If you encounter people brandishing hot dogs and hurling smoothies at each other on Raleigh's Fayetteville Street, don't be alarmed. You've simply come across zealous devotees of Happy and Hale and Tasty 8's Gourmet Hot Dog Company squaring off in the eternal struggle between discipline and indulgence.
Both opened over the summer and it's easy to tell which side they're on even before you see their menus thanks to their names.
Happy and Hale has a small menu divided into two sections—"drink your veggies" and "eat your veggies." The eat section features various salads with combinations well beyond a few leaves of romaine topped with a couple of baby tomatoes and some shredded cheese. These salads are crafted.
The Happy Herbs for example is a blend of arugula, cilantro, dill, mint, baby radish, red onion, crushed cashews and Parmesan in a citrus grapeseed oil dressing. You can get it, like any of the other salads, tossed or chopped. It's a pungent bowl of leafy goodness. Some people are turned off by cilantro and if you're one of those you should look elsewhere on the menu. Perhaps the Walter's Harvest (arugula, roasted butternut squash, dried cranberries, walnuts, goat cheese and orange honey dressing) or the Big Salad (spinach, mesculin, roasted sweet potato, onion, avocado and blue cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette) would suit your palate better.
If you're looking for something more than a cold salad, try the Quinoa Bowl. It combines quinoa, black beans, diced tomato, red onion, avocado, cilantro, feta cheese and the crunch of a tortilla with a red pepper vinaigrette. It's a winner and currently the only dish on the menu served warm.
Maybe it's a residual effect of being told to eat my vegetables as a child but I enjoy the "drink your veggies" portion of the menu more than the salad lineup. There are a variety of cold-pressed juices including the Kale Krusader, Romain Calm and the Pineapple Express. I especially liked the Rise N' Shine with its flavor combo of orange, carrot, apple and ginger root. (For those who don't know, cold press juices are said to retain more nutrients by avoiding the heat and oxidation created by traditional centrifugal juicing methods used in most places.)
Even more to my liking were the smoothies. There may be one that isn't good, but I haven't found it yet. An excellent choice is the City of Oats, which is a much better smoothie than pun, with strawberry, banana, oats, cinnamon, date, peanut butter and almond milk. The Almond Brothers is my personal favorite, a wonderful concoction of almond butter, banana, almond milk, ground coffee and cacao nibs. A week has passed since I had one, and it still calls my name.
Another point in favor of drinking your veggies is that there is no seating in Happy and Hale. There are a few tables outside, and it is located in the heart of the City Plaza so finding a place to settle isn't difficult, but it is something to consider if, like me, you appreciate the comforts of climate control.
One more quibble: On a recent visit five employees were behind the counter and three customers stood in front, yet several minutes passed without anyone speaking to the customers or asking if they were ready to order. They were prepping for the upcoming lunch rush, so some distraction is understandable, but still it was a tad annoying.
That certainly hasn't been a problem at Tasty 8's. Everyone encountered so far behind its counter has ranged from chipper to welcoming to disconcertingly gregarious. No one is going to tell you to eat your veggies either, although they may ask if you want to pile some on your hot dog.
There are only eight hot dogs to choose from but it may take you a few minutes to decide. For me it comes down to either the El Perro, which delivers a nice kick thanks to a jalapeno-cheddar Buffalo brat with queso con chorizo, guacamole, salsa and jalapenos, or the Yo Adrian, which brings the eye of the tiger with an Angus beef dog, Philly steak, peppers, onions and, of course, Cheese Whiz. Other choices include the Southern Comfort (includes blue cheese slaw and Carolina chili), the National (with pimento cheese and fried okra) and the Coop (with chicken-apple sausage and avocado). All of the breads are made locally at Neomonde bakery, so the buns are tasty fresh.
For those avoiding meat, there is the Tree Hugger, comprising falafel, Green Goddess dressing, arugula, cucumber, tomato and lemon vinaigrette. It's a bit dry though, so if your tastes go in that direction, you may be better off walking down the street to Happy and Hale. (You can also sub the falafel into the other styles on the menu, but no more successfully.)
Along with the dogs there are Belgian frites or sweet potato fries with eight dipping sauces to choose from, eight sodas, eight North Carolina microbrews on tap (sensing a numerical theme here?) and eight "gourmet" shakes. Among the sauces, the Dijon aioli is particularly notable. If indulging in a shake, the black raspberry Berry Berry Good lives up to its name. The Heart & Seoul, a Korean chile chocolate flavor, is a close second.
There are also corn dogs available, although oddly enough there are only two to choose from instead of eight. The Corn Dog Whisperer is a battered and fried beef dog that would make Rick Perry ecstatic (google the Texas governor and corn dog to see him enjoying one at the Iowa State Fair—and the Internet memes that followed). It certainly made me happy.
Having indulged more than once at Tasty 8's recently, my next visit to Fayetteville Street may require waddling down to Happy and Hale for some healthier eating. Fortunately, it doesn't matter whether the deep-fried devil on my left shoulder or the arugula-munching angel on my right shoulder wins out. Either way, my stomach will be happy.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Dual treat."