Eating outdoors in the middle of an Arkansas summer requires that A. you are totally insane B. you’re so completely into your food that you forget where you are C. you have a death wish/you are a masochist, or D. you a mutant human/reptilian hybrid with no way to regulate your body temperature other than basking in ridiculously unhealthy heat. I won’t admit to you what it was that prompted me take an outdoor seat at the roadside North Little Rock diner, The Original ScoopDog. But really, how do you pass up a place with a name like that? With my mind on my stomach, and my stomach on my mind, I stepped up to the outdoor order window, prepared to do some serious hot dog damage.
The menu at ScoopDog is built primarily around two things, frozen custard and hot dogs, i.e. “the scoop” and “the dog.” The family run business makes all custard on the premises, serving the community year round, so you can get your frozen treats in the dead of winter or in the sweltering heat of summer. Custard is served in various forms including the thick, lightly blended concretes, decked-out sundaes, shakes, and malts.
ScoopDog offers about five hot dog combinations, and while I was tempted to just suck it up and try all five during one visit, I uncharacteristically showed some self-restraint and ordered up three. The first was a classic “Chicago dog.” The usual players find their way onto this dog, yellow mustard, the oddly fluorescent green relish, chopped onion, tomato slices, sport peppers, kosher pickle, and a sprinkle of celery salt. All of the ingredients were fresh, bright, and distinctive. The slightly spicy Red Hot Chicago brand hot dogs were a perfect compliment to the overlying toppings. The dog had a wonderful snap when bitten into, with a juicy, flavorful center that did justice to The Windy City. ScoopDog was off to a great start after an honorable Chicago dog, so I continued with their salute to two other fine American cities, the “Detroit dog” and the “Kansas City dog”.
The Kansas City dog is ScoopDog’s “ode to the Reuben sandwich,” topping the dog with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. Overall, it was a decent dog, tasty but not earth shattering. I enjoyed the counterbalance of flavor between the spicy beef hot dog and the sour punch of the kraut. The Detroit dog scared me a little at first sight. Smothered in beef chili, chopped white onion, and yellow mustard (all of which I am fine with), it is also blanketed with a few squirts of liquid yellow cheddar cheese sauce. This cheese form is one which I gave up years ago, but I realize at certain times in life the liquid nacho cheese is eaten more out of necessity than choice…a meal at the ball park or at a road trip gas station pit stop, for example. But I set aside my cheese fears, dug in and was rewarded again with a tasty morsel of chili-cheese-dog excellence. The thick, meaty chili was enough to brush away any cheese biases I may have had, especially when coupled with the wonderful bite of the hot dog and raw onion.
Lastly, I sampled one of their custard creations and ordered a blend of vanilla custard, banana, caramel and walnuts. Good custard is probably my favorite of all frozen treats. Ice cream often puts up a good challenge, but I find that the higher percentage of butterfat and egg yolk gives custard a richer, creamier texture that is unbeatable when done right. ScoopDog creates an honorable product. My custard was thick and sweet, with vibrant notes of vanilla swirled around banana and caramel. ScoopDog’s menu board lists around 3 dozen mix-ins and toppings that can be incorporated into their basic chocolate and vanilla, and while this long list of options typically makes my head spin a little, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy.
Everyone is looking for a way to beat the heat this time of year and ScoopDog is an excellent solution. Even if you are not ready to brave the outdoors, they have a handy drive-thru window so you’ll never even have to leave the comfort of your air conditioning.
The Original ScoopDog
5508 JFK Blvd
North Little Rock