CLAYTON In the midst of the dog days of summer, whats better than a good ol all-American hot dog?
Theres a new eatery in downtown Clayton that specializes in just that hot dogs.
St. Lawrence River Dogs offers a menu reminiscent of small-town America, featuring fancy wieners made in upstate New York, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, french fries and onion rings, summer salads and soft drinks.
Its a neat and clean little place, bright and cheery, and the day we stopped by for lunch, pretty busy.
Owner Lance Peterson converted his Laundromat to an indoor hot dog stand this spring. The Laundromat wasnt doing that well, especially in the winter, so he decided to take a stab at the restaurant business.
Everyone has to eat, so he may be on to something here. His goal was to serve tourists and locals who want to grab a quick bite and head out to the villages waterfront. It appears he has done just that.
There are a dozen different hot dog preparations on the glossy menu. River Dog, Steamer Dog, Chili Dog, Kraut Dog, Chicago Dog, Taco Dog you get the idea. You can get a hamburger, cheeseburger, barbecue burger or a bacon cheeseburger. Macaroni salad, potato salad or pasta salad. And all your favorite deep-fried finger foods and nonalcoholic bottled beverages.
For dogs, you get to choose a white or red Hofmann, made in Syracuse, or a Zweigle, made in Rochester. Both family-owned companies have been in business for over 100 years, specializing in quality meat products made in the old world tradition. No pig snouts and chicken lips here just good-tasting hot dogs like you remember eating when you were a kid.
We started with their signature River Dog ($5.45), a Hofmann in a bun topped with a strip of crisp bacon, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing (of course), shredded cheese and diced onions.
With their Steamer Dog ($4.95) we ordered a Zweigle that came mounded with chili meat sauce, jalapenos (watch out!), banana peppers, shredded cheese and diced onions.
Chicago Dog ($4.25) is very close to the original from the Windy City, made with diced tomato, pickles, banana peppers, onions and celery salt. A real Chicago dog comes on a poppy seed bun.
But we were impressed with the buns at River Dogs. They were a little soft on the outside but quite dense on the inside. We were surprised and pleased at how well they stood up to the franks and the huge mound of fresh toppings.
We learned that River Dogs just recently switched to this type of roll from one of their suppliers, and customer feedback has been very positive.
Also from their food purveyor came the Italian sausage they serve with sweet peppers and onions ($4). The sweet sausage was excellent, enhanced with the tasty sautéed veggies and the great chewy bun.
A side of french fries ($2.25) was a modest portion of commercial seasoned fries.
The same with the onion rings ($3.25).
We tried two of their salads, macaroni and potato. When we placed our order, the young clerk at the counter told us they were not made there. As with the sausage and rolls, he believed they came from one of their suppliers, probably SYSCO.
They were individual portions served in plastic containers, priced at $2.35 each. Unlike everything else wed had so far, they didnt measure up. The red skin potato salad was nothing special; the mac salad utilized those strange little macaroni noodles you see in Kraft mac and cheese. And it just plain didnt taste good.
Theres only one sweet thing on the menu for dessert, funnel cake ($4.50). Its a modest portion, perfect for one. The fried dough was served undressed. Powdered sugar and cinnamon came in little round plastic containers so you could choose which you preferred. It also prevented the sugar from melting on the hot dough when it comes out of the fryer.
We werent sure if it was because River Dogs was new or someone was paying attention to detail, but we were impressed with the neatness of the beverage cooler. Every bottle of soda, iced tea and bottled water was carefully arranged so each label was facing to the front. Drinks are $1.35 apiece.
Same thing with the neat and clean condiment baskets on every table. Mustard, ketchup and a half-dozen plastic specialty sauces were immaculate. We were also impressed with the name-brand condiments Frenchs mustard and Heinz ketchup, for example.
Lunch for four cost $41.75. The menu and the pricing seemed very family friendly an affordable family stop.
We didnt get to try their hamburgers, but the price seemed right. A burger sells for $3.50, a cheeseburger $3.75, bacon cheeseburger $4.50 and a barbecue burger $4.50.
For future reference, here are the dogs we didnt try:
■ Chili Cheese Dog ($4): Chili meat sauce, shredded cheese, onions.
■ Chili Dog ($4): Chili meat sauce, onions.
■ Kraut Dog ($3.60): Sauerkraut.
■ Camper Combo ($6.75): Dog, hamburger, bacon, barbecue sauce, onions.
■ Taco Dog ($3.95): Salsa, shredded cheese, onions.
■ Poor Boy ($5.15): French fries, chili meat sauce.
■ Bare Hook ($3.25): A dog on a bun
■ Marco ($1.65): Corn dog.
They also have veggie dogs and a fish filet sandwich available for our vegetarian friends.
The River Dogs building is across the street from the river, but theres still a relatively unobstructed view of the St. Lawrence from any seat.
Clayton is a revitalized waterfront town that gets better year after year. St. Lawrence River Dogs is one of the latest restaurant additions. We recommend a stop if youre looking for good, casual value-priced food.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Lawrence River Dogs
419 Riverside Dr.
A sit-down, indoor hot dog stand featuring a dozen different hot dog preparations as well as hamburgers, salads and deep-fried favorites.
HOURS:11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.
The dogs we tried were great: River Dog, Steamer Dog and Chicago Dog. Salads didnt measure up, but standard fries and onion rings were decent, as was the funnel cake.
Lunch reviews do not receive fork ratings.