Last month, on the day Chance the Snapper went MIA, I was eating an alligator sausage on a toasted bun squirted with guacamole and sprinkled with pico de gallo. This was the Swamp Dog served at Doggone's Chicago, a new sausage shop with Louisiana DNA that opened a month and a half before people started spotting the alligator in the Humboldt Park Lagoon. The sausage stayed in the back of my mind for two long days when nobody reported seeing the wayward reptile, a mental placeholder reminding me that misadventures can occur when you're alone and far from home.
Doggone's was introduced to Logan Square in late May by one Skip Murray, a sausage impresario who spent a few decades in the UK introducing Brits to American hot dog culture before opening a small gourmet sausage shop in New Orleans—a city with its own proudly entrenched hot dog traditions—and garnering cultlike adherents the way Hot Doug's once did here.
Going forward, it will forever be the fate of each sausage disruptor who hangs a shingle in Chicago to be compared, for better or worse, to Doug Sohn, who steadfastly refused to expand. And while he's had his imitators locally (Franks 'N' Dawgs, Hot "G" Dog), none ever seemed to capture the magic.
Like Hot Doug's, Murray's Dat Dog featured top-loaded encased meats ground from a variety of animals that so enthralled the Crescent City that adherents lined up and waited for them. Dat Dog multiplied itself, opening several Louisiana locations and one in Texas before Murray stepped away and started eyeing Logan Square.
Last month while the lagoon baked, the climate in Doggone's long, narrow corner space felt somewhat subtropical itself, as sausages as vividly bedecked as the flag-draped ceiling were handed over the counter in checkered baskets, smothered in sauces and streaked with condiments.
The Nola Dog, positioned as a signature, is a crayfish sausage hidden under a surge of etouffee with diced tomato and onion and zigzags of mustard and sour cream. Somewhere the dog lies beneath. Altogether, it's a balanced if messy composition that swells the boundary of its bun, but it's the richness of the smother that takes up most of the attention.
Other sausages are just as assertively though not as abundantly dressed, which highlights the overcapacity of the buns, too large for what they carry. Flaws in the encased meats themselves seem to stand out even more. Nearly each one I tried was visibly reduced, wrinkled and withdrawn, any former snappiness reduced to a leathery crackle, as if they'd basked in the sun too long.
The Louisiana Smoked Dog features wizened tips of smoked beef and sausage peeking out from under lashings of mustard, ketchup (Quick! Call 911!), cheese, and tomatoes. The Murray Dog is a pork sausage made with Guinness and covered in sweet blackberry sauce and creole mustard, diced onion and bacon, and unmelted, shredded cheddar. A special duck sausage featured much of the same.
One does have choices. There are some two dozen toppings to customize any sausage, including three different vegan options and a "C-Dog"—actually battered and baked cod on a bun.
There's no choice about fries, which are also baked, not fried. You can pretend they're not by ordering them topped with etoufee; chili and cheese; bacon, cheddar, and ranch; or an onslaught of thick andouille sauce, chunky with sausage and loaded with its own savory burn—one thing I tried at Doggone's that, along with the etouffee, could stand on its own, maybe in a bowl with a spoon.
Chance the Snapper stuck his head above the water two days after I ate Doggone's Swamp Dog, and as we know, he's since been retired to Florida. It's a bittersweet ending for all of us who want—but know we can't keep—an alligator, an animal, no matter what form it takes, that deserves better treatment. v