Zog Dogs – Rocky River, OH
Passion. This sums up owner Barbara Zaugg’s affinity with hot dogs. I was glad to have found Zog Dogs and was surprised it took me this long to know they existed, but all things come to those who wait, and come it has. While most of my reviews are places I find when I am on a business trip, not so much buy choice, but more so because there really are not a lot of places dedicated as a hot dog joint where I live. Barbara found the same problem when she moved here from Buffalo over 30 years ago. As a hot dog enthusiast living in Cleveland she had never found a hot dog that had lived up to her standards. “Ohio doesn’t have any good hot dogs” she explains. Barbara changed all of that and realized her dream when in the middle of a global economic crisis she decided to open up Zog Dogs. In following he dreams, Barbara says “I really love hot dogs. I told my kids and husband, ‘I don’t want to regret when I am older. I don’t want to wake up when I’m and 80 and ask, ‘What if?'” So, taking occupancy in an old doughnut shop, Zog Dogs opened up shop.
With her Buffalo roots, the decision on where to get her hot dogs was simple: Sahlen’s hot dogs straight out of Buffalo. It’s Sahlen’s that sets Zog Dog’s apart. “The skins burst open, and it’s just like having a picnic everyday,” says Zaugg. To prepare then, Barbara believes that boiling is a no-no and prefers charcoal. Unfortunately, the city wouldn’t allow an indoor charcoal grill, so she compromised and installed a grill with lava rocks. While it may not be charcoal, the cooking method really adds a flavor that I have yet to find anywhere close to Cleveland. It reminded me of the street vendors in Toronto that have the grill right in their trucks.
I ordered one of my regular style, chili, yellow mustard, and onion and Barbara quickly pointed out that to get the full flavor and appreciation for Sahlen’s quality, I needed to try one plain. A bit skeptical, I ordered one plain as well and a big Mt. Dew to push it all down. Soon after my feast was in front of me, I went mouth first with the plain dog. Skpetical to start, believer after one bite. Barbara had a point which until now I failed to realize. You really do get a different experience with no toppings. The dog isn’t masked in toppings, and to have one “naked” you really get the appreciation for the quality of the meat being served. The quality stands on its own and isn’t hidden under a creek of mustard. I was so convinced that I ordered another one “naked.”
The chili dog was tasty. It was a standard chili sauce and accompanied the dog fairly well. I’m beginning to rethink my old stand-by and not so sure I’ll be running head first into chili dogs everywhere I go, but old habits die hard. I’m pretty skewed right now with a local competitor of Zog Dogs. They have a sauce they call chili sauce, but it really isn’t a classic chili sauce. It’s a tangy sauce and I can’t pinpoint the flavors. It’s so different and incredible that my taste buds just don’t seem to react to the standard chili dog anymore.
Zog Dog’s was just recently named #1 Dog in Cleveland by Metromix and I can see why. It will be interesting to watch each year as the few hot dog joints square off to gain the #1 vote. While there are only a few places, they’re all pretty damn good and I think the results will be close each year. While the dogs are top quality and that does help make Zog Dogs stand out, the atmosphere is the without doubt the best of any Cleveland area shop I’ve been too. While The Hot Dog Diner comes close, Zog Dog’s takes top honors. It’s not because of rich decor or curb appeal. It’s Barbara herself. While there I saw two people come in who really didn’t order. Barbara knew what they wanted and put there order in to the grill as they were opening the door. One customer poked her head into the open window to the grill and thanked them for the great dog and told them “see you next Friday.” She’s a Friday regular. Barbara goes out of her way to ask each customer if they are in the Armed Forces, Police office, or Fireman (they all get 10% discount.) That’s Barbara’s way of showing appreciation, and it’s apparent her customers show that appreciation back.