I’ve lived in the Town of Tonawanda for more than two decades, and there’s one end of town I just can’t visit enough. It’s the home of a summertime favorite, Louie’s Original Foot Long Hot Dogs.
The restaurant has been a warm-weather staple for the past 64 years, offering the classics you’d expect from a Western New York hot dog stand, along with several specialties to satisfy a range of customers, from carnivores to vegetarians.
On a recent stormy evening, the restaurant housed a few diners at red picnic tables in a screened-in patio while several owners and employees worked the register, tended the charcoal grill and replenished supplies. Several more picnic tables are available on the lawn for outdoor picnicking on nicer days.
The aroma of the charcoal from behind the counter took me back to when I was a young girl, when Dad would barbecue several dozen franks over the coals for our family of eight on a hot summer evening. The moment of nostalgia prompted me to order the foot-long ($3.96). The choices for toppings abound, including regular and Weber’s mustard, ketchup, onions, hot sauce, sauerkraut, pickles, mushrooms, sautéed peppers and onions and “grass” – sautéed dandelion greens.
Intrigued by the latter, I decided to give something different a try. The dandelion greens were much like cooked spinach with a bite. Together with the charred flavor of the Sahlen’s hot dog and the zing of the mustard, the sandwich was a picnic pleaser.
As if the crunch of the hot dog casing wasn’t great enough, the onion rings ($3.26) were fried up with a crispy, thick batter, but not so thick that the onion flavor was lost. They were done up perfectly because the onion didn’t string all the way out with the first bite. And the rings were huge – one was almost as large as my face.
Louie’s doesn’t just serve hot dogs. About a dozen hamburgers and cheeseburgers ($2.69 to $6.59) are on the menu and feature extras such as blue cheese, mushroom, steak sauce or hot peppers. There’s even a Pittsburgh steak sandwich ($6.95) that is topped with mozzarella, fries and coleslaw. Like me, one of the owners is a Steelers fan, and the logo can be found next to the sandwich on the menu.
Other sandwiches include Italian and Polish sausage ($4.95 to $5.35), broiled bologna (4.79), chicken ($5.45 to $10.49) and turkey burgers ($4.49 to $4.99). From the sea, Louie’s offers a breaded haddock sandwich ($4.95) and a salmon burger ($4.69).
The eatery also keeps vegetarian customers in mind by offering a veggie dog ($2.69). Made with soy and wheat protein and “secret spices,” owners pitch it as tasting just like their regular wieners. Garden specialties ($3.99 to $4.79) include a veggie burger, veggie burger with dandelion and the vegetarian bacon cheeseburger, which is made with 100 percent vegetarian bacon.
It may be out of the way for some, but Louie’s is worth a detour to the far end of the Town of Tonawanda if you’re searching for old-time flavor and a friendly atmosphere.
Louie’s Original Foot Long Hot Dogs
Where: 69 Grand Island Blvd., Town of Tonawanda (877-9701).
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday; seasonal (opens when the snow stops flying in the spring, closes in November).
Wheelchair accessible: Restaurant, yes; restrooms, no.
Extras: Vegetarian options available; sides include french fries, curly fries, sweet potato fries, pizza logs, chili and potato buttons; beverages include soft drinks, milk and milkshakes; chicken fingers available (five for $10.79 or 10 for $16.75).