Downtown Tampa now has a restaurant that will thrill those who long for real Coney Island eats: An authentic Nathan's hot dog restaurant.
And thus another dog restaurant adds to a growing number of weiner-focused eateries in the area.
The new Nathan's is a combination - one half hot dogs, one half salads. As for the hot dogs, "This is the real thing," said Rob Szasz, who owns the restaurant, which opened Wednesday at the foot of the parking deck of the Bank of America building at 200 N. Tampa St. "Nathan's only makes this kind for the restaurant. Even the buns are made in New York and brought down here."
A standard Nathan's dog costs $2.99, a chili cheese dog $3.89 and a combination meal with soda and fries costs $7.49.
As a brand, Nathan's is perhaps best known as the provider and sponsor of its signature hot-dog eating contest. The Nathan's company distributes products in all 50 states, sold 435 million hot dogs in 2012 and has several restaurant locations in Central and South Florida - but this is the first in the greater Tampa region.
For those with perhaps more willpower, the non-hotdog half of the restaurant is salad focused. Similar to what they do at a Chipotle, customers walk up to a counter where saladmakers assemble and customize salads from various ingredients. A large salad costs about $6.99.
Szasz is also the owner of the downtown Tropical Smoothie location, which became semi-famous in town after it appeared on the Animal Planet reality TV show "Tanked," where aquarium builders constructed an enormous fish tank for the location.
As for Nathan's, after launching the downtown location, Szasz hopes to replicate the dog and salad concept in North Tampa and potentially downtown St. Petersburg in the next few years.
Nathan's joins several other hot dog restaurants sprouting up in the area, including the long-established Mel's Hot Dogs by Busch Gardens and the locally based food truck American Wiener. Twinz Big City Hotdogs recently opened on North Dale Mabry Highway in the Carrollwood area, offering a variety of Chicago and New York-style dogs, plus some local varieties, including the Tampa Bay Dog with Polish sausage, spicy mustard, mayo, barbecue sauce, onions, slaw and applewood-smoked bacon. Also, the Meaner Wiener recently opened in South Tampa, offering Chicago, New York, Texas and Coney Island-style dogs, corn dogs and a jumbo, half-pound Meaner Wiener that the restaurant warns is "not for the weak stomach."