Nearly everything at Hotdog-Opolis in Boca Raton comes in elongated handheld form, ensconced in soft S. Rosen’s Chicago hot dog buns studded with poppy seeds for your pleasure. A Korean hot dog with spicy kimchi and an elk sausage infused with bacon and cheddar. A California dog with bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion and ranch dressing, and a smoked buffalo sausage topped with grilled peppers. A classic Chicago dog with relish, tomato, pickle spear, sport peppers, yellow mustard and a dash of celery salt, and a newfangled Peking dog wrapped in duck bacon and topped with hoisin sauce, crushed pineapple and scallions.
Even the lone dessert was eaten without utensils — the Wunderbar, a boxed treat from Illinois of frozen cheesecake on a stick dipped in fudge that is available only sporadically. I had never eaten a Wunderbar before last week.
Then again, I had never eaten many of the items listed on the blackboards at Hotdog-Opolis, a wonderful mom-and-pop shop in a Boca Raton strip mall. The setting is not fancy, but the offerings are. Hotdog-Opolis features a dozen exotic game sausages that might make the PETA crowd throw paint, including rabbit with white wine and herbs, venison with blueberry and merlot and duck with foie gras. It has Niman Ranch hot dogs and Australian Kobe-wagyu dogs. The eatery also elevates Vienna beef hot dogs from Chicago into tubular flavor bombs, offering a dozen specialty varieties that range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Sublime: The Carolina dog ($5.68) with piquant angel hair coleslaw, rich all-meat chili and yellow mustard.
Ridiculous: I didn’t have the stomach to try the Pizza Dog (red sauce, mozzarella, spices) or the Israeli Dog (hummus, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled onions) because there are certain things I object to on principle.
The neat part of Hotdog-Opolis is you can have it your way. The husband and wife duo of Harvey Loewenstein and Judy Zimmer-Loewenstein will tailor anything to individual tastes. You can get a seedless bun if you want, and you can downsize to a regular-size wiener instead of a jumbo for your specialty dog if you want. You can also leave the pineapple off the wonderful Peking dog ($6.18). That’s what I’ll do next time, because the hoisin made it sweet enough, and I just don’t like pineapple mingling with my meats (or pizzas, but that’s another story).
“We do some research and experimentation, but a lot of our specialty dogs are customer-driven,” Judy says. She says regulars suggest new creations all the time. Hence the appearance of Israeli dogs and Colombian dogs with pineapple, pink sauce, mozzarella, potato sticks and a quail egg.
Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? When Hotdog-Opolis opened in 2008, it focused on standards such as Chicago dogs and New York pushcart dogs with sauerkraut and onions simmered in red sauce. But the eatery keeps changing with the times. As New York and Midwestern retirees have given way to multiethnic workers, families and adventurous millennials, they have adapted. “Some of the younger customers make it a point to try everything on the menu,” Judy says. “They take it as a challenge.”
My group couldn’t do it in one visit. The buffalo sausage ($6.87) was rich and lean at the same time. The elk was a bit chewy and gamy. The exotic sausages come frozen from Bush Brothers Provision Company of West Palm Beach, which gets products from suppliers around the country. I was disappointed that andouille alligator sausage was out of stock. Maybe next time.
Hotdog-Opolis is a cornucopia of comfort food, and the perfect place to celebrate the upcoming National Hot Dog Month in July. But more is going on here than hot dogs. The fresh-cut french fries ($2.39), double-fried and made from Kingston Fryer potatoes from Washington, were very good. So was a Gabila’s potato knish ($2.49), a throwback to my Brooklyn youth with a crunchy new twist. Here it is thrown in the deep fryer instead of the oven, giving the shell a crackle while leaving the potato center soft and creamy. The half-pound burger ($7.48), made with a premium blend of Angus beef and short rib from Creekstone Farms, was cooked to perfect medium, and was delicious.
Perhaps best of all was the Italian beef sandwich ($8.58). I took it to go, intending to taste only a few bites after a gut-busting lunch. But I inhaled the whole thing. A hoagie roll stuffed with slices of lean beef was topped with spicy giardiniera and served with a side cup of thyme and oregano-spiked au jus. I slurped the remnants when the sandwich was gone and hated myself in the morning.
The Loewensteins run the place with passion and care. They are native New Yorkers, but they became Chicago hot dog converts after working in the Windy City. Judy is a former airline worker. Harvey worked with a food-and-beverage company that sold to cruise lines. They moved to Florida in the 1990s and toyed with the idea of opening a catering company. But Hotdog-Opolis became their calling. Outposts in Boynton Beach and West Boca have come and gone. The west Boca location closed after an ill-fated year in which a car drove through the front window.
Even though Harvey is past retirement age, the couple put in long hours at the restaurant every day. “We’ve both been in customer service our whole lives,” Judy says. “There’s nothing better than seeing people leave with smiles on their faces and saying, ‘Thank you.’ ”
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates Americans this year will eat 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day. At Hotdog-Opolis, I could eat a million.
6020 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
561-988-5959 or HotDogOpolis.com
Cuisine: American. Hot dogs and sausages in all forms along with Italian beef sandwiches and burgers.
Cost: Inexpensive. Hot dogs and sausages $3.49 to $7, burgers and beef sandwiches $7 to $9, chips and sides $1.29 to $4
Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 12-4 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Sound level: Lunchtime chatter in low-key strip mall setting
Bar: Bottled beer and wine by the glass
Outdoor smoking: Yes
Handicapped access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot