Dawg Days

My father — born on the upper peninsula of Michigan — grew up, among other places, in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. I’ve always felt an affinity and paternal loyalty for the Windy City. Plus, they’ve got Wrigley Field, Charlie Trotter and Rick Bayless, and produced my favorite band, Wilco, and the coolest president ever! And then, of course, there’s the Chicago dog.

I grew up with a Chicago-style hot dog joint named Flooky’s down the street. I had a friend who lived right behind it. I sort of took a good hot dog for granted. We also had Pink’s and Cupid’s and various other hot spots, so finding a tasty dog in L.A. was never a problem. And today there are countless restaurants, food trucks and carts around town to meet your craving. But having a superior hot dog at a backyard barbecue or Superbowl party was always another thing altogether. Which brings me back to Chicago…

One day I was reading one of those lists online about the best hot dog places in Chicago. The best of the best, in said site’s opinion, was Hot Doug’s, which made a variety of homemade sausages including the now infamous fois gras hot dog which became embattled in Chicago’s fois gras ban (just for fun, Google: fois gras, Charlie Trotter, Hot Doug’s). The best of Doug’s dogs, however, according to the article was the classic Chicago dog. Curious, I began to research the Chicago dog. Variations on a theme of: all-beef frankfurter, steamed poppy-seed bun, yellow mustard, green sweet pickle relish, dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, sports peppers, celery salt. “Dragged through the garden,” if you will. I did.

I make my own variation, caramelizing the onions, forgoing poppyseed for plain, etc. And I revert to my tired ol’ refrain of “quality-of-ingredients”. My New Jersey-bred pal and connoisseur of all things cured, Ernie, directed me toward Boar’s Head natural casings frankfurters. He said Vienna Beef is good, too. “They both have that ‘pop!’ you’re looking for.” Would it still be good with a plain ol’ hot dog? Better than a stick in the eye, I suppose. But why not aspire to greatness?

Just in time for Superbowl, the world’s greatest hot dog — at home! Like at Hot Doug’s, serve with fries cooked in duck fat, if you’re Chicago enough:

*   *   *

Chicago Dog

All-beef frankfurters in natural casing (2 per person)
soft hot dog rolls
1 large sweet onion
1 small sweet onion, peeled and chopped
grapeseed oil
yellow mustard
dill pickle spears
tomatoes, cut into 8-16 wedges, depending on size
slices jalapeños
sweet pickle relish
celery salt

Make caramelized onion. Peel large onion and slice thinly, then heat 2 tbsp. grapeseed oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add onions and stir until wilted. Lower heat to medium, add 1 tsp. sugar, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until soft and golden. Remove from pan to a dish.

Steam hot dogs in a large saucepan with a 1/2 cup water, covered. Heat buns by placing on top of cover of pan. When hot dogs are cooked thoroughly, place each inside a waiting bun. Squirt with mustard to taste. Then add in order, to taste: caramelized onions, relish, jalepeños, tomatoes, chopped fresh onion, pickle spear and celery salt. Serve with a good microbrewed beer.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paul
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 16:19:17

    when I worked for Tribune company I would travel to Chicago and my friend Howard (a man who knows music and Chicago food and environs inside and out) would make it his special job to take me to every small and out of the way music venue and obscure and unobscure hot dog joint in the town. Lounge Ax, the Hideaway (where the only known recording of The Kay-Settes starring Butchers Blind was recorded live on max’s birthday–I have a copy if you want it although the q


  2. Leo Griffin
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 18:27:24

    I lived in Evanston for several years and loved it. It will always have a special place in my heart too. The other thing that also has a special place in my heart (well my arteries anyway) is Chicago deep dish pizza. Perhaps the topic for a future post?


    • scolgin
      Feb 04, 2011 @ 18:44:19

      Hmmm, I don’t know Leo. I’m a thin-crust guy. You may have to find a really good thick crust pizza here in L.A. and try to convert me…


  3. Lisa Gaskin
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 03:47:10

    I’m a skinny girl who hates mayonnaise and I’m considering serving some hotdogs tomorrow to any takers in my household…they may “die” from the shock…


  4. Ben
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 16:31:43

    I like thin crust and deep dish. Not loyal to either . . . anyway, the best damn deep dish here in Chicago is Lou Malnati’s. People may argue for Giordano’s but they are simply wrong. Lou will freeze and ship his pizza anywhere in the nation. http://www.tastesofchicago.com/ If you order some, order the sausage deep dish. It’s their signature, featuring the “wheel of sausage”. They don’t sprinkle crumbled cooked sausage on their pizza. They actually press a large ball of raw sausage into a disk and then drop it staight into the crust. Awesome! Lou’s reasoning is that you get a perfect and consistent ration of cheese, sauce, and sausage in every bite.


  5. Benjamin Thompson
    Oct 09, 2014 @ 11:20:10

    Alas, Hot Doug’s closed last Friday. Guess he wanted to get out while he was ahead of the game and could still enjoy retirement. Can’t blame the guy so much. Tragically, I lived about 1-1/2 miles away from the joint for 6 years and never ate there. Once went and tried but my wife became impatient with the line. It could take hours at peak times. And now, I’m moving away from Chicago back to Minneapolis. Some things were just never meant to be.


    • scolgin
      Oct 09, 2014 @ 22:33:21

      There’s loads of famous L.A. places I’ve never been. Minneapolis is one of my favorite cities. Perhaps some new blog posts when you get settled in???


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