Hot dogs, dude. Hot dogs. Nature’s perfect food? Probably. Tube o’ meat, stuck in bread. Phallic. Hilarious. Hot dogs always mean a good time. But, dear god, WHY do they have to be relegated to sporting events, backyard barbecues, and street vendors?? Why can’t I go to a classy establishment, three piece suit and top hat, and order myself a nice chili dog? Who makes these damn rules?? Well, in order to spite snobs and fight the man, I make it common practice to carry on me at least two hot dogs, lukewarm and ready to eat, in my special hip flask. TAKE THAT, HIGH SOCIETY. But, on that rare occasion when I’ve exhausted my wiener supply, I may be forced to stop by a local hot dog vendory and do business there. And what better place to do that hot dog business than Mel’s Hot Dogs?
Hot dog fact: Did you know that hot dogs were originally called “hot dongs”, in reference to their dong-esque shape? However, the Roman Catholic Church took issue with this, and had the ‘n’ dropped by act of god.
Mel Lohn is the Abe Froman of Tampa. Complete with Chicago style hot dogs. CHICAGO STYLE. Originally, he was a show band musician from Chicago, but then he got sick of spending all his money on sexy sixties style clothes, and decided to give Tampa what it needed most: a hot dog stand.
Hot dog fact: Did you know that modern day natural casing hot dogs make use of intestinal lining culled from cloned sheep? In an effort to save money, Oscar Meyer hired the Roslin Institute to research ways of artificially creating life for food processing purposes. Eventually, this became the industry standard, and now every time you feel the snap of a natural casing hot dog, you’re enjoying the fruits of many year’s scientific labor.
Mel’s has the distinction of being the only hot dog place in Tampa that I care about. It’s a simple, somewhat funky restaurant, on Busch near its infamous Gardens. It looks like a little house thing, and it was stolen from the air force after Mel himself ended WWII with the sweet sound of whatever show band music is. So the structure has a pre-existing history. Also: ghosts. Probably. Inside is a bunch of Mel-morabilia, which is either exciting or annoying to the customer. You order at a counter, get your food, then seat yourself. And they have an “arcade” featuring some golf game!! So much to love.
Mel’s is a popular destination, so be prepared to wait for a bit. Lunch time there gets crazy, and people get pretty serious about hot dogs. Imagine Black Friday at a Toys R Us.
Hot dog fact: Did you know hot dogs exist as a fifth state of matter, known as a wiener-schnitzel condensate?
Mel’s offers a variety of hot dog types, including a slaw dog, a spicy fire dog, veggie dogs, and Mel’s special hot dog, as seen here. the majority of Mel’s dogs are Vienna Beef natural casing all beef hot dogs. This is how you want your hot dog. The quality is about as high as you can get when dealing with hot dogs; the natural casing provides a perfect snap to every bite, giving a visceral thrill to your meal similar to what I imagine early cavemen might have felt. And the meat is extremely satisfying. Mel’s special comes with mustard, onions, neon green relish, sauerkraut, and a pickle. special, right? It’s a good combination, and Mel’s toppings are all precisely what you’re looking for in hot dog dressings – good, solid pieces of the puzzle.
You are given the option of getting the hot dog with a basket, which includes fries and either baked beans of coleslaw, and affords you a 39¢ savings!! Amazing.
Hot dog fact: Did you know that hot dogs were invented in Chicago, and the events that followed its creation were chronicled in the Paper Lace hit, “The Night Chicago Died”?
This. This is the money dog. This is why you go to Mel’s. The Chicago style hot dog. It’s pretty much the most perfect piece of hot doggery known to man. It’s basically the works – mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickle, celery salt, and a couple hot sport peppers. Sport peppers, dude. All served on one of their poppy seed buns. If you haven’t had a Chicago dog, you… you just wouldn’t understand. Typical hot dogs are good. They’re fine. Whatever. But this combination… it’s what hot dogs were made for. How to best consume a hot dog. And Mel does it perfectly.
It’s a kaleidoscope of flavors and textures; hot and spicy, sweet and cool, crunchy, soft, and delicious. If Jesus could have had a baby, it would have been a Chicago style hot dog.
Hot dog fact: Did you know that hot dogs are people? It’s people. Hot dogs are made out of people. They’re making our food out of people. You’ve gotta tell them. You’ve gotta tell them! Hot dogs are people!
My lovely assistant/girlfriend purchased the chili dog. It comes standard with just some chili, but they “recommend” adding mustard, onions, and cheese (for an extra 75 cents, putting this dog at $5.19 before tax vs. the $4.25 for the Chicago or $3.75 for the special). The prices… we’ll get to that. But their chili is good, and adding cheese is a must. The mustard and onions are good addition too. It’s a solid hot dog, but not what you to go Mel’s for.
Basically, Mel’s is the mecca for delicious hot dogs in the Tampa Bay area. They have the best. They are the best. Mel is my idol. The staff is quite pleasant, and the place is a friggin icon. So it is worth stopping by. That being said, you will drop more than you should be for hot dogs. Recently I purchased a Chicago dog, a chili dog, and a drink, and I spent 12 bucks. For hot dogs. So it’s a bit sucky. But it’s so delicious. And if you’re in the mood for Chicago style dogs, this is the place you’re gonna have to go to satisfy your craving.
It’s no Pinks, but it’s the best hot dogs in Tampa, a local legend, and one of my favorites.
Oh and there’s a hot dog car.