Over-the-top Eats at Winter Park Underdog
Hot dogs! Get yer hot dogs! Fresh cotton candy hot dogs! Jackfruit hot dogs! Get yer Kobe, bacon, mac-and-cheese hot dogs!
Burgers topped with black truffle and foie, maple bacon donuts, french fries soaked in absinthe, set ablaze, and fired out of a t-shirt cannon into my open mouth. OK, the last one is a wish list item, but the point is that very few classics have managed to escape our current fascination with fancying and fussing up – of fixing what’s not broken. Sausage Shack, located in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square, has taken its turn with the common hot dog, churning out inventive twists on our nation’s beloved mystery meat in a bun. You can’t blame them. Classics are classics for a reason, and It’s easier to differentiate a proven winner than to gamble on – say – a haggis stand.
For those unfamiliar with Orlando’s nearby northern ‘burbs, Hannibal Square has fast become the more interesting (and much smaller) counterpart to the tourist-fueled mediocrity that festers a few blocks away on much of what is Winter Park’s Park Avenue. Munch and I frequently hit New England Avenue – the quiet, brick-paved street that runs through it for nibbles and a tipple. Although few options currently stand out as must-try, the area is littered with businesses that feel far closer to the ground and the customer than the big-restaurant-group boys nearby.
It was here and not so long ago that a turret of real estate space caught our collective eye; A rounded tower with window-serve possibilities in the heart of Hannibal Square’s small commercial zone. It was pondered and quickly dismissed as a pipe dream. Zero seating. Impossibly tiny kitchen. Year-round al fresco dining in Orlando? No, thanks. Just too many strikes to give it a second thought. So, it was a surprise when Sausage Shack ignored the obvious challenges and opened its non-existent doors in the space we’d had our eye on. I have to admit to not being overly convinced (and am still not to this day) that it’s a lasting concept. A solely outdoor Orlando venue selling glorified basics that for at least 5 months out of the year will have eaters feeling like they’re being blowtorched. However (however!) after two recent visits my hopes are higher than they were initially.
Since opening, I’d been looking for an excuse to swing by Sausage Shack and found it in the form of an impromptu stein-hoisting competition with local college co-eds. Yep. No lie. As part of its Oktoberfestivities, Sausage Shack hosted an early evening of fun, frivolity, and beer that we just happened to stumble across. So, I dove in, hoisting my mug alongside contestants much more suited to the task. I was the first one to fall, leaving me to stew in my freebie barrel-sized mug of something that tasted like Miller Lite. In the haze of Teutonic bouts of strength and watery beer, I caught a glimpse of the food passing by and it looked good. Very good. Good enough to bring us back the following week to dig in.
First, Sausage Shack is a place you want to like. It’s a couple of guys making a go of it selling fancy hot dogs and beer – it’s as DIY as can be, has a great vibe when the weather’s right, and is come as you are casual. The type of place you could roll up to in your PJ’s or a three-piece and spend 5 minutes wolfing down a dog or a couple of hours hanging out with friends.
We tried several dogs, several sides, and several mustards from their ‘mustard bar’ (a plastic caddy featuring a dozen mustards; Sriracha, horseradish, honey, chimichurri and more).
Service is counter order, seating is communal at picnic tables and benches, and the crowd is an eclectic blend of ages, styles, and walks of life. On our first visit, Sausage Shack had converted an Igloo cooler into a makeshift tap for Sam Adams Oktoberfest, but on normal days they feature a solid selection of both local, big brand, and imported beer, as well as wine and prosecco.
Foodwise, the Choripan ($7.49) was the undisputed star of the show. It worked on every single level. The crunch and yield of a perfectly toasted hoagie roll giving way to the fatty goodness of quality chorizo combined with the sharpness of fresh chimichurri. It’s what carnivorous dreams are made of. We’ll be back for this.
This was followed by the Blue Moon ($7.99) – a beer bratwurst in a toasted pretzel roll, topped with Blue Moon blue cheese sauce and sauerkraut. This was a bit less wowzer than the Choripan, largely due to what we felt was a lack of blue cheese flavor in the sauce, and the fact that we tried it after being punched in the brain by Choripan goodness.
The Sausage Shack offers three veggie options (all $7.99); The Jack of All Fruit (jackfruit in BBQ mustard), Chipotle Vegan, and Italian Vegan. Munch opted for the latter which featured eggplant and fennel and was topped with sautéed peppers and onions. It was a hit.
You can also build your own choosing from a variety of links, from Wagyu to andouille, opt for a sausage and pretzel platter, or dive into a pint cup of Bangers and Mash (British Cumberland sausage and mashed potatoes). There is a breakfast menu and a ‘healthy’ menu with the words chia and acai splashed about, but why anyone would come to a place called Sausage Shack and order an acai bowl is beyond my comprehension.
Sides were better on paper than the plate, not hitting the same mark as the fun bun stuff. If you’re a fan of creamy mac-and-cheese, you’ll likely dig their basic version, and chili was Hormel-ish. Not necessarily a knock in that Hormel chili seems to like hot dogs and vice versa, but there was nothing unexpected or overly impressive riding shotgun to our sausages.
On this visit, we avoided the fussy stuff – the aforementioned Cotton Candy Dog and the Donut Dog, for instance – but will return and give them a shot when we feel the need to giggle. And, we will return (on cooler days). Sausage Shack is a very welcome addition to Winter Park. It provides the dead simple, straightforward eating experience the surrounding neighborhood is in short supply of.