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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Restaurant Review: Al's Hot Dogs in Naugatuck, CT

This past Saturday, Boys In Hats had a 1:00pm gig at a block party at the Mill Plain Union Church in Waterbury, CT. That morning, Ian and I loaded up the car with the BIH sound system and instruments and headed off up Route 8. As we rolled up the Naugatuck Valley, making better than expected time, Ian and I made a quick decision to stop for a slightly early lunch.

When I worked in Naugatuck back in the late '90s, Al's Hot Dogs (Exit 26 off of Rt. 8 at 248 South Main St. in Naugatuck) was one of my guilty pleasures. Al's son, Ivan, was one of my confirmation students, so I could at least convince myself that I was supporting a church family when I went there, even if I wasn't exactly eating health food when I was there.

Al's is one of the fairly typical roadside hotdog stands that one finds in this part of Connecticut. During the summer months, you stand outside and order at a window and, when your food is ready, they call your number over a loudspeaker. There are picnic tables out front and a porch around the side. There's also limited seating indoors, which makes winter visits possible.

While Al's is primarily a hotdog stand, they've got a fairly extensive menu and you can have almost anything you want, so long as it is fried. From my perspective, however, the main reason for wanting to go is Al's famous "Hippo Dog" which, as I understand the lore, is named after a regular customer who always ordered several of them. Said customer was shaped, so the story goes, much like a hippopotamus. While I'm certain that, if I were to eat enough hippo dogs, I, too, would end up looking like a hippopotamus, I figure that, at the rate I consume them, I'm not in too terribly much danger.

But what, you ask, is a hippo dog? Al's famous hippo dogs are foot-long deep-fried hot dogs, served with chili, cheese, sauerkraut and bacon. Al's has the usual condiments that you can put on them as well, plus two of their own signature relishes. The hot relish is spicy enough that I know several people (Sissies!!!) who avoid it. At some point in the last ten years, Al has added a Hawaiian relish to the condiment table. With a sweet-and-sour flavor, it is quite good, but I prefer the hot relish and some brown mustard to complete the flavor signature of the hippo dog.

Al's is the only place I know that has birch beer on tap. That, along with a side of onion rings completes what I consider the quintissential Al's experience. Of course, there's also the "Bulldozer" burger, which also comes loaded with all kinds of heart-stopping goodness, but it would be silly to have one of those in the same week as a Hippo Dog.
Ian enjoys a Hippo Dog at Al's

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