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Happy Dog, Cleveland

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 24, 2018

If you read my various posts in the CLEGourmand category you know I am a BIG fan of Cleveland. The people and the neighborhoods have an unquantifiable character that Columbus does not have. A part of it is pride, a big part is loyalty (supporting the Browns, Indians and Cavs is often very hard) and other elements that would best be labeled je ne sais quoi.

What led me to Happy Dog was a text from a native Clevelander. To say the text was provocative and inflammatory would be an understatement. The texter is a lifelong friend of the Grumpy Old Man (a “victim” of some Gourmand southern Ohio adventures) and in spite of being a corporate man has some very left leaning tendencies. He too has experienced a three lunch afternoon with me in Athens and knows my unwavering devotion for O’Betty’s Hot Dogs. In spite that (and in spite of him being at least a lukewarm fan of O’Betty’s) Mr. Suit stated (profanity, swagger and other off-color commentary edited to protect the innocent) Happy Dog is better than O’Betty’s.

Clearly these were fighting words so I requested photographic documentation and asked for less graphic commentary. I also did a lot of Googling and researched this so-called better than O’Betty’s Hot Doggery. Online, Happy Dog looked to have some merit although this assertion of “better than O’Betty’s” was clearly the rantings of a mad man but I placed a visit high on my to do list for my next Cleveland trip. Eventually, I made my way to the hallowed doors of Happy Dog.

I immediately took a shine to the place. The location I visited is in the Gordon Square neighborhood, which has a fair number of hot spots (like Brewnuts) but is still rough enough around the edges to have some character and a sense of communal community. The outside is nondescript other than covered bike parking and a sign that could easily be mistaken for a dive bar or dog groomers. The inside had an old, multi-generational, pleasantly battered feel so familiar to many of my favorite Cleveland haunts. I scooted CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin into a booth so we could begin the critical and crucial work of determining our order.

The Happy Dog menu is both extensive and simple. Step One: choose a base of hot dog (100% beef or vegan), burger, tots or fries. Step Two: review a list of fifty plus toppings, dips and etc. to add to your hot dog or whatnot. These include but are not limited to items such as Japanese Yum Yum sauce, top-secret Fry sauce, bourbon pork and beans, pimento mac & cheese, vegetarian lentil chili, Fruit Loops and so on. You then take an order sheet and check off what you want added to each item you care to dine on. The depth and variety of toppings was impressive but I do have one criticism. As a graduate of Hot Dog University and a visitor of the Mustard Museum, I am concerned that only three mustards are listed on the menu. Cleveland alone to home to two hot dog worthy mustards – Bertman’s Ballpark and Stadium Mustard and I could see neither on the menu. Less than ten offerings of mustard goes against the underlying philosophy of Happy Dog. This could be rectified with the placement of a variety of mustards in a communal area.

An eclectic order of hot dogs, fries and tots were ordered and found their way to our table.
The CMH Family found all to be satisfactory. My wife, who holds high standards for many things and who maintains a very high tolerance for my advocacy for food adventures in establishments and neighborhoods she finds to be both suspect and questionable approved of Happy Dog. She is on the record as stating, with equivocation, their fries are the best she has ever had. Both she and I concurred that the fries were better than O’Betty’s. We liked the diversity and quality of the toppings. I thought the vegan hot dog / sausage I had (I ordered a regular hot dog too…..duh) was the best vegan / vegetarian fake encased meat product I have ever consumed. (I tried a lot – especially during a two year period when I was a five day per week vegetarian). I would have liked the buns to have been steamed or lightly toasted (as is the O’Betty’s way). I am still of the opinion that O’Betty’s executes a slightly better total hot dog but Happy Dog is a strong number two for best in the state. Also, it is not fair to compare the two especially since Happy Dog has at least seven times the square footage as O’Betty’s and my Athens hangout has more experience in the hot dog trade. So while Mr. Suit was wrong, he was right is determining that Happy Dog is a most superior spot for hot dogs and much more (live music, cocktails, deep beer list and while most items are locally sourced, because they want the best, they vegan dogs comes from Seattle). We all win when we go to Happy Dog or O’Betty’s. And we all lose when we put ketchup on a hot dog.

I visited Happy Dog on Detroit Ave. in Gordon Square.

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3 Responses to “Happy Dog, Cleveland”

  1. ceshirer said

    An interesting find – the toppings menu would be daunting for a ‘gotta try everything’ explorer like me! It’s good you’re exposing CMH Griffin to the finer points of dog and man.

    One quick note only because I know this odd bit of local lore… I believe the name of the Southern Ohio gourmand you reference in your opening is actually Crabby Fat Guy. He tended a blog about local food and aggravations (in and around Lancaster) until a few years ago when he pulled up stakes and went somewhere warmer.

    It was an unusual blog with link to listen in on the local police scanner, a weather bug and live reporting on how many people were on the blog and their geographic location.

    Was he Crabby? Yes. And that’s how his followers addressed him. “Hey, Crabby! Have you tried the…”

    A little Lancaster trivia in the morning is good for the soul, especially when it’s Festival Week.

    Thanks for the dog tale!

    • Thanks. Alas, The Crabby Fat Guy (which I may adopt for my own truth in advertising moniker) and the Grumpy Old Man are two different people. The Grumpy Old Man begrudgingly joins me on some adventures but quickly fades out and complains about being too full and vowing never to allow me to tempt him again and then whines all the way home. I can not reveal more about him – other than he is the only conservative artist living in Clintonville and he has known Mr. Suit since first grade. To reveal any other information would prevent me from writing about the two of them with impunity. I think the Crabby Fat Guy would be more cooperative in my adventures.

  2. Chris said

    Ah, I was reading too fast and missed the connection. Yay for all Crabby Grumpy Old Fat Men. Where would we be without them?

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