2701 Penn Ave., Strip District
The misspelling made me cringe every time I passed by on my commute, but the enormous red "COMMING SOON" sign did catch my attention. So when Hot Franks finally opened about six weeks ago on a relatively sparse stretch of the Strip District, I was curious to check out the new restaurant.
Inside, Hot Franks is a large expanse of red walls, gleaming aluminum and tile, with plentiful windows that contribute to the open feel. The grill runs along one side -- feel free to grab a stool at the sandwich counter; along the other, there's an ambitious amount of seating. Tucked in the back of the long room is a full bar with a huge flat-screen TV.
When I visited one day after work, Neil Young and The Band played softly over the stereo, and the crowd was sparse, but steady. Those coming in the door seemed curious and asked lots of questions from the friendly counter staff. (Hot Franks is a family-run place, with similar locations in Neshannock, Pa., and New Castle.)
Both the name and the flaming hotdog logo suggest that Hot Franks is mainly a dog shop, but that's just part of the picture. In fact, the only hotdogs offered are a chili dog and a cheese dog -- about 1/25th of the menu. There's nothing wrong with sticking to the classics, of course -- it reminded me of the Detroit Coney joints I grew up with -- but fans of newly trendy specialty dogs might expect more options.
Instead, Hot Franks offers a variety of subs, soups, salads, gyros and other Greek items, along with traditional sides -- crispy, golden fries, chili fries and onion rings. For dessert, choices include: baklava, rice pudding, fruit salad and cheesecake. Vegetarian options are slim -- not even a veggie dog. (While it might seem silly to expect them, is there really that much difference between the ground whatever-whatever in a hotdog and the ground whatever-whatever in a veggie dog?)
If you want the Franks experience to go, you can also buy the signature dark, smoky chili sauce by the pint ($4.25) or gallon ($32). (If you're buying a gallon of this stuff, you'd better be in the privacy of your own home -- and God help you.)
It's definitely worth a stop at Hot Franks to see what it's all about, and I'll be back with friends -- maybe for lunch, maybe just a drink -- but mostly to see what this place turns into.