Hot Doug’s Part Deux
I proposed to Ashley on August 28, 2010. She said yes. A week later, we decided to celebrate our engagement with a trip to the hot dog Mecca of the Universe, Chicago. (Actually, we had planned the trip prior to my popping of the question; it was Labor Day weekend, and we were visiting some friends in the Windy City. But for the purposes of this post, let’s go with the Mecca narrative.)
It was a weekend of many hot dogs. And the other things Chicago has to offer – Millennium Park, the Art Institute, Michigan Avenue, deep dish pizza, Korean restaurants with unfriendly proprietors, Garrett popcorn, Intelligentsia coffee, more hot dogs – but all pales in comparison to the Mecca of Meccas, Hot Doug’s.
Given the name and the long line outside, you may confuse Hot Doug’s with your favorite Chippendale-type establishment. The sign, however, clearly states that it is (literally) The Sausage Superstore, which it most certainly is. After about 90 minutes in that dastardly line, we rounded the corner, and could see, without a periscope tilted on its side, the counter where you order.
I had the good fortune to join lead blogger Mike on a previous visit to Hot Doug’s as part of his bachelor party weekend in Chicago. So I knew that the wait would be well worth it. Ashley, despite this being her first trip to Doug’s, was pretty much alright with the long queue too. (Which I take as a very positive sign that I am engaged to the right woman.) We chatted about kimchi with an older couple from D.C. visiting their nephew, and that helped pass the time.
Once inside, you’ve still got a bit of waiting to do, but with so many encased meats to choose from (the picture shows only the rotating specials), the dog-selection process is going to take some time anyway. I believe the gentleman-scholar who took our order may have been Doug himself. Despite the crowd, which I know would stress me out if I were working the register, he was in zen mode. We discussed how the physical space of his restaurant promotes an ideal eater:table ratio. After you order, without fail, a party will get up to leave, vacating several adjacent seats, even though the place looks rather packed. It just flows: waiting in line, ordering, the short service time, eating, beaming with satisfaction, bidding Doug adieu, leaving. (The tip jar also donned a sign that read something to the tune of “For the people actually working, not the guy running his mouth,” which I fully respect.)
Before I get to the dogs, let me note that on Friday and Saturday, Doug’s features duck fat fries, which are as good as you’d imagine they’d be. The outside is perfectly crispy, and the inside fluffy, creamy, and rich, like good mashed potatoes. Forget the ketchup. Also in the fried department, the corn dog was among the finest I’ve had (Ashley ordered it, but I managed to convince her to give me a bite). The breading was not too thick but very crunchy, and slightly sweet, like Southern corn bread. No mustard necessary for dipping on this one – best savored naked. (But despite the temptation, keep your clothes on.) Much like with the fries, Doug reminds us that sometimes condiments can just be a distraction.
Ordering a Chicago-style at Hot Doug’s is pretty much mandatory. The dogs are steamed and perfectly snappy, with each condiment (pickle spear, sliced tomato, sport peppers, neon relish, yellow mustard, onions, celery salt, poppy seed bun) playing its critical role. The Keira Knightley was not quite as spicy as I expected, but perhaps I was paying more attention to the caraway seeds studding the kraut, which I always enjoy.
Even following all this goodness, the weisswurst was truly the piece de resistance. As is traditional with a weisswurst, the meat (pork and veal) was very finely ground; after you pierced the casing with your teeth, its contents practically melted in your mouth along with the goat cheese, which added a nice creamy touch. The chili-garlic mustard gave each bite a good kick, too. Well done, Doug – a beautiful example of the fine art of sausage-making, paired with thoughtful condimentation.
We failed to document in photographs the actual eating of these glorious dogs – to stop was impossible, even for the sake of the camera. As Mike noted upon our last visit, Hot Doug’s slogan, “There are no two finer words in the English language than ‘encased meats,’ my friend,” is boldly emblazoned across one wall in the seating area. After one (or three) of Doug’s dogs, it would be impossible to disagree. (Mike said he’d get this motto tattooed somewhere; I settled for the t-shirt.)
There are even pictures of Surrealist hot dogs in the bathroom. What’s not to like about this place? The porky sheen on Ashley’s and my faces after our trip were so lovely that we convinced our friends Rita and Sam, long-time Chicago residents, to make their first expedition to Hot Doug’s as well. (They can walk there (and to the German beer and sausage nirvana of Resi’s Bierstube) from their apartment; I am supremely jealous of this fact.) Rita was so bold as to try the foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage, which I came this close to ordering; Sam is a vegetarian, so his options were somewhat limited, but apparently the veggie dogs are excellent too. For veggie dogs.
Quite some time has elapsed between the consumption of these fine dogs and the crafting of this post, for which I apologize. I’ve been busy eating the finest encased meats that Ohio has to offer, which I will tell you all about next time around.
Hot Doug’s, 3324 North California, Chicago, IL
Mon-Sat 10:30am-4pm, cash only