Southern Comfort 

Just when you thought Cleveland couldn't get fatter, along comes the fried Twinkie.

Trust me, it's been many a year since anything as plebeian as Twinkies or Oreos have passed these lips. But here's the thing: Batter-dipped, deep-fried, and given a generous powdered-sugar shower, these bourgeois bad boys are so obscenely delicious, it ought to be a crime.

This culinary epiphany came upon me just last week, as I sat hunkered over a countertop at Hot Dog Stan (4100 Superior Avenue; 216-391-4900), oohing and ahhing my way through what cook and co-owner Susan "Slingo" Porter calls "the ultimate comfort food." Somewhere between a funnel cake and a fritter in texture and taste, Slingo's warm, golden-brown version of Twinkies ($2) is astonishingly light, with delicately crisped edges and a rich, buttery interior. "I've got guys who come in here every morning and have them for breakfast," the North Carolinian purrs in her mellifluous drawl. "They say they taste just like fresh doughnuts."

Even more amazing are the 75-cent fried Oreos. Who knew that batter and a subsequent swim in hot oil would transform this common little cookie into something very much like a fudge-filled fritter? It's true. And, as Slingo is quick to point out, unlike the Twinkies, the fried Oreos are good even at room temperature -- which means you can take a dozen home for private, late-night snacking.

Of course, while it's tempting, no one lives on fried Twinkies alone, so the little eatery also serves an array of plump hot dogs, homemade soup or chili, and $4 daily specials like meatloaf or Slingo's authentic fried chicken ("I'm from South, honey," Slingo murmurs, sweet as sugar. "We fry everything down there"). And in a final expression of love, every order comes with a kiss -- from Hershey's, of course. Hot Dog Stan is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday hours may be added after the holidays.

Smoked . . . All you pub owners who have secretly envied Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s decision to go smoke-free while fretting that business would suffer if you tried to follow suit, listen up: Since the restaurant instituted a complete ban on smoking in early September, its sales have actually increased by 10 percent. Apparently, the majority of patrons not only appreciate the health benefits of inhaling clean air, but they also recognize that a smoke-free setting gives a big boost to the enjoyment of both food and drink. GLBC is at 2516 Market Avenue in Ohio City; for reservations or information, call 216-771-4404.


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