Posted by: Sienna Howarde in: Restaurant Quotes
The elements of a Chicago-style hot dog. (photo:Vienna Beef)
So, you gotta like tradition. Take the Chicago-style hot dog, for example. Chicagoans love their hot dogs. In fact, according to one recent survey, there are more than 1,500 hot dog stands in the Windy City—far more than the sum of McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s combined. Some Chicago hot dog stands are practically institutions; decades old, handed down over the generations, with a loyal local following and legions of fans around the country who make a beeline to them as soon as they touch down at O’Hare or Midway.
And if you’re going to be eating a hot dog in Chicago, I think it’s a law or something that you need to have a least one dog made “Chicago style.” What, exactly, does a California kid, living in suburban Atlanta, know about Chicago-style hot dogs? Not very much. But I have been seeing more and more local places—including hamburger places—adding Chicago-style dogs to the menu, so I thought I would investigate.
I’ve had them before, but this is as good a reason as any to set off across town to sample some of these unique dogs. This list, by no means, is to be considered comprehensive, and as the only time I have spent in Chicago has been for about an hour during a layover at the airport, I am no expert on the subject. These are just some musings I’ve had while devouring the dogs.
First, the parameters: The “Chicago Style” hot dog got its start during the Great Depression with street-cart vendors. Money was scarce, but business was booming for these entrepreneurs who offered a delicious, hot meal on a bun for only a nickel. It starts with an all-beef hot dog. Vienna Beef dogs are considered the traditional frank for the true experience. Nestle it in a steamed poppy-seed bun and cover it with a wonderful combination of toppings:
• Yellow mustard
• Chopped white onion (raw)
• Neon green relish
• Sport peppers
• Tomato wedges
• Crisp kosher dill pickle spear
• Dash of celery salt
This unique dog design—with a “salad on top” and its masticanical mixing of hot and cold, crisp and soft, sharp and smooth—is said to be “America’s original fast food” and a true Chicago institution.
The customary cooking technique is called the “dirty water” method. The dogs are simmered, not boiled, in water for 10 minutes. This makes them turgid and juicy, firm but not rubbery. After simmering scores of dogs in the same water all day the water is rich in flavor. The goal is to cook the meat through without cracking the skins. Other processes include steaming (which leaves the meat more piquant than simmering, with a nice snappy skin) or rolled on a hot dog rotisserie (these are a little tastier than simmering or steaming, with a crisper skin, but not as moist and puffy; also, make sure they haven’t been “rolling” all day long).
Chicago Red Hots – Suwanee, Ga.
Chicago Red Hots
1175 Buford Highway,
Suwanee, Ga. 300518
Marwan Semrani, who lived in Chicago before moving down south, opened Chicago Red Hots in 2006. His is a traditional Chicago style dog, although instead of Vienna, he goes with a Red Hot Chicago dog—you say tomato, etc. It’s a dirty water dog that is juicy and flavorful and stands up to the flavors of the “salad on top.” You can get one for $2.84 or a combo (with crinkle-cut fries and a medium soft drink) for $4.99. Another thing to note is that the sport peppers had the correct hop and heat, but they were not too juicy as to soak the bun with pepper brine.
Semrani also has a second location in Burford, Ga., if that’s a closer stop for you.
Mike’s Hot Dog Haus – Sandy Springs, Ga.
Mike’s Hot Dog Haus
5948 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, Ga. 30328
Opened in 1996, Mike’s Chicago Dog Haus produces an exemplary example of the Chicago Style dog. It’s just plain good. The onions are minced, more than chopped, and the relish is lighter than others I’ve had. You can get Mike’s dogs in regular size ($2.49) or as a quarter-pounder ($3.49). The combo (with a 20 oz. drink and chips) is 4.67. For big eaters, you can order this as a double ($6.54).
Skip’s Chicago Dogs – Avondale Estates, Ga.
Skip’s Chicago Dogs
48 N. Avondale Road
Avondale Estates, Ga. 30002
404 292 6703
Leo “Skip” Shababy has been serving Chicago Style dogs since 1979 and began offering Windy City-style catering in 1995. Skip’s version is pretty much traditional, as well, but the dogs (Vienna Beef) and buns are cooked on the grill. The regular dog is $2.49, the quarter-pounder is $3.29.
Steak ’n Shake – Lawrenceville, Ga.
Steak ’n Shake
820 Lawrenceville-Suwanee Rd.
Lawrenceville, Ga. 30043
Steak ‘n Shake, a fast-food burger place, was founded in 1934 in Normal, Ill., and now has stores in 20 states across the Midwest, Appalachia and the South. While SNS likes to consider itself a premium burgers and milk shakes place—serving “steakburgers” and hand-made milk shakes—the stores also offer “signature steak franks.” And on their newest menu, the Chicago-style frank is right there next to a Chili-Cheese frank, a Carolina Slaw frank, Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese frank and a Guacamole frank (all combos $3.99, served with the SNS’s thin ‘n crispy fries).
SNS uses an all-beef frankfurter (advertised as made “with real cuts of sirloin”) that is slit and cooked flat on the grill. The SNS has all the traditional fixings, minus the celery salt, and the bun is lacking the poppy seeds, which makes it a little less messy to eat (and there is less chance you leave the restaurant and go off for the rest of your day with a black poppy seed stuck in your teeth). The grilled dog is very flavorful, but the internal spices are different than the traditional Vienna or Red Hot dogs. Not worse, just different.
The one thing to be aware of when ordering the Chicago-style steak frank is that the pickle relish is bright green. I mean, bright, unnatural neon green. It tastes fine, but it’s a little unnerving when you first get a gander at it.
Sonic Drive-In – Lawrenceville, Ga.
2208 Riverside Parkway
Lawrenceville, Ga. 30043
The prototype of the first Sonic Drive-In opened in Shawnee, Okla., in 1953. Now, Sonic claims 3,500 drive-ins that specialize in made-to-order fast food, its curbside speakers and, occasionally, roller-skating carhops. Similar to Steak ’n Shake, Sonic has recently added more hot dog choices to its menu, with the Chicago Dog (the New York Dog and the All-American dog) joining the long-established foot-long quarter-pound Coney (with chili & cheese).
The Sonic version of the Chicago Dog ($1.99) is a pure beef hot dog topped with pickle, relish, tomato, sport peppers, celery salt and mustard all served up in a soft, warm poppy seed bun. For all intents and purposes, it’s a traditional Chicago dog, dirty-water style, and served up in a steamed poppy-seed bun, but the dog itself didn’t have much flavor and onions were MIA. The pickle spear, though, was crisp and tart.
Post by and photos (unless otherwise stated) credited to Gregory Watkins.