This weekend, my wife and I decided to take an impromptu road trip down to Philadelphia. We’d never visited, so feeling adventurous, we peeled off to make the 7 hour drive and enjoy a couple of days in the city of Brotherly Love. However, we needed to fuel up at the mid-way point, we made the only choice we could; stopping for dinner at an iconic Syracuse restaurant.
Heid’s of Liverpool opened for business as a meat shop in 1886. By 1917, the business had been fully converted into the drive-in style eatery that stands there today. Little has changed. Other than being re-touched with fresh paint, and the occasional cost of living increase, they’re still working away exactly as they did back in 1917, serving up fresh Hoffman dogs, topped with their line of condiments.
We arrived a little before 7:00pm on Friday night, and with the sun shining at a perfect 28 degrees without a cloud to be seen, both the lines for the dogs and ice cream were hopping. We took our place in line behind a number of people who were passing the time by catching Pokemon on their phones. Given the number of Pokemons being caught, it might not be outside the realm of possibility that the secret to their chili is ground up Pikachu. I plan on alerting Dateline.
The menu isn’t vast, relying strictly on what they do best. You start with the dog; either a traditional frank, or the white coney. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even get one of each inside the same bun. Given their limited options, upwards of 50 dogs are sitting on the grill at any given time, developing a beautiful dark crust on the outside. With the average customer getting 2-3 dogs, they’re able to keep the line moving at a reasonable pace – and given their popularity, this is critical.
The side-dishes are served cafeteria style, and my wife grabbed a giant half pickle off the line to accompany our meal. She decided she wanted to try a regular chili dog, with a side of their fries and gravy. I preferred to pass on any sides, leaving room to try two different hot dogs instead – a regular frank, and a Texas Hot, which is dressed with chili, onions, and their homemade spicy mustard. Neither one of us felt brave enough to try the coney.
After a quick stop at the condiments bar (which was limited to ketchup, spicy brown mustard, sweet relish, dill relish, and onions), we grabbed a table and went to work.
The first bite immediately tells you why this place has remained so strong over the years. The crust has a good crunch to it, and the casing gives you a great snap as you bite through – at which point you’re greeted by the salty, tender interior. It’s so basic in nature, but it works so well. I was sorry I didn’t buy a bottle of their homemade mustard, but I didn’t have the time to go back through the line a second time to get some. It’s like a cross between your traditional New York style spicy brown, and the more vinegar-heavy regular yellow mustard that we’re familiar with in the Ottawa area – and the middle ground between the two works really well.
The chili was delicious, with a surprisingly zippy kick. It was thick enough to stay on the dog without spilling over, and made for a great pairing. I tried one of my wife’s fries, and I wasn’t really blown away – re-affirming my decision to stick to the dogs as the right one. I also tried a bite of pickle, which was crisp and cool, and loaded with garlicky goodness.
Heid’s is also known for their Birch Beer, but sugar and I don’t have a great relationship, and I wanted to leave a little space for a couple of bites of ice cream after the meal, so I sadly had to pass on a drink while my wife simply got a diet Coke. Heid’s Sweet Treats sits right next door to the hot dog shop, and is armed with about 25 flavors of ice cream. We ordered a couple of Junior Cones, and the incredulous server warned us that they weren’t very big. Not Very Big was exactly the size I wanted, so when I was then given a standard issue ice-cream cone, I let out a laugh. Only in America can a regular ice cream cone be labelled Not Very Big.
I tried their Graham Slam concoction, which was amazing. The ice cream had graham cracker flavor infused right into it, as well as bits of graham cracker crumbs, marshmallows, and chocolate throughout. It was like a graham-cracker heavy s’more, and while no one ever goes into a s’more talking about the graham cracker, it absolutely worked here. They had a promotional Purple Zebra soft serve custard available, which was what my wife opted for. Essentially, it was a vanilla and raspberry mix, and she said she’d get it again.
Heid’s is your quintessential American success story, serving up classic fare at reasonable prices. They’ve made it 130 years following this recipe, and given the continued high quality delivery, expect them around for 130 more.
Address: 305 Oswego St, Liverpool, NY