Hot Dog of the Week: Steve's Lunch in Cleveland, Ohio
"Add Cleveland to the list of great hot dog tourism stops—there's a bunch of different styles to try."
Steve's Lunch is a tiny 24-hour counter with about eight seats on a semi-abandoned block in Cleveland. Walking in on a rainy day to a couple of eccentric regulars shooting the breeze was like living inside a panel of American Splendor (an autobiographical comic book series by Cleveland native Harvey Pekar). Steve's has only closed for business a handful of times since 1955, either when Kennedy was shot, after 9-11, or once for Christmas, depending on which staff member or patron's story you choose to believe.
Steve's feels like the type of joint that used to be on every corner in New York—where drunks, cops and vagrants rub elbows over endless cups of cheap coffee and hot dogs at four in the morning, except there's something about it that's uniquely Cleveland. There's an endless menu of all kinds of platters and breakfast specials named after local cops, but this place is really known for the hot dogs.
Steve's dogs are all-beef skinless franks, cooked on a small griddle that sits in the front window—a common feature of old-school urban hot dog counters from Albany to Alabama. Ladled in finely ground meaty chili, so dry it's more like seasoned ground beef, with a slight hint of the Greek spices common to Cincinnati 250 miles to the south. Shredded cheese—under the chili—along with mustard and diced raw onions complete the dog. The guys next to me ate about six of them in 15 minutes.
Slaw dogs are popular here, and they also make the Polish Boy—an awesome concoction unique to Cleveland that consists of a hot dog or kielbasa piled high with fries, cole slaw and barbecue sauce. Steve's wasn't my favorite Polish Boy of this trip (there's a handful of barbecue joints in town that make the best) but I liked the crunchy, lightly dressed slaw—a nice counterpoint to the grill-blackened sausage and sweet barbecue sauce.
Right down the street from Steve's is an almost identical hot dog joint, Old Fashioned Hot Dogs or the "Hot Dog Inn" as its known to locals. A similar Cleveland atmosphere with old guys eating soup and reading the paper along the chrome counter, walls plastered in hand-written signs. Unfortunately the bun was a bit stale and the chili was sort of gray.
Steve's gets my vote without hesitation, but you should try both for yourself. Add Cleveland to the list of great hot dog tourism stops—there's a bunch of different styles to try, and the city is relatively small and easy to navigate.
Bonus Video: The Drew Carey Show Intro
For more Steve's check out their cameo at 2:23.
5004 Lorain Avenue, Cleveland OH 44102 (map); 216-961-1460
Open 24 hours, 7 days a week.
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/.