One of Ann Arbor’s best kept secrets, Le Dog, would be easy to miss if it weren’t painted bright red. Broken lightbulbs hang from their sockets underneath its curved awning. Its corners are damaged from years of quiet vigilance. Great white globe lights adorn the red spires of its supports; ironic, considering it’s never been and never will be open at night. It’s not apparent where the entrance is. Like Willy Wonka’s factory, it seems that nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out.
Le Dog’s stand on East Liberty (one of its two elusive locations — the other being on 306 South Main Street) is an Ann Arbor institution. Perhaps you thought it was closed or abandoned. Maybe you were pretty sure it was a drug front. It’s possible that in all your time in Ann Arbor you could’ve passed by Le Dog a million times and not seen it open. Well, there’s a reason for that. Le Dog maintains its mystery by keeping some seriously short hours (weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
Don’t be dismayed by signs warning against rude cell phone use or insistence that there is “NO Coke, NO Pepsi, NO pop or soda. Ever!!” The owner, Jules Van Dyck-Dobos, has a reputation for being somewhat of a curmudgeon. But who cares? When you make a product so popular that you can get by selling it for only two-and-a-half hours a day, five days a week, its hard not to get a little diva.
East Liberty provides Le Dog’s ambiance. There seems to be an unwritten rule among its patrons: Up-at-bat and on-deck persons ordering stand under the awning; all the rest form a civilized line against the curb. Le Dog’s humble but delish hotdogs and mouthwatering sophisticated soups are the reason you nobly choose to overlook its shortcomings (as in No Cell Phones, No Seating, No Soda and No Credit Cards).
In terms of its food, Le Dog might as well be called Le Soup. The hotdogs are good but not worth writing home about. Ray’s Red Hots are better, but it takes 20 minutes to get one and that place has lost all its swagger since it switched owners and stopped being the beloved Red Hot Lovers of yore. But despite Le Dog’s median score on the hotdog scale, the polish sausage is excellent — a winner if you’re not into just a run-of-the-mill dog.
Where the bark is worth its bite at Le Dog, though, is the soup selection. The available soups rotate daily. Try the cheesy chicken tortilla, indubitably the bomb. Other favorites include broccoli cheese, peanut udon or the Moroccan stew, depending on the day. Every morning Monday through Friday, the staff — a two-man show made up of Van Dyck-Dobos and one other dude — post the day’s soups. Handmade signs highlight crowd-pleasers and let newcomers know what’s up.
Maybe its most popular soup — so much so that it is the only mainstay on Le Dog’s menu — is the lobster bisque. It’s only available on Thursday and Friday, so make sure you check your planner. Made with cream and sherry, there are actually real substantial pieces of lobster in the lobster bisque, which is sadly a novel concept these days. Six bucks will get you 16oz.
Beginning at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, Le Dog’s window miraculously opens. A line forms. People are walking away with small styrofoam boxes and brown paper bags with the tops rolled over. At 2 p.m., the window closes. Rain or shine, winter or summer. It’s cash only — so bring some dollars in your pocket.
Now you know. There’s no excuse not to go at least once in all your years at Michigan, or those thereafter.