An old dealer friend of mine, Tony Leone, who used to run the now-defunct Sound Central in St. Louis is a big food guy, as I am. One time a few years ago, he asked me, "Hey, do you like chili dogs?" Well, who doesn't like a good chili dog?! He was telling me about this old time ice cream parlor in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood called Crown Candy Kitchen that, he said, had great chili dogs. He told me that I really needed to give them a try at some point.
I never really thought about it again until I saw a segment on "Man Vs. Food" on The Travel Channel where Adam Richman was trying to down 120 ounces of Crown Candy Kitchen's thick and rich malts (see right). I thought, "Wait a minute! That's the place Tony told me to try for chili dogs!" So when I was in St. Louis recently, I made a point to go to Crown Candy Kitchen for a couple chili dogs.
Crown Candy Kitchen dates back to 1913 when friends Harry Karandzieff and Pete Jugaloff, two Greek immigrants, opened up the small confectionery shop. The sleepy little shop persevered through two World Wars and The Great Depression. In the early 50's, Harry's son, George, took over the little ice cream shop. During George's ownership, Crown Candy Kitchen became one of the favorite destinations for St. Louisians looking for a good malt or milk shake. Today, George's sons Andy, Mike and Tim run the business, with a little help from a group of fourth generation Karandzieff sons.
Crown Candy Kitchen is located in an area known as Old North St. Louis (see map). Now, I have to tell you, the area around Crown Candy Kitchen is decrepit and run down. There were buildings where the bricks were missing out of the walls of buildings. There were buildings with boarded up windows with graffiti on them. I was a little leery of even parking on the street before I got to Crown Candy Kitchen.
When I pulled up, I noticed that some of the buildings in the area were getting a makeover. There was a little bit of vibrancy to the neighborhood directly around Crown Candy Kitchen. A number of cars were parked on the street near the place and I had suddenly had no trepidation with going to get a couple chili dogs there.
It was just after 1 p.m. when I got into Crown Candy Kitchen. Understandably, the place was packed by a lunchtime crowd. In addition to ice cream sundaes, malts and shakes, and homemade chocolate candy, Crown Candy Kitchen has a soup and sandwich menu. I found one empty booth in the back corner and a waitress came along to see if I needed any time to look through the menu. I found the chili dog on the menu - Wow! It must be really good! It was $7.50! OK, let's give it a shot.
As I waited for my chili dog, I took a good look around Crown Candy Kitchen. It is the quintessential old-style ice cream parlor. There were old Coca-Cola ads and memorabilia, tons of candy jars, and a vintage jukebox greeted you as you came in. The booths were not very comfortable, but they added to the charm of the place. There were people coming and going throughout the time I was there. It was one busy place. And it was really kind of neat.
The waitress brought out a couple small bags of oyster crackers, telling me that my chili dog would be out momentarily. I opened one of the bags and had a couple crackers. They were horribly stale. Ugh!
My chili dog made it to my table. It was served in a bowl and you needed a fork to eat it. That's OK. I'll eat a chili dog any way it's served to me. Of course, the chili was the key component in the meal. And it was... OK. Nothing special, nothing to get all excited about. The chili was sort of thick and bland. The grilled beef hot dog was... OK. It tasted fine, but I have to say - I've had much better chili and chili dogs. It was like the chili had been sitting simmering on the stove for a few days. I'm not certain that - no, let me rephrase that. The chili dog was NOT worth $7.50. I've gotten three chili dogs at some places for less than $7.50. And they were much better than the one at Crown Candy Kitchen.
I'm sort of glad I went by myself and didn't meet Tony at Crown Candy Kitchen for a chili dog. I was highly disappointed with it. I'm sure since he grew up in St. Louis and probably had their chili dogs for years he thought they were great. Oh, I'm not saying that Crown Candy Kitchen was bad - it is still a must visit if you're in the St. Louis area. It's a very neat place and I'm sure their ice cream, malts and candies are excellent. I know I'll have to take Cindy there for a shake the next time we're in town together. But as far as their chili dogs go, I'd give Crown Candy Kitchen two stars for taste and one star for value.