of draft beers.

"We're not trying to be anything more than a great neighborhood burger joint, but people are traveling from the East Side to eat here," says Schachner, adding that he and partner Jay Leitson are sniffing around for another location.

Whiskey Dogg

Comparisons to Happy Dog are unavoidable, says Whiskey Dogg owner Joe Kahn, but all that links this concept and that popular Detroit Shoreway spot are the links themselves.

"Any comparisons to Happy Dog are fantastic, but this is different," notes Kahn, who also is a partner of the Barrio taco shops in Tremont and Lakewood. "We're not doing build-your-own; we just want to bring quality hot dogs and some fun to North Olmstead."

The aptly named 2nd Floor Lounge, which literally sits above an auto mechanic shop, has been reworked into a lively "hot dog saloon" that specializes in gourmet hot dogs, craft beer and whiskey. The quality tube steaks come from Cleveland-based Five Star Meats, while the downy split-top buns hail from Mediterra Bakehouse.

Unlike the pick-and-choose process adored by diners at both Happy Dog and Barrio, this Dogg does all the designing for you. More than a dozen items featuring all-beef hot dogs beneath a variety of topping combinations are on the list. (Yes, there are both veggie and vegan options available. No, I didn't sample either.) Every dog but one costs $4, and just $3 from 4 to 7 p.m.

You can't beat an all-beef dog topped with kraut, onions and Stadium Mustard, except when that dog is only $4. The Cincinnati Skyline features housemade chili, beer-cheese sauce, bacon and onions. The house dog – a take on the Polish Boy – tops the weenie with fries, slaw and whiskey BBQ sauce. Corn dog lovers (hand raised) will dig the Dippy Dogg, a frankfurter on a stick dipped in cornmeal batter and fried crisp and golden brown. Each comes with BBQ sauce, habanero aioli, curry mayo and wasabi mayo for dunking.

The most expensive item on the menu – apart from the 18-year-old Scotch – is the Cosby Dogg ($8), a beef and bacon-wrapped hot dog that is deep fried, wrapped in a puff pastry and baked — on a stick!

Fries come with or without chili, plus your choice of dipping sauces. In addition to a half dozen draft beers, the hot dog saloon carries 50 bottled beers and 50 whiskeys. Whiskey Dogg is located across the street from Fat Head's Brewery and Saloon.