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Restaurants: More Bliss on a Bun, May 15, 2008

Fourteen places for hot dogs and sausages

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More Bliss on a Bun

Fourteen places for hot dogs and sausages

Abe Frohman's Neighborhood Joint1316 N. Western | 773-227-7666

$Coffee Shop, American | Breakfast: friday-Sunday; Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till midnight | Cash only

Named for the puissant but unseen Sausage King of Chicago in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, this newish Humboldt Park coffee shop has yet to ramp up to an ambitious program of breakfast dishes, sandwiches, and sides. For now the menu is limited to Chicago-made products like Filbert's sodas and local sausages such as those from Vienna, Best Kosher, Bobak's, Leon's, and Sausages by Amy, grilled on a panini press and bunned on Gonella or S. Rosen's breads. It's a cute concept, but it's taking an awful long time to live up to its promise. —Mike Sula

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

$American | 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. On the other hand, I recently got a bratwurst that was skinny, blackened, and dry. I still ate it, though—it was nourishing, and I had shit to do. Sometimes, Byron's seems to argue, food is just food, a notion I heartily agree with. It's also dirt cheap and quick, two virtues which should never be underestimated. —Chip Dudley

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

$Ice Cream, American | lunch, dinner: Sunday, tuesday-thursday | closed monday | Reservations not accepted | vegetarian friendly

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 jalapeno, the other spinach and feta), and classic nitrite-free beef; there's also a vegan version. While they're not chargrilled, 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 the new 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 coins to purchase some bootleg CDs or tube socks from the sidewalk entrepreneurs set up by the serving windows. —David Hammond

Freddie's701 W. 31st | 312-808-0147

$Italian, American | lunch, dinner: seven days | open late: every night till midnight | reservations not accepted

My dad always said if you're going to do something, do it right. So when the lady at Freddie's asked if I wanted gravy with my Italian sausage, I of course said yes. This sandwich is a big ol' hoagie roll stuffed with not one but two giant sausages and covered with your standard giardiniera. You can get it with a container of beef juice for dunking. Italian sausage with gravy? Oh yes. By the end of it I felt like I'd just had the most amazing sex of my life, and the old men and cops whispering in the kitchen made me wonder if I had stumbled onto some secret fraternity. Pickup and delivery only after 11 PM. —Ringo

Gene's and 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's and 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 salt shakers (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's and Jude's franks ($2.11, 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

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

F 9.0 | S 8.3 | A 8.3 | $ (13 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 (used to be) duck sausage with foie gras (Sohn was the first Chicago restaurateur to be fined for violating the city's ban). Fridays and Saturdays fresh-cut fries cooked in duck fat are added to the options, 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 7.2 | S 6.0 | A 5.6 | $ (7 reports)American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Cash only | BYO

When my girlfriend and 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 with something close to amazement that you've had one of your best lunches in weeks. Best of all, in the summertime you can sit outside, sip on one of Huey's luscious milk shakes, and ruminate on how lucky you are to be within walking distance of one of the finest hot dog stands in the city. —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 | Cash only

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

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 | Cash only

Nightclub impresario Dion Antic's hot dog stand is like a middle-aged rich guy with size issues, stuffing his jeans with toilet paper and trading in his sedan for a crotch rocket—all talk, no cock. It 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 setup 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, guitar picks, and other trinkets are given out with each order, meant to convince the impaired that they're getting something of value. 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 above par—Merkt's cheese on the J. Timberlake, charred jalapenos 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. And sure enough, Florence and Maurice Berman opened the place 60 years ago—May 18 is the anniversary of its founding. 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, Ice Cream | 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

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

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