The latest issue of Saveur is jam-packed with gorgeous photos of shimmering slabs of ribs, bloodstained pitmasters and dripping barbecue sauce, which got me thinking about how rarely barbecue crosses over with hot dogs. Sure, the frankfurter is a staple of the backyard summer "barbecue," but if there's a pitmaster somewhere in Tennessee making his own hot dogs and smoking them over cherrywood for eight hours, I've yet to hear about it.
Then I remembered the Polish Boy, Cleveland's signature sandwich: a giant kielbasa covered in french fries, cole slaw and barbecue sauce on a giant sandwich roll. An interesting combination of the city's barbecue and Eastern European traditions, it also brings to mind Chicago's minimalist "Depression Dog", or even Pittsburgh's cole-slaw-and-french-fries deli sandwiches.
Not really a hot dog, although you can find a Polish Boy at Steve's Lunch where the kielbasa is more like a jumbo frankfurter. But the original is made with massive lengths of real smoked kielbasa from Cleveland barbecue restaurants like Freddie's and Hot Sauce Williams .
Freddie's Rib House is a crazy hole-in-the-wall joint that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. It was empty inside when I was there. I was a little worried they were closed, although the Coney Island style paintings of sausage and chicken platters out front were a good sign.
Recently remodeled with neon orange walls and Ikea-looking tables, the ordering is still done through a grease and sauce stained bulletproof glass window. This was either going to be the best thing ever, or the Cleveland equivalent of ordering food at 3 a.m. from the place in my neighborhood that sells Four Loko and Blunt Wraps.
I was surprised to receive my Polish Boy wrapped in foil like a burrito, and just as big. Unwrapping it, I found just about the craziest looking thing I've ever seen in my life.
The kielbasa is charcoal black from the grill, and gigantic. You might not be able to tell from the photo, but it's almost a big as a hoagie—a foot long at least. At first glance it looks burnt or dried out or something, but once you bite into it (not an easy task) the inside is juicy and delicious. This is real, garlicky, spicy, coarse ground kielbasa. Amazing.
Eating this thing is a MESS. The fries are almost poutine-like, soaked in creamy slaw and barbecue sauce, and the soft bun starts to disintegrate after a few bites. The roll of paper towels on the table barely helps. Freddie's sauce is awesome—sweet, spicy, and gritty like it had been cooked down for hours and infused with scraps of barbecue, it tastes like the place looks. In a good way.
Sometimes these signature sandwiches and hot dogs that you hear about on every TV show and best-of list don't live up to the hype, but Freddie's Polish Boy was everything I expected and more. This isn't just another gimmicky over the top concoction, but an insanely unique sandwich that can't really be compared to anything else. It's all in the details: real kielbasa, that awesome sauce, the grill seasoned with years of ribs and chicken. I couldn't make this at home to save my life.
Freddie's also has a newer, spiffy second location in nearby Lyndhurst, Ohio. For more on the Polish Boy don't miss last week's episode of NPR's The Splendid Table with Jane and Michael Stern talking about Hot Sauce Williams.
Freddie's Southern Style Rib House
Freddie's Rib House (Lyndhurst location)
5361 Mayfield Road, Lyndhurst OH 44124 (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/.