On paper, Hot Dog Mike looks like the purveyor of some of the finest food in Arkansas. He’s got more Twitter and Facebook followers than nearly any other restaurant or food truck in Arkansas. He convinced fans to donate thousands of dollars to his efforts to erect a brick-and-mortar station in which to sell his hot dogs. He’s been the recipient of numerous accolades and awards from publications all over central Arkansas.
Reading this, a newcomer to the Hot Dog Mike story, someone who had not yet sampled his food, would surely look forward to the day he or she could sample Mike’s product with a great deal of anticipation. This would assuredly be some sort of hot dog epiphany, an eye-opening, game-changing event in the arena of tube meats. We’re talking the French Laundry of frankfurters here.
At least these were my thoughts as I set out to sample Hot Dog Mike for the first time.
In reality, all hopes of somehow attaining hot dog nirvana that day came to a screeching halt long before I set foot in the Rivermarket storefront. All it took was one look over the online menu.
The EVERYTHINGdog…mustard only. PLAINJANEdog…just pick whatever sauces you want and I’ll throw it on a dog. KRAUTdog…yup, kraut. Oh, and mustard. CLASSICdog…relish, mustard, onion.
Sure, things got a bit more inventive with some of the more premium hot dogs, but was this really the same Hot Dog Mike menu I’d heard so many mythical tales about in seasons past? Was this the menu putting street food on the map in Little Rock? Was this the hot dog revolution everyone was talking about? Surely, I had missed something.
Still, I was excited by the prospects of Hot Dog Mike’s new home base. And not yet having actually eaten one of his hot dogs, I allowed hope to buoy me through the door to purchase my first ever Hot Dog Mike hot dog.
I had determined to sample (what I had deemed) the most intriguing and original creations Mike was offering that day. This included the WOOPIGHOTdog with “bacon!,” slaw, onion, bbq sauce, and sriracha. Secondly, the CAPITALdog with cream cheese slathered on the bun, relish, and sport peppers. A bag of Lay’s potato chips and a bottle of soda rounded out my meal, putting me back just around $11.
And here’s the thing. The hot dogs are fine. They’re not awful, they’re not even bad. They’re fine. The same way a hot dog at the ball park is fine. The same way your half-wit uncle’s 4th of July cookout hot dogs are fine. Your Cub Scout campfire hot dogs are fine. So it is with Hot Dog Mike.
It’s lowest common denominator food. Sam’s Club hot dogs…thin, pale, and limp, pulled out of a vat of water and lovingly dropped on your generic enriched and bleached-flour buns. Condiments spooned right out of the jar of Heinz. Store-bought barbecue sauce, out of the bottle and onto your dog. Pre-cooked bacon…barely crisp, cold, lifeless. And the slaw (heaven have mercy) scooped right out of a store-bought plastic tub, kept in a cooler on the floor. And Lay’s potato chips? C’mon…get some Zapp’s.
As I said, it’s not bad. It’s just boring. You’ve eaten this stuff a hundred times even if you’ve never been to Hot Dog Mike. You’ve probably got all the ingredients for a Hot Dog Mike hot dog in your fridge right now…the only thing you’re missing is a fedora.
There were some bright points, however. I did, in fact, find the combination of cream cheese and sport peppers delightful. That was a bright idea. My black cherry “Boylan All-Natural Soda” was, perhaps, the most pleasurable part of the entire experience. Smooth flavor, bright, bold and crisp without being overly sweet and sugary. And the woman running the place at the time was extremely pleasant and courteous.
People are doing wonderful things with hot dogs and sausages all across America. Take Biker Jim’s in Denver, for example, selling rattlesnake and pheasant dogs with roasted cactus, Malaysian curry jam scallions, and cilantro or a wild boar dog seasoned with apricot and cranberry, topped with tomatillo green chile salsa, sriracha lime mayo, and smoked bacon bits. You’ll find similarly appetizing menus at restaurants like Chicago’s Hot Doug’s, Austin’s Frank, and NYC’s Crif Dogs.
Hot Dog Mike is a name that people recognize all over Arkansas. And although his new space is small and a little bleak, it’s got potential to be something great. It’s well branded, clean, and just the kind of place you can imagine young food adventurers lining up for, the people stretching down 3rd street, all to get a sample of the “next big thing” in hot dogs. With the right product, it could happen at Hot Dog Mike—he’s got the followers. But unfortunately, that day is not today.
Hot Dog Mike is located at 402 E. 3rd St, Little Rock