A break before the beach
By Justin Rude
Friday, May 25, 2012
In the restaurant world, it’s all about location, location, location. Hot Spot Cool Eats, a year-old roadside restaurant in Cambridge, Md., that offers gourmet hot dogs, soft-serve ice cream, pretzels and french fries, is an unlikely proof of that concept.
If you are driving from the Washington area to Ocean City or other beach spots near there, you will hit Cambridge about two hours into your journey. It’s right at the point in the road trip where you have to make the decision to push on to the beach without stopping for that last hour or pause to refresh before the final 60-mile stretch.
There is a reason to stop and take a break: Just on the far side of Cambridge, a dozen or so feet off Route 50, sits Hot Spot Cool Eats, which offers umbrellas, picnic tables and an early taste of vacation.
Owner Eric Ploeg owned the Luna Park Grille in Arlington’s Westover neighborhood for years before moving to the Eastern Shore to get away, as he said, “from the hustle and bustle of the metro area.” It wasn’t long before he was opening a new place, but unlike his tavernlike Arlington restaurant, Hot Spot is a breezy, family-friendly, alcohol-free establishment trafficking in classic flavors and heaping helpings of nostalgia.
On the menu: The restaurant offers 11 varieties of hot dogs, including such classics as the Coney Island foot-long, loaded Chicago red hots and Polish sausage to some nice surprises such as the Crabby Frank.
Toppings are fresh, and flavors are big across the board. Regional specialties, like the half-smoke and Chicago dog, hew close enough to expectations to please purists.
The Crabby Frank is a filler-light crab cake shaped like a hot dog and served on a bun. It’s a fun and surprising highlight.
The boardwalk style fries offer an early taste of the beach, but I’m more excited by the soft, salty, yeasty, made-from-scratch pretzels.
Hot Spot’s secret weapon is its soft serve. Unlike its national chain competitors, this roadside restaurant doesn’t make its treat from a powder or pre-made mix. Real ice cream is the primary ingredient, and the result is a richer, creamier dessert that you should save room for.
In your glass: Hot Spot Cool Eats offers a variety of Boylan’s sodas as well as such summer musts as lemonade and iced tea. Pro tip: For dessert, drink calories by ordering a root beer float. It’s just good science.
At your service: The folks working the register are friendly and eager. All food is cooked to order, so grab yourself a picnic table outside and get comfortable. The wait will be worth it. The restaurant will be open until 9 p.m. starting the middle of next week. It is open until 8 p.m. for carryout until then.
Bottom line: This is the best pit stop you are likely to make on your way to the beach.