We were somewhere around Park Ridge on the edge of the Chicago when the fatigue began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge hot dogs, leering down at the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour. And a voice was screaming “Holy Jesus! What are those goddamn sausages?”
Then it was quiet again. “What the hell are you yelling about?” my attorney muttered, staring up at the sign with her eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s your turn to drive.” I hit the brakes and aimed the Little Blue Box toward the entrance of the drive-thru. No point mentioning those hot dogs, I thought. The poor woman will see them soon enough.
OK, it really didn’t go down like that. We had arrived in Park Ridge, a whitebread suburb northwest of Chicago, to visit old friends. By the the we stopped, we had been driving for hours, driven to distraction by the utter sameness of the Ohio and Indiana countrysides (corn, soybeans, corn, soybeans, corn, soybeans ad nauseam), a landscape so unvarying in its flatness and straightness that the GPS screen was a simple white rectangle bisected by a red stripe. We were tired and hungry, and He Who Will Not Be Ignored was insisting on hot dogs for dinner.
Much as we had done in Montreal, we figured we should establish a culinary baseline and try a classic Chicago dog. Our hosts advised us the we were a short drive away from Superdawg, a place He Who had seen on a travel show (“Hot Dog Paradise” or some such), so off we headed to nearby Niles, where we were greeted by this terrifying sight:
I don’t know why the hot dog is dressed like Tarzan, but the glowing red eyes aren’t particularly welcoming. Perhaps his threatening stance is a promise of what is to come if you don’t drive in, so we meekly complied. The drive-in was a parking lot with a menu board and intercom at each space, but since none of us were familiar with the ordering system, we opted to order at the window and then eat in the tiny dining area.
I had been informed by more than one resident that the classic Chicago dog consisted of a steamed natural casing all-beef hot dog (usually Vienna Beef brand) on a steamed poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, neon green relish, chopped white onions, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, pickled sport (hot) peppers, and a shake of celery salt – a style referred to as “dragged through the garden.” The Superdawg variant omits the celery salt and tomato slices and substitutes a slice of pickled green tomato.
None of us went for the works: She Who had everything but the peppers, He Who opted for mustard and onions only, and I chose onion and pickles. Our dawgs arrived in blue boxes:
There’s a large helping of corn served with the dog: “Your Superdawg lounges inside, contentedly cushioned in … Superfries, and comfortably attired in …” the list of toppings. Printed on the flap you can read “From the bottom of my pure beef heart … thanks for giving me the chance to serve you!”
Sure enough the dog was resting in a pile of hand-cut crinkle fries.
The dog had a nice snap to it, and was juicy and well-spiced, but the crisp, hot, salty fries almost stole the show. Not a bad start to our Chicago hot dog tour. Some local teens volunteered that the best dog was to be found at Gene and Jude’s, advice we would hear more than once.
He Who ordered the Roaring Buffalo Chicken Dog, a truffled chicken sausage with celery root slaw, blue cheese and hot sauce:
She Who chose the Italian Dog, an Italian sausage with tomatoes, basil and basil aioli:
Soon after the Bizarre Foods episode aired, the Foss Hog won the iron chef challenge and was added to the permanent menu as the Brunch Dog, which was my choice.
They all tasted as advertised – buffalo wings, sausage pizza, or breakfast, respectively – and were all delicious. The surprise here was the use of specially baked New England style buns, which were almost brioche-like in their consistency.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our side dish of triple truffle fries: Yukon Gold waffle cut fries, truffle oil, truffle butter, truffle salt & freshly chopped herbs.
We fought over these, figuring they would be the best fries we ate on this trip. We would soon be proven wrong.
On our last day in Chicago we visited an old friend, the very talented artist Tony Fitzpatrick, whose etching of another Chicago dog – his pet, Chooch – graces the top of this post. He took us to lunch at Hot Doug’s a place I had seen on the Chicago episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations:
Watch the intro segment again, where Bourdain is walking down the sidewalk and complaining about a line. We joined a line that extended beyond the iron fence you can see about half a block back, and waited on that line for more than an hour, time well spent catching up with Tony and learning where hot dogs came from:
By the time we got to the counter – which was manned by Doug himself – we were ravenous and ready to order. Tony introduced us as friends from Boston, to which Doug replied “What’s up with the restaurant scene in Boston? It’s boring.” My reply: “Four words: Cambridge, and Barbara Lynch.” His unprompted response of “You eat at Craigie on Main?” was enough to convince me that Doug knew something about food. Tony, being a regular, asked for “the usual,” while we took a few minutes to decide.
He Who had a Frankendog, a plain half-pound dog with mustard and cheese. She Who ordered the Turducken Dog, a turkey, duck, and chicken sausage garnished with pate de Campagne, brie, and smoky bacon sauce:
If you know anything about me from what you’ve read on this blog, you know I ordered the Foie Gras Dog, a foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage with black truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de del:
Being the third time in a week that I had eaten foie gras, I figured I’d be a bit jaded, but the combination of flavors and textures was just about perfect. I could nitpick about the pedestrian bun, but anything fancier would have extracted from the perfectly grilled sausage.
And, since we arrived on a Friday (probably the reason for the overly-long line), we upped the duck quotient with a helping of – say it with me – duck fat fries:
What could improve on hot, crispy, salty fries? Duck fat, and lots of it. These fries tasted like the Lyonnaise potatoes I’m fond of serving with my own duck dishes.
Tony, a lifelong Chicago resident, knew where we had eaten, and had assured us that he was saving the best for last. He wasn’t wrong – we all agreed that Hot Doug’s was the best of our hot dog experiences, summed up on the back of his t-shirts:
There are no two finer words in the English language than “encased meats,’ my friend.