Anyone who has lived in Cleveland or at least visited should know what I mean when I say: “Hot Sauce Williams.”
A rambling blue-ish/grey-ish/purple-ish building with hot pink trim, Hot Sauce Williams stands out amongst all the drab grey and brown of East Cleveland, a beacon of warmth and hominess.
Now, I don’t think I can honestly remember when or why Hot Sauce Williams came into my consciousness, but I do know that it’s been a running joke amongst my friends and me every time we drive past it. “Is today the day we’re going to Hot Sauce Williams?” or “I’m hungry, how about some Hot Sauce Williams?” and so on. I’m not sure if it’s the paint job, the ridiculous(ly awesome!) name, or a combination, but something about this restaurant has stuck with me for the last six or seven years. In fact, I was beginning to think it would never actually happen, that Hot Sauce Williams would forever be an unreached destination.
That seemed true until about a week-and-a-half ago. After long days at work Nicole and I were hungry and tired but couldn’t decide on what to have for dinner when someone suggested HSW. We laughed a little at first, of course, but then we realized: this was our time. The hot sauce would be ours.
So, we bundled up and made the short trek down Carnegie Avenue to the purple and pink building at 7815. We were excited as we pulled up to the drive-thru and tried our best to scan the outdoor menu—which has seen much better days. When a voice crackled through the speaker asking for our order we were still unsure and asked for another minute to decide. Finally ready we announced our order to the speaker but received no reply. After waiting another minute we decided that there was no one on the other end and decided to venture inside to place our orders in person.
The bright, slightly gaudy exterior of HSW belies the humble interior. A few mix-n-matched tables and chairs in the center of the dining room, ringed by booths, and topped with e-z-kleen laminated tablecloths. Nothing fancy and little atmosphere, rather like dining in someone’s oversized dining room. Or rather the lack of atmosphere is the atmosphere. There is nothing pretentious or cloying about HSW, just good food, fast and simple.
After another quick glance at the menu we placed our orders again: two rib dinners and a rib tip sandwich. Unfortunately they were out of the rib tips for the evening so Nicole withdrew her order, but we went ahead with the orders for Morgan and me. A rib dinner at HSW comes with six ribs, fries, coleslaw and white bread. Not being a fan of slaw I opted to trade mine for macaroni and cheese. Morgan made the same choice and also swapped her fries for mashed potatoes and gravy.
Everything was placed into HSW’s custom carry-out boxes, sauced, and wrapped before we headed for home. The first sign that this was a good choice: the two dinners in the bag were heavy. Once home the boxes were opened and distributed. My first bite was from the mac-n-cheese. A standard mac-n-cheese offering, HSW’s is elbow macaroni in a delicious homemade cheese sauce, then baked with a bread crumb topping. Just like mom would make. HSW’s mac-n-cheese is hearty, creamy, and absolutely delicious. A must for any visit. Next I tried a few fries which had been slathered in HSW’s signature sauce. A decent fry I’m sure, mine were definitely limp from the drive home while swimming in sauce. But my first taste of their sauce was a great surprise. A little sweet, a little spicy, and just a bit of sour on the finish; a basic, delicious barbeque sauce.
The ribs at HSW are serious, a full spare rib, or a St. Louis cut with the rib tip in tact. When I ordered the dinner I wondered if six would be enough, but when I saw them I knew everything was going to be alright. Compared to the baby back ribs served at most places, the spare rib provides tougher, darker, but more flavorful meat. But the ribs are well marinated so they’re tender and come off the bone easily, and while I’m not usually a fan of picking around in gristle, the tips provide a few more bites of tender, succulent meat.