A few weeks before we left on our Pennsylvania road trip, there was a thread on Chowhound about the most notable local specialties from users' hometowns. I was reading through it for fun when someone mentioned being from Carlisle, PA and that there was a restaurant known for their hot-chee dogs and burgers, as well as their onion rings, gravy fries, and milkshakes. Carlisle was just outside Harrisburg and therefore on our driving route, so I was pretty intrigued.
The restaurant was called Hamilton Restaurant and looked like it had been on that corner in Carlisle for decades. Most of the clientele looked like regulars, and we definitely stood out as we snapped pictures of our lunch. We were pretty excited though, as this was just the type of local place we wanted to experience on our road trip.
While we browsed the menu, we saw that they served scrapple. Neither of us had ever eaten scrapple before, but had always heard it associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. In keeping with our mission to try as many unique Pennsylvania foods as possible, we felt like we had to order it in case we didn't have another opportunity.
Traditionally scrapple (according to Wikipedia) is "a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and wheat flour, often buckwheat flour, and spices," which is then "formed into a semi-congealed loaf, and slices of the scrapple are then pan-fried before serving." From how it's traditionally made, it's not surprising that it arrived looking like a piece of meat toast. As for the taste, there was a little bit of offal flavor there that was interesting. We liked the meaty, slightly metallic taste of it. Can't say we've ever really had anything like it before. Because of the griddling, you got that really nice crisp exterior with the softer, meaty interior.
We both ordered one of the hot-chee dogs, which is basically a hot dog with cheese, chili, mustard, and a plentiful amount of onions. Each hot dog came with sides for (at the time) $6.50. Not a bad price for a fully-loaded hot dog, cole slaw, and fries or onion rings.
Each hot dog was piled high with toppings which made it a little messy to eat, but it was really tasty. We're big fans of chili cheese dogs generally, and this one was really good. It was clear that they've been making these for years, and totally understandable why they were so popular. The quality was excellent. There was a nice snap to the hot dogs, and the flavors of the chili were very balanced to pair with the cheese and onions.
A chose fries with his hot dog and I went for onion rings, since I love onion rings. Don't really remember all the specifics about these over 2 years later, but we think the fries were pretty standard, and the onion rings were really good and super crispy on the outside. We were also really glad we were able to get cole slaw with the meal since it was the healthiest thing on the table. It was refreshing and cooling (it was 89 degrees outside when we were at lunch), and it really felt like it lightened up the rest of the meal.
Overall, we were pretty happy with our lunch at Hamilton Restaurant. The place seemed like a Carlisle institution, and these small local spots were just how we wanted to explore Pennsylvania. If we were in the area, we'd definitely go back for some more hot-chee dogs and onion rings.
Hamilton Restaurant, 55 W. High Street, Carlisle, PA.