Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chicago Style Dogs and "The Best" ?

I have recently written several posts pertaining to Chicago style hot dogs. I don't want to run this in the ground; but I find it interesting. Since this past week we couldn't go on one of our excursions this post is a little different.

When I first heard of Chicago dogs I thought they sounded weird. They are definitely not the normal hot dog around here, yet I am learning to appreciate them. I want to repeat what makes up a "Chicago Dog".According to Wikipedia, A Chicago-style hot dog is a steamed or water-simmered, kosher-style, all beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun, originating from the city of Chicago, Illinois. The hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, sweet pickle relish (often a dyed neon-green), sometimes called piccalilli, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. The complete assembly of a Chicago hot dog is said to be "dragged through the garden" because of the unique combination of condiments. Some variants exist, adding ingredients such as cucumber slices, but the canonical recipe does not include ketchup, and there is a widely-shared, strong opinion among many Chicagoans and aficionados that ketchup is unacceptable. A number of Chicago hot dog vendors do not even offer ketchup as a condiment. To read their whole entry go here.

Other writers go so far as to dictate the order things should be applied to the bun. For instance one guy says;
"The toppings are just as important as the order they are applied to the Hot Dog. Add toppings in the following order and only in this order:
  1. All beef hot dog (large)
  2. Yellow Mustard
  3. Bright "Neon" Green Relish
  4. Fresh Chopped Onions
  5. Two Tomato Wedges
  6. A Pickle Spear or Slice
  7. Two Sport Peppers
  8. A Dash of Celery Salt
He is convinced that the placement of the toppings is important to get a taste of each ingredient in every bite."

This all gets a little tiresome. Seinfeld had his "Soup Nazi", but there is a whole army of "Hot Dog Nazis" out there, each one insisting that there is only one way to properly prepare a hot dog. But, the biggest lesson I have learned after visiting over 30 hot dog servers in our area is that the unusual or unexpected dogs are the ones I like best. I like people to think "outside of the box" and get creative. That's one reason my interest has been tweaked by the Chicago dog; it is unusual in our area. There are numerous different local traditions of hot dog preparation around the country, even a Hawaiian hot dog. But when tasted with an open mind there must be some great local traditions out there.

One of my daughters recently gave me an article from "Every Day with Rachael Ray" magazine. That was a new one for me. Apparently Rachael Ray is on daytime TV and has her own magazine. But I digress. The article was about these guys (all northerners and all professional food writers) who visited 64 hot dog stands in 56 cities and towns on a search for "the country's hottest dog". The article included a logo proclaiming "The Search for America's Best Hot Dog". They did blow through Birmingham and tried two places out of our over 50. Unfortunately they missed the best hot dog stands in our city. They visited 16 hot dog stands from Washington DC to Austin Texas and called that covering the South. Somehow they overlooked Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. They missed 21 states in all. I wonder if there is a good Cajun dog out there somewhere. If there is these guys didn't stand much chance of finding it.

One of the authors even sells hot dog posters representing a variety of areas of the country. If you look at the link, notice the cities his posters represent. Also consider the huge variety of styles represented and how intriguing some of them are.

After their less than exhaustive sample of our nation's hot dogs they proclaimed the "winner" to be a place in Illinois that serves a "depression style Chicago dog". I hadn't run into that label before; but it's a different type of Chicago dog. It seems that the differences are the ingredients. The "depression style" Chicago dog uses a regular size all beef dog (8 per pound) rather than the large all beef dog (6 per pound). They both have yellow mustard, chopped onions and hot "sport peppers, but the depression dog usually lacks tomatoes, a dill pickle spear and a dash of celery salt. It may or may not have sweet pickle relish and never has the poppy seed bun; but it does come with french fries, often dumped on top.

Here are some pictures I have found (None of these are mine; I picked them all from the web):

Chicago Dogs

Depression Style Chicago Dogs

I have written about this magazine article because it had so much to say about Chicago dogs. They obviously didn't really want to find the best hot dog in America; but I'm sure they had fun. I hope this hasn't turned into too much ranting.

The article claiming to have found the America's best hot dog reminds me of one day when a guy who works with me wanted to join us on an excursion. He proceeded to invite everybody in the office to join us then explained our mission as "looking for the best hot dog in Birmingham". He totally missed the mark. Yes, we might find the best hot dog in Birmingham but the goal was always to visit every hot dog stand in Birmingham. The purpose was to have a good time, period. We have found what we expected, some very good, some good and some not so good. The best parts have been the surprises and the people. We have tried to meet and interact with the entrepreneurs whenever we can. That has been very interesting. Consider these:
  • A CPA working with a national firm who left to return to his love, the food industry, and now owns two hot dog stands.
  • A graduate of a culinary program who has gone into the family business (hot dogs) to have her own hot dog stand.
  • The long timers who have sold hot dogs for decades.
  • The street vendors who are there no matter how hot or cold the day is.
  • The newbies - One guy told me he was "crazy to buy this place". As you might suspect he probably will never be named the best.
Now I'll list some of my favorites in alphabetical order.
  • Full Moon Bar BQ - The moon dog.
  • Klingler's - German sausage platters.
  • Lyric hot Dogs and Burgers - A long time downtown hot dog stand with a diner decor.
  • Max's Delicatessen - An extra large hot dog with generous toppings.
  • Sam's Super Samwitch - Consistently good hot dogs and chili dogs.
  • Scott's Koneys - Consistently good food downtown and the ability to cater for thousands.
  • Steve Malone's Cart (lunchtime on the corner beside Church of the Advent) - WOW what a chili dog.
  • Tip Top Grill - Hot dogs with a view.
  • YaYa's "Home of the almost world famous Q-dog."

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