Scruffy’s Hot Dogs: Chicago in Dayton

by Paula Johnson

Photo: The New York Dog (left) and the classic Chicago-style Scruffy Dog (right) at Scruffy’s; photo: Paula Johnson

Walking into Scruffy’s Hot Dogs is like walking into a hot dog joint in the Windy City. You will seriously be checking Google to verify your location because there is nothing in the place that doesn’t scream Chicago, from what’s put on the table in front of you to the Chicago memorabilia plastered all over the walls. Located on Main Street in Franklin since March, Scruffy’s was formerly a fixture in Springboro until owner Steve Bell lost his lease. If you were a regular at Scruffy’s in Springboro, you already know it’s worth the drive to the new location. If you haven’t tried a Chicago-style dog, it’s time to head to Franklin. But first, you must know the rules. And a little background.

Dogs rule

It’s important to know that the Chicago area has more hot dog restaurants than McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King restaurants combined. Hot dogs are taken as seriously as the heart attack you could wind up with if you over-consume them. But what actually IS a Chicago hot dog? It’s an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun. The dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. The complete assembly of a Chicago hot dog is said to be “dragged through the garden” due to the many toppings. Now the rules: YELLOW mustard, WHITE onion, and GREEN relish, the weird color of which is achieved by adding blue food coloring. But most imperative of all: NO KETCHUP. A number of Chicago hot dog vendors don’t even have it.

Dog rules

The late great Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago columnist Mike Royko said it better than anyone: “No, I won’t condemn anyone for putting ketchup on a hot dog. This is the land of the free. And if someone wants to put ketchup on a hot dog and actually eat the awful thing, that is their right. It is also their right to put mayo or chocolate syrup or toenail clippings or cat hair on a hot dog. Sure, it would be disgusting and perverted, and they would be shaming themselves and their loved ones. But under our system of government, it is their right to be barbarians.” Even President Obama concurred, saying, “You shouldn’t put ketchup on your hot dog.” So it’s clear there are rules, people. And Chicagoan Steve Bell respects them—mostly, offering up the traditional pedigree dog, along with a few mutts. PIP (Palate In Progress) and I discovered this, along with a few other surprises on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Hot Italian mess

Welcomed by Shelley and Denise behind the ordering counter, we began to get schooled in the ways of Scruffy’s. The menu is limited to a few dog choices, a few Polish sausage dogs, and another Chicago stand-by: Italian Beef. “You definitely want to have the Italian Beef ($4.95),” they advised. So exactly what is Italian Beef? It’s sirloin, wet roasted in broth, seasoned with oregano, garlic and spices, then sliced thin and reintroduced into its cooking broth where it marinates. The exact origin is unknown, but it was probably created by Italian immigrants who worked for Chicago’s old Union Stockyards in the early 1900s. They often would bring home some of the tougher, less desirable cuts of beef. To make the meat more palatable, it was slow-roasted to make it more tender, then slow-simmered in a spicy broth for flavor. Scruffy’s menu board states it’s served on gonnella bread, which turned out to be a long thick crusty roll, perfect for handling the juicy beef. I hadn’t seen this type of roll anywhere here and asked where Scruffy’s sources it. “Steve gets all the ingredients for everything we make from Chicago,” Shelley explained. I had mine with the spicy pepper and onion jardiniere, which was perfect with the salty savory beef. Shelley and Denise put it in a side container, advising it might be too spicy, but it proved to be exactly the right foil. Pro tip: eat this first! It’s a delicious wet mess, and it only gets messier the longer it sits.

Gone to the dogs

PIP and I were down with sampling some dogs and also the Polish sausage dogs. The Scruffy Dog was a must, that being the standard Chicago style, and the West Virginia Hound Dog ($3.50) featuring chili sauce, creamy cole slaw, mustard, and onion. We added a Polaski Dog Chicago Style ($3.95) and a Polaski Dog New York Style ($3.95) for good measure. The New York had sauerkraut, onions, and mustard. Favorite Scruffy’s whimsical touch: the dogs are served in plastic dog bowls.

“You have to try the awesome Killer Potato Salad! ($1.95),” the ladies insisted, although we clearly had more than enough food. I’m glad we did add it on. It was among the best I’ve tasted. And so were these dogs, my favorite being the traditional Chicago style. While I liked the Hound dog, I felt it lacked the zing and crunch the other had and was a bit too sweet with the cole slaw. I’d try it again, but add on some of those zesty little sport peppers. PIP concurred, and professed his love for the Polish sausage dogs. And though we had eaten enough for several people, we couldn’t let Denise and Shelley down when they encouraged us to try the Scruffy Dumpy ($2.00), a sort of cookie brownie cake that collapses when it bakes. They topped it with a dollop of German chocolate style pecan coconut icing. “It’s ooey gooey,” said PIP. “And I mean that in a good way.” Indeed it was. We lifted our groaningly full selves from the table and thanked the ladies for their instruction and service. “C’mon back soon!” they chimed. I can’t wait.

Scruffy’s Hot Dogs is located at 425 S. Main St. in Franklin. For more information, please visit

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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