Restaurants: Hot Dog!, August 28, 2008 | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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Restaurants: Hot Dog!, August 28, 2008

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Hot Dog!

Byron's Hot Dogs1017 W. Irving Park | 773-281-7474

$American, Italian | Lunch, dinner: seven days

Byron's doesn't have indoor seating, though there are some sidewalk tables. But it's not the kind of place you'd want to stick around in anyway, unless you're partial to grease-stained walls, loutish service, and the mesmerizing glow of neon-green pickle relish. You head to Byron's to get your grub and go, the way God intended. The offerings are completely standard—brats, dogs, burgers, gyros, chicken sandwiches, and so forth—but the quality changes according to the time of day and who's behind the counter. The burgers and hot dogs, for instance, are usually reliable—not anything close to the best you've ever had, but they grill them in front of you and slap the condiments on with style, which counts for a lot. It's also dirt cheap and usually quick, two virtues which should never be underestimated. —Chip Dudley

Cinners4757 N. Talman | 773-654-1624

$Bar/Lounge, American | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 2 | Reservations not accepted

The peculiar regional specialty known as Cincinnati three-way chili—ground chuck simmered slowly with tomato and a mix of baking spices, plopped over spaghetti, and all covered with cheese—was invented by a pair of Macedonian restaurateurs trying to make a living in a city full of Germans. Now Cincinnati native Tony Plum has plopped his bar and chili parlor in a Greek pocket of the German neighborhood of Lincoln Square. The place is a bit of a nostalgic theme park, with red-and-black walls covered in photos of old Reds ballplayers, Cincinnati streetscapes, and beer cans from defunct Queen City breweries. The refrigerator has been painted and dubbed the "Big Red Machine," after the dominant National League team of the 70s. And Plum serves Little Kings Cream Ale in seven-ounce bottles—"Anybody who grew up in Cincinnati in the 70s or 80s—that's what they drank in high school," he says. Then there's the chili, spiced with cinnamon, allspice, cocoa, cumin, Worcestershire, and more, and served on pasta or dolloped on steamed Coney dogs, with oyster crackers on the side. Adding raw onions or kidney beans makes it a four-way, and fully loaded it's a five-way. —Mike Sula

Drew's Eatery2207 W. Montrose | 773-463-7397

$american , ice Cream | Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Reservations not accepted

Location, location, location. This little organic hot dog and ice cream shop across from Welles Park may not seem like much, but with its kid-friendly menu of sausages and well-pedigreed sweets, summer traffic seems all but guaranteed. The dogs themselves come in pork, two different combos of chicken and turkey (one with red pepper and jalapeño, the other spinach and feta), and classic nitrite-free beef; there's also a vegan version. While they're not char-grilled, they've got a clean, snappy flavor and are refreshingly free of grease. Cookies and pastries are parbaked by Sweet Dreams Organic Bakery in Glenview and finished on-site; the terrific ice cream's from Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville, Indiana. Owner Andrew Baker carries through on his commitment to sustainability with furnishings as green as they come, all the way down to the biodegradable cornstarch takeout containers. —Martha Bayne

Express Grill1260 S. Union | 312-738-2112

$American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: 24 hours every day | Reservations not accepted

Squaring off against feuding family members at neighboring Jim's Original, Express Grill (with the word original prominently plastered all over their very similar building) serves up a somewhat smaller lineup of items starring the smoked Polish sausage ($3.25) and its almost indistinguishable though slightly less garlicky twin, the beef sausage ($3.35). Vienna dogs are 75 percent bull meat, and ground-up is really the only way this tough though flavorful flesh can be consumed; here, relish is added to the standard condiment combo of mustard and onions, making for one sweet wiener. Any sandwich order gets you a "free" bag of fries, leaving you enough spare coin to purchase some bootleg CDs or tube socks from the sidewalk entrepreneurs. —David Hammond

Gene & Jude's2720 River Rd., River Grove | 708-452-7634

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, Sunday-Thursday till 1| Cash only

A Gene & Jude's hot dog, like a Cezanne painting, represents the apotheosis of a form, inessentials stripped away, almost the Platonic ideal of the hot dog. No tomato, and you don't dare ask for ketchup. What you get at this middle-American icon is a perfectly warmed wiener with world-class snap, nestled in a steamed bun and layered with mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers (if you want 'em), and fries. That's right: the fries, fresh cut with a hand-operated mechanism straight out of the Eisenhower administration, are laid gently on top of the dog, creating a steamy union of dog and fry that miraculously benefits both. There's always a long line of hungry hot-dog freaks, and it's always standing room only in this bright yellow-lit room, lined with a white wooden shelf bearing industrial-strength saltshakers (made of glass jars with holes hand-punched in the top). The locals consider this stand a national treasure, and when you bite into one of Gene & Jude's franks ($2.20, fries included), you'll see why. Don't be shy about ordering more than one: I've seen big guys order a six-pack to go (which usually means no further than the truck). —David Hammond

Harry's Hot Dogs300 W. Randolph | 312-782-7386

$American | Breakfast, Lunch: Monday-Friday| Closed Saturday, sunday | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Friendly staff? Check. Hole-in-the-wall charm? Check. Good food? Technically, check—pretty much everything about Harry's Hot Dogs is good except the hot dogs. A skinny, undercooked wiener, a small packet of fries, and a drink will set you back nearly $7, almost as expensive as Wrigley. But customers rave about Harry's chicken wings, Polish sausage, and the extensive breakfast menu, served until 10:30 AM and including a special of two eggs, toast, hash browns, and a rib eye for $5.75. But the best part of Harry's is Harry himself. The 93-year-old opened the joint in 1955 and still works from 6 AM to 4 PM four days a week. Harry personally greets every customer and makes sure no one throws away their own trash. Fans of Harry's should visit soon—he says he's retiring within six months and will sell his coveted piece of Loop real estate to a development company. —Sarah Sumadi

Hot Doug's3324 N. California | 773-279-9550

F 8.9 | S 8.2 | A 8.2 | $ (12 reports)American | Lunch: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Reservations not accepted | Cash only| BYO

rrr Most afternoons people line out the door of Doug Sohn's wildly successful emporium, willing to wait for the Crown Prince of Tube Steak's Polishes, brats, Thuringers, andouille, and Chicago-style dogs, dressed and cooked to customer preference—whether char-grilled, deep-fried, steamed, or fried then grilled. There are daily gourmet specials with silly names and a "game of the week" sausage—gator, boar, rattlesnake, rabbit, duck, kangaroo, or duck sausage with foie gras. Fridays and Saturdays fresh-cut fries are cooked in duck fat, and the only request Sohn will refuse is to smother them in cheese sauce. Sohn has duplicated the goofy decor of his previous place, the victim of a fire; the newer spot is chockablock with Elvibilia and hot-dog-related kitsch, and there's outdoor seating and plenty of street parking. —Mike Sula

Huey's Hot Dogs & More1507 W. Balmoral | 773-293-4800

F 7.1 | S 6.5 | A 5.5 | $ (6 reports)American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Cash only| BYO

When I left Andersonville, the place I missed the most was Huey's. They don't do anything fancy—dogs, char burgers, chili-cheese fries, chicken sandwiches, and a couple of salads—but if you stumble in after a long, hard, debauched Friday night, it's like you're dining in the halls of Valhalla. The dogs and the Polishes have a pleasing snap, the burgers are juicy and scored with char, the thick fries cooked perfectly. Even the fountain Coca-Cola is somehow sweeter and zestier than what you find elsewhere. Walking out clear-eyed and sober, hangover conquered at last, you realize that you've had one of your best lunches in weeks. Best of all, in the summertime you can sit outside and sip on one of Huey's luscious milk shakes. —Chip Dudley

Jim's Original1250 S. Union | 312-733-7820

$American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: 24 hours every day | Reservations not accepted

Jim Stefanovic—whose family fled the Russian Revolution and wound up working at a Maxwell Street hot dog stand in the late 30s—is said by some to have invented the Maxwell Street Polish sausage sandwich. Located blocks from the now painfully gentrified old market location, Jim's Original serves a dandy dog that pops with griddled onions and a splash of standard dog-stand mustard, condiments added to all the sandwiches here, including a respectable fish sammie. Jim's pork chop sandwich is an excellent rendition of the workingman's classic; to eat, grip the bone through the bun and nibble gingerly all around. You'll be entertained by the street-smart efficiency of the crew, cracking wise about their "secret seasonings" and the failings of nearby Express Grill (owned by a Stefanovic relative). There's an allure in the gritty vibe of this place after dark, when it's washed in sweaty yellow light, serving people who pull up in their cars for a quick snack a la trunka. —David Hammond

Jimmy's Red Hots4000 W. Grand | 773-384-9513

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, other nights till 1 | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Chicago dogs with fries usually go for around $2, so this commodity's primary differentiator is simple availability. Round midnight, if you've had a few and are standing (barely) at Grand and Pulaski, Jimmy's Red Hots has been an obvious choice for stomach ballast since 1954. Problem is, you'd have to be more hammered than you've ever been to crave one of these flaccid, snap-free wieners, minimally dressed with mustard, relish, onions, and sport peppers. In a blind tasting, you'd also have trouble distinguishing Jimmy's dogs from similarly dressed Polishes: each has identical texture and spicing; the latter seems merely thicker. One bright spot on an otherwise standard menu could be fries, fresh cut with good potato flavor, though ours were limp with past-its-prime, not-quite-hot grease, unsalted and uninteresting. The place has character: they load their grub into sacks bearing logos of other food retailers (kind of cute), countermen purportedly pack heat (unlikely), and threats are posted never to ask for ketchup (which appeals to wing nuts who get all worked up over other people's condiments). Judged on food alone, however, there's nothing that could move you to walk into this place unless you're wobbling unsteadily and need food, fast. —David Hammond

Maxwell Street Depot411 W. 31st | 312-326-3514

$American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: 24 hours every day | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Maxwell Street Depot is busiest—and tastiest—between the hours of midnight and 4 AM. The 24-hour Bridgeport hot dog stand is flooded with IIT and U. of C. students in various states of inebriation mixing with Polish and Mexican workers getting off the night shift. There are six items on the menu—hot dog, Polish, hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, and the "famous" pork chop sandwich—and none more expensive than $4.25 (french fries included). Mustard and generous heapings of grilled onions are your only choices for condiments, but this means they can assemble your order in under a minute. And finally, Depot's number one secret: you can order the pork chop sandwich without the bone. Otherwise, it's far too much to handle while drunk. —Katie Buitrago

Morrie O'Malley's Hot Dogs3501 S. Union | 773-247-2700

$American | Lunch, dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

I was sitting outside of the Bridgeport hot dog stand Morrie O'Malleys on a summer night, grilled onions dripping off my char-grilled brat, and the TV inside was of course tuned to a White Sox game. "That one's outta there!" crowed Hawk, as fireworks filled the night sky above. In celebration, I got some chili-cheese fries, the fries somehow crisp under the weight of their toppings. Morrie's, higher quality and less greasy than your average hot dog stand, specializes in char-grilled meat—hot dogs, brats, Polishes, burgers, and steak. The stand's hot dogs and Polishes come with mustard, relish, chopped onion, sport peppers, a kosher dill pickle spear, a cucumber spear, tomato slice, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun. Finish off with a malt or a brownie sundae and you'll have to roll yourself to the game. —Katie Buitrago

Murphy's Red Hots1211 W. Belmont | 773-935-2882

$American | Lunch: seven days; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

In 1995 Bill Murphy's spic-and-span Wrigleyville hot dog stand was considered so iconic by a Japanese fast-food company it used his name and likeness to launch a hot dog chain in the Land of the Rising Sun. That venture didn't last—they used pork sausages instead of Vienna Beef for one thing—but Murphy's Red Hots has endured for 21 years in the front of its owner's home on Belmont, pushing natural-casing Vienna dogs, boiled or charred, Usinger brats, hand-cut fries, and a magnificent 1/3-pound Polish sausage, split, charred, and cradled in a Turano roll. Burgers, Italian, beef, and salad round out the menu, but it's Murphy's commitment to proper sausage that's earned him the international attention and Vienna Beef VP Bob Schwartz's endorsement as a model of the perfect hot dog stand when advising entrepreneurs thinking about opening their own. —Mike Sula

The Patio1503 W. Taylor | 312-829-0454

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11 | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

This 60-year-old University Village Italian beef and hot dog joint offers a touch of low-fi class: a giant old-fashioned clock and fake plants in wrought-iron holders adorn the faux brick and terra cotta walls, and there's a jukebox full of predictable pop at the far end of the restaurant. The place was hopping at 10 PM on a Wednesday night, serving up chili dogs and Italian sausage to hungry students and bargoers. The juicy Vienna Polish is a steal at $2.70, served in a paper bundle alongside a heap of thick ketchup-slathered fries. Unusual menu items include Barq's Red Cream Soda (a fruitier version of the classic), a "chili tamale boat" (with one scoop of chili or two), and the potato sandwich: a French roll dipped in gravy then stuffed with french fries. Vegetarians can opt for a melted cheese sandwich piled high with grilled sweet peppers. —Bianca Jarvis

Rockstar Dogs801 N. Ashland | 312-421-2364

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Thursday-Saturday till 4, Monday-Wednesday till 2, Sunday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

Nightclub impresario Dion Antic's hot dog stand inhabits a short, narrow, angry red corridor decorated with a pair of wall-mounted guitars and a bunch of framed black-and-whites of rock stars in their native habitats. It's a restrictive cattle chute set up that's bound to inspire boozy pushfights and panicked stampedes among its intended customers. There's a stripper pole set up by the front door, and temporary tattoos or guitar picks are given out with each order, meant to convince the impaired that they're getting something of value for the overpriced wieners. Rockstar is using Vienna natural casing beef franks—a fine product, and each order comes with fries and a can of soda. But are they worth $6 or $7? Hell no. They're just hot dogs. Granted the toppings, named for various artists and groups, are somewhat above par—Merkt's cheese on the J. Timberlake, charred jalapeños on the bacon-wrapped Los Lobos. But you can't put lipstick on a pig (unless you're Doug Sohn of Hot Doug's, to which RD will invite inevitable misguided comparisons). —Mike Sula

Superdawg6363 N. Milwaukee | 773-763-0660

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, other nights till 1 | Cash only

From the time you spot Tarzan-clad Superdawg and his coy wienie sweetie towering over Milwaukee Avenue to the moment you beckon a carhop with the flip of a switch, you know you're at a tailfin-era original the likes of which Ed Debevic's or Chevy's can only dream of being. The Superdawg itself is one of Chicago's outstanding hot dogs, an oversize garlicky natural-casing wienie as plump as a 50s starlet. The Superburger—a thin patty fried to a crispy crust and dotted with tiny diced onions—might be even better. Both "lounge contentedly," as the charmingly corny restaurant copy has it, in crinkle-cut fries; accompaniments include pickles and pickled green tomatoes (though not, on the dogs, ketchup). Spoon-thick shakes round out the four food groups. Superdawg has a walk-up window and a few outdoor tables, but there's no substitute for eating in your car, just because this is America and you can. The memories will haunt your upholstery for weeks. —Mike Gebert

U Lucky Dawg6821 N. Western | 773-274-3652

$American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

It still stands on honorary Fluky's Way, but a few years ago the owners of this longtime Western Avenue hot dog joint detached themselves from other Fluky's licensees with a new name and a new sign. Little else has changed, from the jukeboxes at each booth to the lineup of dogs, Polishes, and char dogs to the surly help. In addition to the standards there's a full breakfast menu including a lox plate, and where else can you get hot dog gum? —Kate Schmidt

Vienna Beef Factory Store & Deli2501 N. Damen | 773-235-6652

$American | Breakfast: Monday-Friday; Lunch: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Cash only

Although diners can't actually watch hot dogs being made—which may be a good thing—just sitting so close to the action sets this no-frills cafeteria apart from other Vienna Beef vendors. Grab a tray and follow the endless silver-tube track past vats of homemade soups, every kind of deli sandwich, and yummy cake slices. Eat inside to check out the company posters or people watch, or head outside to the handful of logo-umbrellaed tables overlooking the parking lot. Don't leave without stocking up at the company store, where corn dogs go by the dozen, beef brisket comes prepackaged, and dented cakes are sometimes discounted. Open at 6 AM Monday through Friday. —Jenny B. Davis

The Wiener's Circle2622 N. Clark | 773-477-7444

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 6, Friday till 5, Sunday-Thursday till 4 | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

The raucous scene at this late-night stand has impressed the likes of Tom Waits, who at his last concert appearance in town confessed that when, on a return visit to Wiener's Circle, he was not insulted by the sassy, famously foulmouthed counter ladies he felt almost hurt. Estimates of the food vary depending on time of day and degree of drunkenness, but plenty of Chicagoans have a thing for the Vienna Beef hot dogs, served charred or boiled with all the classic fixin's, and the cheese fries, hand-cut and topped with orange goo. The shakes and burgers are also pretty decent, but most just come for the sideshow. —Kate Schmidt

Wolfy's2734 W. Peterson | 773-743-0207

$American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Fronted by a Paul Bunyan-size hot dog speared on a 35-foot-tall two-tine serving fork, Wolfy's has been pleasing West Rogers Park residents, Mather High School students, and those in the know for five generations. A steamed poppy-seed bun cushions a natural-casing Vienna Beef hot dog and well-balanced array of traditional Chicago dog accompaniments: tomato, relish, chopped onion, mustard, and a pickle spear dusted with celery salt. Tasty as the dog may be, it's hard to resist the smoky seduction of a char-grilled all-beef Polish, caramelized onion lending a note of sweetness to the aggressively spiced sausage. Thin, crisp fries, burgers, gyros, and a nice representation of hot-dog-stand usual suspects round out the offerings, though I stick with the Polishes and dogs. Parking, plentiful seating, and efficient service are all bonuses. —Gary Wiviott

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