Go Columbia

What’s good here: A new place in Lexington for specialty hot dogs

Top Dogs offers traditional dogs, and not-so-traditional dogs – even one with a wild game topping.
Top Dogs offers traditional dogs, and not-so-traditional dogs – even one with a wild game topping. jjkendall@thestate.com

For four generations, Lexington native Jeff Frye’s family has owned a piece of prime real estate on Main Street in downtown Lexington.

For years, the building was leased out to various businesses and was costing more to keep up than the rent checks could cover.

Then, a year-and-a-half ago, Frye, a heating and air technician, and his wife, Milana, a nurse, decided to make the most of the building and its location and start a business they hoped would help revitalize the downtown area while providing a paycheck for their family.

On July 31, after 18 months of work and planning, the couple opened Top Dogs, a restaurant featuring hot dogs with made-from-scratch and somewhat unique toppings – such as the featured Wild Game dog that includes a wild boar topping cooked with cranberries and shiraz wine.

“When we first opened, a lot of people asked about game,” Milana said. “We had to go through a lot of hoops to be approved to sell wild game in South Carolina, but that has given us just the angle we wanted to set us apart from everyone else.”

Each Monday, the restaurant features a different “Top Dog,” which may be on the menu or may feature a topping that is a new recipe Milana is testing to top the restaurants’ Nathan’s brand hotdogs.

“Milana makes the toppings from scratch – They are all her recipes,” Jeff said.

While the chili slaw dog is always a popular choice for dogs in the South, Top Dogs also is selling a lot of its Ruben – a hotdog topped with brown mustard, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Milana’s homemade Thousand Island-ish Top Dog Sauce. Another good seller is Brauts dogs topped with brown mustard, grilled onions and peppers.

“We go through one to two gallons of the Ruben topping a day,” Milana said.

Free topping choices for a dog include the usual (onions, relish, mustard and ketchup) and the not-so-usual (Sriracha ketchup, barbecue ketchup and the Top Dog Sauce). Premium toppings include homemade chili, coleslaw, pimento cheese and sauerkraut.

Top Dogs also serves milkshakes made from hand-dipped chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream.

How did Top Dog get its start?

Since hot dogs are as American as baseball, it makes sense that the idea for Top Dogs came to Milana in a dream – something akin to the “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” storyline of the best baseball movie of all time.

Not only did the idea for the restaurant come out of that dream, but the toppings and their recipes did, as well.

“When she told me about that dream, I just said, ‘You know what? We should do this. You had that dream for a reason,’” Jeff said. “We were hopeful that it would work for us and that it would bring a little joy to Main Street at the same time.”

The name “Top Dogs” wasn’t part of the dream, however, but rather from the Fryes’ 13-year-old son.

What else?

Top Dogs got a busy kick-start when it partnered with the Lexington Police Department on Aug. 4 to provide dogs for the communitywide event National Night Out at Lexington’s Gibson Pond Park.

“We had been open for three days, and that evening, we prepared and served 500 hot dogs,” Milana said.

What does the place look like?

Top Dog keeps the decor clean, bright and simple with bright red and yellow metal chairs that mimic the two oldest and most popular hot dog toppings. The interior seats up to 38 while a couple of patio tables and umbrellas offer options of dining outside, where patrons can watch Main Street business while enjoying a Top Dog.

Who eats here?

Because it’s located in downtown Lexington, Top Dogs sees a lot of professionals from town who don’t have to get into their cars to drive to lunch.

The restaurant also sees a lot of families and, Milana said, a lot of senior citizens who live close to town.

“We offer an actual parking lot, which is a big plus for an in-town business,” Milana said. “And we offer a great option for quick, homemade foods that Main Street hasn’t had.”

Top Dogs

LOCATION: 115 W. Main St., Lexington, SC 29072

HOURS: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday.

PRICES: One Top Dog with basic toppings starts at $1.99; Special Top Dogs – Brauts and Wild Game – are $4.25 each. Top Dog combos come with a bag of chips and a 20-ounce drink for $5.75 with one dog, or $8 for three dogs.

INFO: (803) 708-8171