Hot Dog Hall of Fame at Universal’s CityWalk
Ten days before my trip to the Universal theme parks in Orlando, Lebeau posted a preview of a new dessertery coming to Universal called the “Toothsome Chocolate Factory” which will feature crazy varieties of ice cream sundaes. Unfortunately, it is not scheduled to open until long after my return from Universal. We did discuss some of the things I might see that Lebeau and family didn’t have a chance to experience in their visit to Orlando back in June. One thing that came up was the CityWalk Hot Dog Hall of Fame and the menu did manage to elicit some enthusiasm for some of us, so I figured why not give it a look-see and report back to you guys?
the Hot Dog Hall of Fame is located on Universal’s CityWalk, which is sort of the complex’s answer to Downtown Disney, with a wide array of restaurants, shops, and entertainments. One advantage CityWalk has over its Disney counterpart is that it is located right next to the parks. It is, in fact, stretched along a corridor between the two parks and you cannot enter either the Universal Studios theme park or Islands of Adventure without first walking through part of CityWalk. The offerings and proximity of CityWalk help to cement Universal’s status as the spot for young adults who think they might have outgrown Disney. The focus is heavy on drinking, dancing, pop music, and higher end dining.
Indicative of this more young adult-centered emphasis is the high-profile location of Jimmy Buffet’s bar/restaurant/retail store Margaritaville, named after his most famous song which is an ode to hanging out in a tropical location drinking away your concerns. Such populist sentiments have made Buffet a very rich man and the good time aesthetic carries over to the bar which you really can’t help but notice as you walk to Islands of Adventure. Hot Dog Hall of Fame does not share this advantageous location adjacent to heavy foot traffic. In fact, I was initially wondering if I’d made a mistake in thinking it was located on CityWalk at all. After all, CityWalk is designed to make most of its tenants very visible to the passing crowds. So when I found myself sitting in Margaritaville enjoying a drink (the rest of my family had headed back to the Tampa suburbs the night before) and found it was lunchtime it would have been easy to just set up camp there and try one of their reliably acceptable dishes. But I wanted to sample someplace new, so I closed out my tab and set out to find Hot Dog Hall of Fame.
As you can see on this map of CityWalk, Hot Dog Hall of Fame is sort of tucked behind Emeril’s and Rising Star. I’ve circled it in red. When visitors enter CityWalk, they come in up at the top of this picture down an incline between the cineplex and Bubba Gump and empty out near the Red Oven Pizza Bakery. Universal Studios theme park is a right turn (on our left) over near Blue Man Group, while Islands of Adventure is to the left (our right) just across the bridge from Margaritaville. Unless you wander into the space to the rear of Emeril’s you may never see Hot Dog Hall of Fame at all. That would be too bad for families or those who are big fans of baseball…or hot dogs.
The place hangs its hat on two things: good hot dogs and baseball theming. It does a pretty good, if not brilliant, job on both counts. As you can see here, the visuals include baseball memorabilia in glass cases near the line up to the windows where you can order your food.
The queue winds over a cement recreation of a baseball diamond.
You can even sit in fold down seats acquired from real major league baseball stadiums while you eat and watch the big screen television (seen in the top photo) which was featuring coverage of spring training on the MLB network when I was there. I can only assume that once the baseball season begins in earnest, that fans who need a break from the theme parks will be able to enjoy live televised games along with iconic stadium food. This thematically appropriate seating was too much for me to resist, so I took up residence in one of those orange chairs with my lunch…which brings up the other more obvious focus of the spot.
Hot Dog Hall of Fame bills itself as having “frankly the best hot dogs…in the world,” which is making a pretty bold claim. As someone who lived in Chicago, where there is seemingly a sausage stand around every other corner (the hot dogs at Wrigley Field were notoriously the worst in the city during my stay in the Windy City), I can’t quite give what I had on Monday that kind of title. The menu is pretty tempting if you’re into this type of fare.
Vienna All-Beef Hotdog, Poppy-Seed Bun, Neon Relish, Sport Peppers, Diced Onions and Tomatoes, Pickle, Celery Salt. Served with Fries
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog, Grilled Peppers & Onions, Saurkraut. Served with Fries
Vienna All-Beef Hotdog, Pulled Pork, Coleslaw, Pickles, Barbecue Sauce. Served with Fries
Kayem All-Beef Hotdog, Toasted New England-Style Bun, Spicy Brown Mustard, Diced Onions, Relish. Served with Fries
Farmer’s John’s Foot Long Hotdog, Mustard, Relish. Served with Fries
Sabrett All-Beef Hotdog, Sauerkraut, Mustard. Served with Fries
Vienna All-Beef Hotdog, Smoked Bacon, Pinto Beans, Grilled Onions & Peppers, Cheese. Served with Fries
Bratwurst Sausage, Hoagie Roll, Grilled Onions, Spicy Brown Mustard. Served with Fries
Koegel Hotdog, Abbott’s Coney Chili, Diced Onions. Served with Fries.
Foot Long Dog
Vienna All Beef Hotdog, Foot Long Bun, Choice of Two Toppings. Served with Fries
Two Foot Dog
Vienna All-Beef Hotdog, Baguette, Choice of Two Toppings
Provolone Cheese, Grilled Onions, and Peppers. Served with Fries
Sides & Snacks
Shoestring French Fries $2.99
Roasted Peanuts $3.49
Cracker Jacks $3.49
Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite, Pink Lemonade, Root Beer $3.19
Green, Sweet, Unsweet, Raspberry $3.19
Resource Natural Spring Water $4.00
Blue Moon $7.50
Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Yuengling $6.50
Sam Adams $7.75
Yes, that’s a “Two Foot Dog” you see on the menu. It’s the sort of on-a-dare bit of food that may not be very practical for most visitors, but also the kind of thing a person who is on vacation might just take on. Not me, but there are enough photos on line of people holding these things to make me think they are popular enough to earn their place on the menu. Despite my years in Chicago, I’ve never been a fan of the fully loaded hot dog they favor there, either. I don’t want tomatoes, relish, or a large pickle getting in the way of the main sausage. In my time there I developed a taste for Italian sausage instead, so I jumped at the chance to try one at Hot Dog Hall of Fame. Paired with french fries and a cola, my lunch cost just under $13.
They gave me my receipt and a metal device that allowed them to locate me in my stadium seat with my lunch when it was ready. This worked well enough and they had no problem finding me, but from my point of view I would have been more than happy to stand and wait for my Italian sausage and then go sit down. Why? Well, as a single customer who wanted to eat in the stadium seating, I found that if I wanted more napkins or ketchup I had to either carry my dog down the stairs to the condiments bar or leave it where it was while I made the trip…and there were birds hovering around the outdoor site just waiting for a chance at a stray french fry or bit of leftover bun. I took the chance and ventured down, but kept my eyes on my vulnerable lunch the whole time. Yes, I guess I could have retrieved this stuff prior to sitting down, but without my food in front of me I really had no idea what I would want and what would be automatically provided for me.
The food was about what I’d expected: good, but a little short of what I’d call the best ever. The coke was Coke. The fries were fries. Crisp and hot in a standard size that is pretty typical for most fast food restaurants. But these items were always going to be considered ancillary to the Italian sausage at the center of the meal. Unfortunately, it was a mild disappointment when held to the standard not just of “best in the world” as the company’s website declares, but also when compared to the Italian sausage dogs I got used to while living in Chicago. The sausage I ate on Monday had a decent taste, but was not quite as spicy as I’ve grown to expect and its consistency was a little off too, with the meat crumbling in spots rather than tearing or shearing and retaining its overall shape. The bun was warmed and had a baked rather than store-bought quality, which was good, but was already broken along the seam when it arrived. In contrast, the onions and provolone cheese were satisfying and tasty toppings.
Despite the overall mild negative review I’m giving my meal here, I’d personally want to give one of the other hot dogs on the menu a try before assigning any sort of definitive judgement of Hot Dog Hall of Fame. It could be that a dog with a more standard sausage would be closer to their wheelhouse. Perhaps something like the Kansas City dog or just a regular foot long would have made me happier on this particular day. I’d love for a simple, but well-themed spot offering mainstream American junk food like Hot Dog Hall of Fame aspires to be to find a place at CityWalk. It would be nice to have a place to enjoy a dog and watch some baseball during peak park hours in the summertime when everyone else is crammed into Hogsmeade.