In this day and age of Amazon.com and spacious, open-air shopping palaces like West Little Rock's Promenade, the old-fashioned shopping mall is something of a quaint relic, a symbol of a by-gone time where kids cruised the halls while parents did their shopping. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Hot Springs Mall, a building in which I've spent more hours than I can count looking at cassettes, and then CDs; pumping dollar after dollar into a change machine at Aladdin's Castle for video game tokens — and most important, grabbing a bite to eat at the greatest mall restaurant of all time: the Corn Dog 7.
Many of the Hot Springs mall stores from my childhood are gone — Aladdin's Castle fell victim to the gaming power of home computers and consoles, Waldenbooks fell to the selection and ease of Amazon and the Kindle, and while there's still an FYE Music with CDs and movies, the Camelot Music and Disk Jockey stores I shopped at are long gone. Through it all, though, the most reliable place has been the brightly lit corn dog joint, where it's guaranteed that a couple of surly teenagers will hand-batter a hot dog on a stick, dunk it in the fryer, and sling that greasy, crunchy delicacy right at your face in no time flat.
Corn Dog 7's fortunes have fallen along with the malls, and Hot Springs has one of the few remaining location of the Hughes, Texas restaurant left. And sure, it's corn dogs, but they're really good corn dogs, made fresh and never soggy or burned. I love the mini-corn dogs because I can't stand putting anything wooden in my mouth (including Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors), so these tiny bites of crunchy goodness dipped in mustard are some of the best treats around.
The goodies don't stop with corn dogs, though. The fries are made to order just like the dogs, then hit with a dash of season salt to finish them off. Other fried delicacies include funnel cakes and the "cheese on a stick," which offers a choice of American or Pepper Jack cheese jammed onto a stick, batter-dipped, then deep-fried to a crunchy, gooey mess. It's the sort of place your cardiologist probably doesn't want you going to that often — but man cannot live by Lipitor alone.
As I approach my middle age, I think back to things I loved as a younger man, and often revisit them. With food, sometimes that means finding out that something you loved as a child is repulsive to you now. Luckily, sometimes that means settling into a booth you first sat in twenty years ago, dipping your corn dog into mustard brighter than any other, and enjoying the first screaming-hot bite of a ridiculous treat that's still as good as it ever was. It's just too bad there was nowhere to go play Galaga once I was done.