Red Top, with its char-grilled hot dogs and a great view of the lake across from its outdoor tables, has become a Southtowns tradition for generations of families.
In fact, Red Top is celebrating its 67th season this year, so the great-grandparents of youngsters who are chowing down on its perfectly grilled Wardynski’s dogs could have had that same experience back in 1946.
You can’t argue with success, and those dogs are awesome. They are Wardy’s dogs ($2.39 plain; $2.60 with cheese or chili; $3 with both), and most people know that means that they have a slightly snappier skin and a different mix of spices than the more common Sahlen’s. They can also be ordered with peppers and onions ($2.70) or kraut ($2.65).
You order and pay, cash only, at the counter, then slide a few feet to the side and pick up your food. There’s an open bar of condiments off to the side where you pick up your food, with the hot sauce, for some reason, occupying a central location. Mind the labels and don’t mistake it for the ketchup!
John, Pat, John and I arrived during a drenching rainstorm, not all that unusual this year. We found that Red Top can be an all-weather destination – the parking strip is close enough to the door to dash in, and the well-built roofed pavilion shelters six wooden picnic tables. There are other tables outside for days when we aren’t being blessed by liquid sunshine. Multiple signs warn diners about the dog-stealing seagulls, but although a couple of shifty looking birds sauntered by, we had no problems.
The reputation of Red Top rests on its dogs and shakes ($3.25), and both of these are very good. The shakes were sweet and cold, not too thick to be undrinkable, with very few ice crystals. The chocolate had a nice chocolate flavor; the strawberry one, although enthusiastically pink, was just sweet.
We tried two other sandwiches off the grill, and both were good, although not as good as the dogs. The burger with peppers and onions ($2.70) was a flat patty topped with nicely cooked onions and peppers. The beef was plain and probably exactly what a child would want, although we found it a bit bland.
The Italian sausage sandwich ($2.65) was different from any we’ve encountered. The whiteboard menu explained that these sandwiches are made with two patties in a mild Italian sauce. The two long, thin patties were like the kind used to make a royal sub, lightly spiced and flavored by the topping.
The dog, burger and sausage were all served on fresh, soft rolls.
The barbecue beans ($2), which we ordered on impulse, turned out to be the star of the side dishes. Simmered in a slightly tomato-y base with a hint of smoke and studded with small bits of onion, they were delicious. By contrast, Red Tops’ famous cottage fries ($1.50), which resembled crosscut, slightly thicker potato chips, were limp and unsalted, and the nachos ($1.10) paired a generous stack of plain corn chips with a minuscule cup of orange liquid cheese.
Youngsters would probably love all these things just the way they were, and there’s no question that you can feed the gang cheaply and happily here. Judging from the crowd that lined up to order after the skies cleared, Red Top will be pleasing beachgoers and other seasonal hot dog fans for many more years to come.
Red Top Charcoal Broiled Hots
Where: 3360 Big Tree Road, Hamburg (627-51633)
Hours: 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily (during the Erie County Fair, it is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.).
Wheelchair access: Yes