Marie and I have mentioned several times here in the blog that we’re interested in small fast food chains that only serve a city or two, just in one little region of a state. Well, fair’s fair, it’s mainly me that’s interested and I’m just lucky to have such a supportive wife who indulges my curiosity. I know about many of these sorts of places and I’m always looking out for more. I was really surprised in November when I stopped by one of my favorite travel sites for restaurant ideas, Chopped Onion, and learn that Jacksonville has its own chain of hot dog shops. Chopped Onion’s report on this chain, Orange Tree, made it essential for me to swing by when Marie and I went down to visit Chris a week or so back.
Orange Tree opened their first store in 1968, and today there are seven in the Jacksonville area, all in strip shopping centers and in malls, although not always in the food court. The nearest one to Chris’s condo is in the Orange Park Mall, so a couple of hours after having lunch, Chris and his friend Mike directed me through the awful series of intersections and badly-planned traffic lights. We’d spent the time playing an incredibly fun party game called Apples to Apples, but when that finished and the group broke out this tedious bore called Carcassone, which Marie and her brother really enjoy, I figured it was time to go find a hot dog. So yeah, we went to a mall on the day after Christmas. Exercise is good. Since we had to park a quarter of a mile from the far end of the parking lot, we got a little.
At Orange Tree, it’s a pretty basic dog with not many frills. It’s a Ballpark brand frank, steamed buns, nothing too wild or weird. But then you get the onion sauce. Now this really is unusual. I’ve never run across anything like this before.
Evidently a common topping in New York City, this mix of onions, garlic and tomatoes – some recipes call for tomato sauce and others for, seriously, ketchup and water – is really interesting and very tasty. I was not aware of any place in the Atlanta area that served this up at the time I wrote the first draft of this chapter, although a co-worker of mine suggested that one of the hot dog stands at Philips Arena will do them that way. I’ll have to check that out next time I see a Hawks game. I did find a place a week ago that also has onion sauce, and I’ll tell you about it soon.
Now that I think about it, I’ve surprised myself by enjoying that onion sauce at all because I have not been enjoying onions very much at all recently. Marie’s taste buds have been given the whammy by pregnancy, to the extent that she can barely taste onion at all, while I seem to have gone in the opposite direction and am strangely finding them overpowering absolutely everywhere. Rushed for time and with evening guests due one night last week, we had to break down and have a pizza delivered, and the onions on that pie were just about the nastiest, maggot-like little intrusions on my palate that I could imagine, whereas Marie said she was surprised to learn there were onions on it at all; she couldn’t taste any.
At any rate, Onion Tree – wait, I mean Orange Tree – also serves up a little sweet smoothie drink called an Orange Frost. I neglected to order one, despite the writeup over at Chopped Orange – Onion! – suggesting that I should. But the dog with onion sauce was tasty and fun enough with a little sweet tea. Overall, it was a nice and rewarding little trip that let me sample another local curiosity that we can’t get at home. There are probably better meals in Jacksonville, but an Orange Tree is definitely a good idea for people passing through the area looking for something regionally special and exclusive. That said, if they must open in malls, could they maybe find one with a really great record store?
(Normally, with chains, I like to include small Urbanspoon links to one or two other locations beyond the one that I visited. Unfortunately, that site is listing twice as many locations as the restaurant’s own web site, so apparently some of these stores have closed and nobody has reported it to Urbanspoon. If you’re traveling through Jacksonville, phone first and make sure the location you plan to visit is open!)
Other blog posts about Orange Tree:
Chopped Onion (2010)