In a few early posts, I wrote about my food-themed travels primarily in the Midwest and New England. One of the restaurant genres for which I was always on the make during those trips was old-school hamburger and hot dog joints with an abundance of roadfood charm.
Carl’s Drive-In just outside of St. Louis and Town Topic in Kansas City come to mind as being prime examples of such places. I took the cover photo on this blog’s homepage at Town Topic.
The notion of there being a place like that close to where I live has always seemed like a far-fetched fantasy that would require taking a time machine back to the middle of the twentieth century. But this dream turned out not to be a flight of fancy.
I reported on a place simply called The Hot Dog Stand that sat on a food-happy stretch of MacDade Boulevard in Milmont Park, PA, back in late 2021. While that place was a step in the right direction, their hot dogs weren’t very good and they just weren’t at the level of the better stands I’ve been to while traveling.
After reading that The Hot Dog Stand closed within the past year I forgot about them until about a week ago. That’s when I saw on Facebook that a new hot dog and burger stand called Relish had moved into the same building and was just transitioning from its soft opening phase to having regular hours. When they posted their menu online, let’s just say I was a tad excited. It was almost like they consulted me when putting it together.
Then I saw photos people were posting of their food along with rave reviews and I really started to get excited. Of course, I just wrote about how dangerous expectations can be when trying a new restaurant in my last post – so my excitement was accompanied by a touch of trepidation.
I put those feelings aside and made the 10-15 minute drive over to Relish Tuesday for lunch. As usual, I arrived early – a few minutes before their 11 a.m. opening time – in order to beat the crowds I had been reading about since last week and also to take my photos with a minimal level of obstruction.
They have an ordering window and outdoor seating on one side, but it was a little cool out for that. Besides, I wanted to get the full experience one can only enjoy while sitting at a counter stool with a view of the grill.
As previously alluded to, the menu is just about picture perfect. I thought about whether it would be preferable for them to offer cheesesteaks. But you can’t swing a broom without hitting a good steak shop in this region, while there are relatively few places left that specialize in burgers and dogs and that aren’t part of a chain.
And their prices seemed very reasonable after what I recently experienced when buying a hot dog at an ice cream stand that is only a few minutes from Relish.
It will take several visits to get to all of the menu items I want to sample. But for my first time, I decided to keep it simple and went with a basic hot dog with brown mustard and raw onions and a double cheeseburger with raw onions and pickles. Mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles were on the counter for self-service.
I intended to wash my burger and dog down with a draught Pennsylvania Dutch birch beer. I’ve mentioned this product in past posts when buying it by the bottle and was eagerly anticipating trying it on draught for the first time. Unfortunately, they must have run out by the end of the previous day and the replacement keg hadn’t arrived yet.
Relish features Pepsi products, but I wanted something a bit more special than a basic soda and requested a black and white milkshake. I’d have gotten around to ordering one of those on a subsequent visit anyway and it turned out to be outstanding – moderately thick and with just the right amount of chocolate syrup.
There was a pile of hot dogs on one side of the grill when I arrived, but my two smashed burger patties had the center to themselves.
The wait for my food to arrive was a short one. My lunch tray may not have looked like much given the absence of fries or onion rings, but I was extremely happy when I laid eyes on it. And with the shake factored in, it was enough to fill me up by the time I was finished
The hot dog was from Nathan’s and all-beef. While it would be wonderful if they used the ones with natural casings, they’re extremely difficult to find in these parts. It still had the great garlicky flavor I associate with Nathan’s franks and a bit of texture from the flat-top grill on which it was cooked.
Relish also serves Ripper-style dogs – meaning deep-fried, like the ones at Rutt’s Hut of Clifton, New Jersey, which made them famous. I’ll get around to ordering one of those at some point. I am curious about what the texture will be like. I also want to try a chili dog minus the cheese, but with mustard and onion – Coney Island or Michigan style, depending on where you’re from.
But while I enjoyed the hot dog, I’m much more passionate about hamburgers.
Small patties that are smashed thin on a flat-top grill and require a double to fill out a standard soft bun are my favorite style of burger. They are much easier to find in the Midwest, although Charlie’s Hamburgers, which I featured in one of my first blog posts, also serves them and is just a little east of Relish on MacDade. But the burgers at Charlie’s are so greasy that I can only eat them on relatively rare occasions and their current home is lacking the hole-in-the-wall charm that their former location possessed.
Again, it may not look pretty in terms of the patties not holding their form or covering the entire bottom half of the bun. But I’ve had enough burgers that appeared to be a mess at first sight, but which blew me away at first bite to not jump to any conclusions before tasting this one. The double cheeseburger I ate a decade ago at Hinkle’s Hamburgers of Bloomington, Indiana, is a good example of what I’m referring to:
And like that one, the double-cheeseburger I had Tuesday at Relish more than made up for any aesthetic deficiencies by being extremely juicy and tasting great. The grill chef did a very good job of seasoning the patties.
I’ll definitely be eating more of those in the months and years to come. The fact that I don’t have to wait until my next Midwest trip to have such a burger is a great feeling.
Don’t be surprised if I post on Relish again in the coming weeks. I have a lot of other places to get to and write about, but having one like this within 15 minutes of where I live is going to lead to frequent temptation that I may not always be able to resist.
5 thoughts on “Pinch Me – I Think I’m Dreaming”
I saw that milkshake coming a mile away. Great post, and I look forward to more.
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Thanks. I knew I’d have the birch beer and a shake – with it likely being a B&W – during my first two visits. They just aren’t coming in the order I anticipated.
Good-looking burger! It reminds me that I have yet to make my first visit to Wedl’s this year.
I see that Relish doesn’t offer a version of a Chicago dog. Are they relatively scarce in your area?
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They aren’t too common around here. You can get one at Freddy’s (the chain) and I’m sure there are a few other places, but it’s not a big thing.
Hot dog shops in general aren’t big around here. I’ve heard it theorized that that’s because of our heavy focus on cheesesteaks and a couple other long-roll sandwiches.