CHEAP EATS: Scoop Dog tricks out the buns

Chicago Dog (left) and Detroit Dog at The Original Scoop Dog on John F. Kennedy Boulevard in North Little Rock
Chicago Dog (left) and Detroit Dog at The Original Scoop Dog on John F. Kennedy Boulevard in North Little Rock

— The question keeps popping up in this dog-eat-dog market: Where around here can you get a decent hot dog? The answer used to be, “You mean aside from the ballpark? I dunno,” because the few places that did serve decent hot dogs came and went.

It has become an easier and a harder question to answer than it used to be.

The arrival of a Nathan’s Famous kiosk in the River Market’s Ottenheimer Market Hall provides a fixed place to direct frankfurter foragers. And there’s been a boom in the number of on-street and off-street hot dog carts, some of them dealing pretty high quality dogs, though it’s not always easy to pin them down. (For example: Looking for “Hot Dog Mike?” The best place to find out where he’s parking his buns is on his Twitter page.)

Now there’s The Original Scoop Dog, recently opened in a former frozen custard stand - well, it’s still a frozen custard stand, actually - on the north end of North Little Rock’s John F. Kennedy Boulevard restaurant row.

At a glance, from the cute logo (a smiling pup in sunglasses peeking out of an ice-cream cone) and the professional print job on the to-go menus, you wouldthink it’s part of a chain. But believe the “original” part of the name. Owners Joe and Kim Yanosick opened the place as a Shakey’s Frozen Custard franchise in the late ’90s, and sometimes at least one of their five kids is working in the kitchen and serving customers with friendly smiles.

Starting with “authentic ‘Chicago’s Finest’ dogs” as a base, Scoop Dog offers a half-dozen well-dressed regional wieners for $2.95, including the Chicago Dog, topped with yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions, tomato slices, spicy pickled “sport” peppers, kosher pickle spear and a dash of celery salt; the Detroit Dog, smothered in all-beef chili, raw white onion, yellow mustard and cheddar cheese sauce; and the Atlanta Dog, blanketed in coleslaw.

Those are the ones we didn’t try. We admire all the ones we did:

The Kansas City Dog, which the menu describes as “an ode to the Reuben sandwich,” wrapped in a slice of Swiss cheese and topped with sauerkraut. The cold kraut is a bit of a shock at first bite, but it provides a nice contrast with the hot link.

The New York Dog, with brown mustard and a tangy tomato-paste-based sauce with embedded onion chunks. One bite and you may even feel the subway rumble underfoot.

We’re not normally fans of chili dogs, but we thoroughly enjoyed the Chili Cheese Dog, topped with a big slug of gooey chili and even gooier cheddar goop.

If you’re really not a frankfurter fan, there’s the “Not a Dog,” which the menu calls “a great alternative (but not a substitute),” finely ground beef piled into a bun and topped with cheddar goop, mustard and pickle chunks.It tastes like a cheeseburger but you’ll want to add a fork to the equation - it’s a combination not really designed for a hot dog bun and it’s messy as all get out. (And by the way, the only thing on which we have to chide the Scoop Dog folks: They’re very miserly with the napkins, though they will hand you extras if you ask.)

Even the best hot dog is only a sausage without agood bun, and these are fresh and flavorful.

There’s also something on the menu called “Big Dog Nachos” ($4.50).

A full “second” menu offers frozen custard and frozen custard-based concoctions. We had an excellent chocolate shake (a bit steep at $4.09 small, $4.79 large). Some of the depicted sundaes ($4.19, $4.99), many with cute doggie names, would have cowed a less dedicated-to-diet diner, particularly the Chocolate Lab, chocolate custard with Oreo bits, hot fudge and topped with chocolate chips and a cherry. (Also, the “Good Ole” Beagle, vanilla custard topped with hot fudge, caramel and pecans. Arf!)

Scoop Dog also offers “concretes” ($3.59 small, $4.19 for single toppings, $4.19 and $4.74 for “specialties”), frozen custard with an awe-inspiring variety of available toppings mixed or swirled in. All of the sundaes are also available as “concretes.”

Most of the transactions pass through the drivethrough, but you can also park and use the front walkup window (part of the window space is taken up with Elvis-iana, including what looks like an authentic report card signed by Vernon). Depending on what you order and how many other folks there are in line, it might take a couple of minutes or you might have a sizable wait.

There are a couple of picnic tables up front if you’d like to consume on the premises. The way they’re placed requires entering drivers to get a bit creative as they take a sharp right turn around the “obstacle” - slow down and be careful.

The Original Scoop Dog Address: 5508 John F. Kennedy Blvd., North Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday Credit cards: None - cash and checks only Alcoholic beverages: No Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 753-5407

Weekend, Pages 33 on 10/07/2010