Some chef/owners like Eric Williams get it. Goof food tastes even better when it's served with a large helping of fun. Williams owns two Cleveland restaurants — Momocho, which showcases modern Mexican cuisine, and Happy Dog, a saloon with a singular menu focus — hot dogs. Both places are constantly jammed and wildly fun hangouts. For his efforts, Williams was nominated this year and last for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes region.
What's in those dishes on your table?
When you order a hot dog at Happy Dog (for $5), you can top it with up to 50 ingredients.
Has some knucklehead ever ordered all 50?
It happens. We have a joke in the kitchen that we could leave 10 or 15 ingredients off and they'd never notice. We try to steer them away from doing it.
What are some of the more unusual ingredients?
Some favorites are Oaxacan red chile & chocolate molé, pineapple-ginger-currant chutney, chipotle hollandaise, baby bok choy Coca Cola stir fry, vodka sauerkraut, raspberry crunch mustard, Fruit Loops, and alien pickle relish.
Fruit Loops as a hot dog topping? Really?
Yeah, surprisingly, Fruit Loops and molé go well together.
We'll take your word for it. What's the alien pickle relish about?
We take a traditional hot dog relish and add vinegar spiked with green food coloring to give it this bright green alien-looking color.
We've been to Happy Dog and we're pretty sure we saw some aliens eating there.
That was probably DJ Kishka. Every six weeks or so he shows up for DJ Kishka Polka Happy Hour, where he plays classic polka records wearing a fake beard, lederhosen and suspenders. It's ridiculous, campy and a lot of fun. Another regular is Ohio City Opry with Concrete Cowboy. If you can't have fun at Happy Dog, then you don't know how to have fun.
The Mexican wrestling masks on the table and in the fridge are oddly fun.
Yeah, they add to the funky decor at Momocho. I have a customer who frequently goes to Mexico and brings back masks and other Mexican trinkets that we sell in the restaurant. All the proceeds go to help fund a special needs school in Mexico.
Your interest in Latin food explains the Mexican Day of the Dead tattoo on your right arm, but what gives with the Asian ink on your left?
It's a tribute to my father, who has had multiple sclerosis for 33 years. The koi fish, cherry blossom and lotus plants are symbols of strength, beauty and the will to never give up. He's written books and stayed politically active. He's an inspiration to me.
Nice. We hear Guy Fieri was as well when he came to Momocho for his show, Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.
He and his crew came in for two days and shot for 13 hours one day and eight hours the next. What fun and great people they all were. And my business is up 40 percent since he's been here. Everyone wants to order what he had — the machaca taquito with coffee and ancho-braised brisket. Life is good.