Sometimes there are restaurants that achieve legendary status in cities across the world due to the novelty, quality, and/or overall service they provide year after year. Chicago is definitely one of the most cutting edge cities in the food world due to the high presence of top chefs like Rick Bayless, Homaro Cantu, and Grant Achatz who is best known for Alinea, voted the top restaurant in the world. However, that doesn’t mean that we also have restaurants that serve simple dishes that reflect the different ethnic neighborhoods throughout Chicago like all different types of Mexican food, Italian beef sandwiches, and Chicago hot dogs. The last dish has a special place in the heart of many Chicagoans since we have our own unique way of serving it, i.e. NO KETCHUP!!! Hot Doug’s, on the other hand, takes hot dogs to another universe with funky toppings and a reputation without equal in the city. It was an adventure from the first minute Janice and I got there.
First, there was my failure with parallel parking. We arrived there in the morning, and there already was a line that was forming down the block. I don’t work well with an audience when it comes to pulling off this essential city parking move, and of course, I crashed and burned in front of everyone (Later that day I did it in two moves with no audience). So, Janice did it for me in order for me to secure a place in the ever-expanding line. I came out of my car to boos while she emerged from my car to rapturous applause. We were celebrities! Thus began our two hour wait…
While waiting in line, I heard people saying they were from all over the USA and even overseas and made it a point to visit Hot Doug’s during their stay in Chicago including a lovely couple in front of us from Seattle. Perhaps it was the mind-blowing eats or the sad fact that Hot Doug’s is closing on October 3rd. Either way, all of us were itching to stuff our pie-holes with the legendary tube steaks. When the doors finally opened, we moved into the shade and were greeted with the aroma of charred meats from within.
Our mouths were watering as we endured the agonizing wait, but once we set foot inside, it was a colorful monument to all things hot dog. Their menu was a veritable who’s who of encased meats ranging from a classic hot dog to spicy andouille to even veggie links. I didn’t know where to start since I wanted to try every single one, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel like breaking the bank or the integrity of my stomach. Janice and I finally reached the counter and were greeted by the owner Doug Sohn, a charismatic owner who was also a soccer fan which further made me love the place.
We were on the same page about everything about the beautiful game and this World Cup, and this agreement extended to our orders. Janice got the bacon and cheddar smoked elk sausage with smokey bacon sauce and white cheddar cheese curds ($9.00) while I went for the Sonoran Dog ($6.00) and the Foie Gras Dog ($10.00). Since it was Saturday, we indulged in an order of duck fat fries ($4.00) which are only available on Fridays and Saturdays. Once finding a seat, we soaked in the atmosphere as we looked at the walls which were festooned with all things sausage including a hilarious, doctored history of the hot dog. Surprisingly, our food popped out in no time, and I didn’t know where to begin first. After a bit of deliberation and slight awe, I decided to go big with eating the foie gras first. Foie gras has a controversial history given that the preparation involves force feeding geese to the point that their livers are engorged with fat and take on a buttery consistency. In Chicago, there had been a ban imposed on the serving of foie gras based on its supposed barbaric treatment of the geese, and even the famous Charlie Trotter spoke out against the cruelty involved in the gourmet treat. However, the ban was eventually lifted in Chicago in 2008. Controversy aside, I was planning on stuffing myself like a goose on this sumptuous creation. It’d be inhumane to let it go to waste.First, there were the disks of foie gras that were piled atop the duck sausage that was infused with a sweet French Bordeaux wine. If that wasn’t enough, said foie gras was sprinkled with grains of fleur de sel or hand harvested sea salt. The kicker was the black truffle aioli that was slathered from end to end. Then there was the first bite. The duck sausage was full of fatty goodness, but the foie gras definitely overshadowed it in a wave of creamy yet mind-numbingly rich flavor that wasn’t as gamey as I was anticipating. The black truffles had a bit of an aromatic, slightly earthy taste, but I could mostly taste the foie gras which took away from the creation overall. First world problems. I know. Moving on from that heart attack inducing dog, I said “Hola!” to the Sonoran dog. It was a dish reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain’s foray into the slighty obscene and subtly sexual world of Colombian foot long hot dogs. The toppings were extraordinary to say the least. First, there was the char-grilled, jalapeño Polish sausage covered with an adequate schmeer of jalapeño mayonnaise. With that foundation, somehow Hot Doug managed to also jam in a couple pieces of jalapeño bacon, pinto beans, tomatoes, and onions. I’ll start off with what I didn’t like about this choice. The onions. I would normally never bad mouth the stinky little guys, but there were way too many pieces of the white, breath-ruining confetti atop my hot dog. Everytime I took a bite, it was like Times Square on New Years Day. White confetti was falling all over my hands and table, but I wasn’t Dick Clark and the calendar said otherwise. Moving beyond the onion barrage, I relished (pun intended) the contrast of flavors and textures. While the pinto beans were smooth and mild but not extra mushy, the mayo, sausage, and bacon all brought an adequate level of heat that made me plow through the dog with gusto. The bacon also was crispy to counteract all of the softer aforementioned elements. I took a bite of Janice’s bacon and cheddar elk sausage hot dog, and I loved it the most. One thing that really set it apart was the charred flavor along with the natural casing that literally made each bite pop. Plus, I love my cheese, so the curds were like cherries on a meaty sundae. I’d definitely recommend this option. Finally, there were the duck fat fries. I originally thought they were going to have something drizzled on them like a poutine of sorts, but it was simply a mini-mountain of fried that were prepared in duck fat instead of corn oil. The change made a world of difference as these fries lived up to the Yelpers’ hype since they had an almost buttery aftertaste that wasn’t impeded by a layer of salt like normal French fries. This interesting flavor profile allowed them to be enjoyed alone or with a dollop of ketchup.
Long story short, I’d highly recommend visiting this Chicago eatery before it closes its doors in October. Bring a chair, food, water, and plenty of patience, but the payoff is worth it!