Happy Dog – Come for the music, stay for the eccentric hot dogs: Best Hot Dog in Greater Cleveland Contest

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Happy Dog has always been known as one of the city’s best places to kick back for some great music and a casual meal.

Since 2008, when co-owners Sean Kilbane and Sean Watterson decided to shake things up in the kitchen of the original 1940s restaurant (which still sports the original bar, booths, and barstools), some of the best-known names in the culinary world have talked up Happy Dog hot dogs.

“Everyone – from all walks of life – loves a good hot dog,” says Watterson. “They are easy. They go hand-in-hand with live music. No one wants to sit down and eat a filet while some punk band blows your ear drums out. They want something handheld, and we wanted something that is simple, easy and quick, and it’s a cheap thing to feed out-of-town hungry bands.”

Happy Dog is located at 5801 Detroit Ave. in Cleveland

Happy Dog was the runner-up in cleveland.com’s search for the Best Hot Dog in Greater Cleveland. Our readers gave the neighborhood bar’s eclectic hot dogs more than 19% of the vote during July’s National Hot Dog Month.

“Let’s face it, a year into running the Happy Dog, we realized we knew a lot about music, but didn’t know food,” explains Watterson. “So, we partnered up with Eric Williams (Momocho owner and chef) and he is the one that made sense of our name and brought the hot dog/toppings concept to us, and it has worked really well to have affordable, and portable food . It was sort of the perfect mash-up.”

Happy Dog

Field Roast Artisan Vegan Dog with grilled peppers & onions and ketchup from Happy Dog

Williams stripped the menu down to just hot dogs and vegan dogs (though they have since added burgers back into the mix), with a dizzying array of toppings, making for a mathematically infinite combination of tastes.

While people loved the music, the quirky menu started attracting some big names in the culinary world as well. Even though they originally made fun, their jokes drove adventurous foodies in for a taste.

Happy Dog

Slider Dog – Classic All-Beef dog with Mac ‘n Cheese, bacon and Froot Loops from Happy Dog

Chef Mario Batali made fun of the Slider Dog — now a staple at the restaurant’s Progressive Field stand — that features a dog topped with Mac ‘n Cheese, Bacon and Froot Loops on his cooking show, “The Chew.”

“Originally, he was skeptical and flicking the Froot Loops off onto the floor with a disgusted look,” remembers Watterson. “But then he took a bite and realized it made sense — the sweet, the salty, smooth and creamy paired with the crunchy. Those combinations just work.”

Comedian and celebrity chef Alton Brown drew laughs with his stage routine based on hot dogs topped with Froot Loops, but soon found he loved the salty/sweet combination.

Watterson explains Williams depended heavily on food chemistry when creating the toppings list: “People love taking pictures of food. So, they would order toppings to make for a pretty picture, but folks believed it’ll be gross to eat. But many of those combinations work because of the science behind it.”

Happy Dog

Killer Kilbane – Classic All-Beef dog with “Alien” dill pickle relish, chunky peanut butter, and sriracha hot chili sauce. from Happy Dog

Iron Chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon is a fan. Symon tops his dog with the “alien” dill pickle relish, chunky peanut butter and Sriracha – all flavors which meld together to create a Thai peanut sauce affect.

Happy Dog

Blue Ribbon “Red Hot” dog with blue cheese coleslaw and habanero pickled red onions from Happy Dog

Watterson’s favorite is the “Red Hot” dog topped with Bleu Cheese slaw and Habanero pickled onions.

“We see it all,” says Jared Phillips, a bartender at Happy Dog. “It can be really insane some days, but Happy Dog is a judgment-free zone. So, we encourage people to do what they think sounds good to them.”

Phillips has seen customers order the gambit, from nothing on it to “people obnoxiously ordering everything on the menu.”

Happy Dog

Happy Dog is located at 5801 Detroit Ave. in Cleveland

Phillips said he has seen regulars consistently order strange combinations: “They know just what they want, and fill out the menu right off the bat. [Others] agonize over the choices for 25 minutes.”

“People over-think it and they often make bad decisions,” Phillips continues. “We just tell them it is not brain surgery, it’s hot dogs. If you see something you like to eat, pick it.”

About three times a year, the staff sits down and changes out about five toppings to keep the menu fresh.

Happy Dog

Pork Kielbasa with Spaghetti Os from Happy Dog

“There are some things we can’t lose,” Watterson says. “No hot dog stand can lose the chili. But, for us, we can’t take away the Froot Loops or the Spaghettios. It’s who we are – music and hot dogs. That will never change.”

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