Reason to visit: Specialty hot dogs, especially the Deputy Dawg,
The food: Hot dogs are the heart and soul of Woody’s, whose slogan is “Home of the Deputy Dawg” (also spelled Deputy Dog depending where you look), a model that comes covered with pulled pork, cheddar and barbecue sauce. The rest of the specialty dogs, a dozen in all, are “The Posse,” while regular make-your-own franks are available with choice of toppings, including house-made hot relish, chopped or grilled onion, grilled peppers, chili and cheese. The unifying theme is the frank itself, always a foot-long, all-beef model that is thin with a nice snappy exterior, and to me very similar to a longer version of a Hebrew National supermarket frank. The dogs are cooked well done, until almost blistered, enhancing the nice snap, and the New England-style rolls — the best style, with flat exposed sides — are buttered and griddled, a great touch.
Because the underlying sausage and bun are so good, most of the Posse offerings are also good, especially the signature Deputy Dawg, which is very balanced, with just the right portion of pulled pork and cheese so that you can appreciate them but still taste the dog itself. The only reservation I had was the barbecue sauce, which tastes like bottled supermarket variety, too sweet. The Southern Slaw Dog was topped with cole slaw and chili, a combination that works well but is unusual (and bit messy). The chili here is “Connecticut style,” meaning it has ground beef, no beans, and is not spicy, more a meat sauce that adds flavor. Add hot sauce if you want a bite. The St. Bernard combines traditional deli mustard with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, another unusual touch suitable for its alpine flair, but this combo works well.
I really wanted to try the New England Baked Bean Dog, the most uniquely regional local specialty, but they were out of beans both times I visited. I went with a friend from Chicago who missed his hometown taste and tried the Chicago Dog, which was prepared very authentically, with yellow mustard, relish, pickle, tomato, spicy crunchy sport peppers and celery salt. But while he appreciated the attention to detail, he complained that it did not have the signature flavor from the Vienna Beef dog widely used in the Windy City, which just goes to show how hard it is to recreate regional specialties from elsewhere to suit the most demanding tastes. But overall, the hot dogs at Woody’s are very good, whichever toppings you like, and I think the sausage itself is better than a Vienna Beef.
The real surprise was the cheeseburger, which is served on white Texas toast. Woody’s is just a short drive from New Haven, home of Louis’ Lunch, the place generally credited with inventing the hamburger. At Louis' they still serve theirs on white bread because when they created the burger no one had yet invented the bun. While Louis' is a fun and historical spot that has been profiled in this column, the burger at Woody’s is better, and the bread is much better. Liked the hot dog rolls, it is griddled for extra richness and a tiny bit of contrasting crunch.
good hot dogs at reasonable prices, and I would gladly go back.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: No, but very good hot dogs easily accessed from I-91 or I-84 and better than roadside fast food options.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)