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Summertime eats around Tampa Bay at Hot Dog 66 and BurgerMonger

We're in the middle of summer, and traditionally, that means the middle of grilling season. So, hamburgers and hot dogs hot off the grill every weekend! Right? • Problem: We're in Florida. Who wants to stand over a fire under the blazing sun and the regular showers of July? Our best grilling time comes when the rest of the country is blanketed in snow, and we get to gloat. • But we can still get burgers and dogs, without melting.

We'll start with the dogs.

Hot Dog 66, near the Carillon corridor on Ulmerton Road in unincorporated Pinellas County, offers cubicle commandos a fast lunch option that doesn't come from any of the fast-food chains lining the block. It brings an ice cream sundae bar mentality to the humble hot dog, with the "66" in the name referring to the number of toppings from which to choose. And the staff will let you in on a secret: There are more than 66. That's just how many they had when they named the place.

The dogs come in mini ($2.75), which is a Hebrew National and reasonably sized 6-inch hot dog; regular ($4), which is a Nathan's 10-inch; and jumbo ($8), which is also Nathan's, and stretches the boundaries of imagination and stomachs at a foot long and half-pound. Most of the toppings are free, but some go for a 50-cent premium, or 75 cents on the jumbo.

If all the choices get overwhelming, you can revert to classics. They'll do a chili dog, or a slaw dog, or a Chicago dog. They also have house specialty combinations, including a desert dog with cactus leaves, cheese, chili sauce and cilantro, and an Italian with mozzarella, pesto and sun-dried tomato.

But everyone asks about the Morning-After Dog. It was devised by a morning-show radio guy — you know, the wacky kind — and includes pickle, cheese sauce, mustard, potato sticks . . . and Butterfinger candy bar. I tried it, a small one, so you don't have to. But some of you still will. The story is that everyone who tries it loves it. I'll say it was better than I thought it would be, but I had low expectations. The crunchy candy is interesting against the mustard and pickle. But don't do it unless you are an on-a-dare kind of eater.

Now for a burger.

There has been buzz about the burgers at BurgerMonger on N Dale Mabry Highway in Hillsborough County. It spends a lot of its menu touting its sourcing. Kobe beef from Akaushi cattle. Potatoes from Winnemucca Farms. A lot of food factories are branding their wares with boutique-sounding labels, so it can be hard to know what to make of such things, but here is what I know: The burger ($6.99 for a 6-ounce patty) is really good, with a coarse-ground patty that just tastes beefier than the typical homogenous, pressed burger. You can get crazy with toppings here, too, but keep it simple so you can taste the beef. Also to that end, ask that your burger be cooked medium, or even medium-rare. The default doneness here is medium-well, which is a sad fate for quality meat. The bun is a soft, garlic-buttered challah roll, which also doesn't get in the way of the meat.

If you are avoiding burgers of deliciously marbled beef, the chicken sandwich ($6.99) is juicy and comes on ciabatta.

There's a bit of a talker on this menu too, and it comes in the form of a sauce. The "special monger sauce" is concocted of mayo, chili sauce . . . and watermelon. It was good with the fries. After all, what is a summer cookout without watermelon?

Jim Webster can be reached at jwebster@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8746. Webster dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

..Review

Hot Dog 66

4000 Ulmerton Road,
Clearwater, (727) 258-4802;
hotdog66.com

Cuisine: Hot dogs

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday

Details: Amex, V, MC; sangria, bottled beer

Prices: Entrees $2.75 to $8

Rating out of four stars:
Food: ★ Service: (counter)
Atmosphere: ★

Overall: ★



.Review

BurgerMonger

10412 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, (813) 968-6860;
burgermonger.com

Cuisine: Burgers

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Details: Amex, V, MC; limited beer, wine

Prices: Entrees $3.99 to $14.99

Rating out of four stars
Food: ★★
Service: (counter)
Atmosphere: ★

Overall: ★★

Summertime eats around Tampa Bay at Hot Dog 66 and BurgerMonger 07/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 12:33pm]
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