Hot Dog of the Week: Cleveland's Polish Boy
"Even with all these other dogs in town, the Polish Boy is undoubtedly Cleveland's signature dog."
The few things I know about Cleveland come from reading Harvey Pekar's (RIP) comics, an episode of No Reservations that also features Pekar, and watching Drew Carey at 1 a.m. before I had cable. Even so, I can tell it's my kind of town—blue collar and chock full of history, eccentrics, and things that haven't changed in 60 years.
So it's fitting that Cleveland's signature dish is the Polish Boy: a grilled kielbasa on a hefty roll topped with cole slaw, a pile of french fries, and lubricated with generous amounts of barbecue and/or hot sauce. It's a perfect representation of a city with a long history of Eastern European sausage-making and Southern-style barbecue, with a touch of Chicago thrown in for good measure (the "fries on the dog" style are reminiscent of Chicago's minimalist "Depression Dog" joints).
The Polish Boy appears briefly on that same episode of No Reservations when Anthony Bourdain visits Hot Sauce Williams and tries one along with massive pulled pork sandwiches and plates of fried chicken. Iron Chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon also put the Polish Boy on the map when he featured Seti's, a Polish Boy truck that also does chili dogs—on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Even so, I had never even heard of the "Polish Boy" until a few weeks ago, but apparently it's been a staple of Cleveland cuisine for a while now, on the menu of every barbecue place in town, as well as hot dog joints and from street vendors.
If the Polish Boy is too much for you, Cleveland looks like an all-around respectable hot dog town. Since it's not too far from either Detroit, Chicago or Cincinnati, you see a few places doing Coneys and Chicago style, and plenty of high-quality natural casing franks from Usinger's and Sahlen's.
There's also Steve's Lunch , a 24-hour joint that's been around forever, and the similar Old Fashion Hot Dogs down the street. Or if cold beer and 400 different toppings floats your boat, check out Happy Dog for their Polka Happy Hour and hot dogs topped with funky stuff like Coca-cola braised bok choy, Fruit Loops, and saffron aioli.
Even with all these other dogs in town, the Polish Boy is undoubtedly Cleveland's signature dog. Some places even take it further into barbecue territory, topping the whole thing off with a pile of pulled pork. Seti's, Hot Sauce Williams, and Freddie's Rib House seem to be the heavy hitters, but there's plenty of spots to try this thing out.
Seti's Best Polish Boys
Hot Sauce William's7815 Carnegie Avenue, Cleveland OH 44103 (map)
Freddie's Rib House
1431 Saint Clair Avenue NE, Cleveland OH 44114 (map)
5004 Lorain Avenue, Cleveland OH 44102 (map)
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.
More Hot Diggity Dogs
- Nicky and Pete's in Philadelphia »
- Dogmatic Gourmet Sausage System in NYC »
- South Philly Dog »
- Danny's Drive-In in Stratford, Connecticut »
- Fat Franks in Bellows Falls, Vermont »
- El Completo, Chile's Take on the Hot Dog »
- Red Snappers in Maine »
- Zweigle's in Rochester, New York »
- Cincinnati Cheese Coney in Ohio »