On The Road USA

Adventures in Chicago-style Hot Dogs!

If you’ve been following me long enough you’ll know that I’m obsessed with Chicago. I’ve been there several times and I always jam as much food into my mouth as I can. I’ve written about my adventures with Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches and Chicago Pizza but I’ve thus far neglected the third pillar of the Chicago food pyramid: the Chicago-style Hot Dog. Superior among American hot dog styles, the Chicago dog is “dragged through the garden” with an absurd amount of vegetable toppings.

Exhibit A:
A Vienna all-beef wiener in a steamed poppyseed bun w/ diced raw onions, mustard, relish, tomato slices, pickle wedge, sport peppers and a sprinkle of celery salt.

Integral to the experience is the snappy casing on the steamed dog. Less integral is the “neon green” relish that some places use. And for all that is holy, NEVER PUT KETCHUP ON A HOT DOG!

At least, not in Chicago…

The History

Chicago’s hot dog culture all started in 1893 when Austrian-Hungarian immigrants, Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany, sold their wares at the Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition. This would come to be the Vienna Beef hot dog company.

The “Chicago-style hot dog” was born out of the Depression because it was cheap and filling, and vegetables had a certain appeal in these humble times. Restaurants would serve it with lettuce or whatever crunchy nourishments they had lying around, advertising that it came with a “salad” on top. Eventually this “salad” was codified into the Chicago dogs we know and love.

Fluky’s is credited with being the original purveyor of the modern Chicago-style hot dog; what they called the “Depression Sandwich” was a hot dog with mustard, relish, onion, dill pickle, hot peppers and tomatoes, wrapped up with a portion of french fries for 5 cents.

While Fluky’s is no more, here are some of the Chicago dogs I did get to try on my adventures!

Gene & Jude’s

2720 N River Rd, River Grove, IL

This is what they call a “Chicago Depression Dog”, which replaces much of the garden with a heap of crispy French fries. It’s a filling package, all for $2.99.

Gene & Jude’s opened in 1946 and hasn’t changed a thing. There are no seats and NO KETCHUP (not even for your fries). The menu is simple, with hot dogs, tamales and fries making up its entirety. The toppings are: mustard, relish, onions, sport peppers and lots of French fries.

I took a cab straight from O’Hare Airport to Gene & Jude’s on my last visit. It was no frills, all thrills. Really just a simple perfection.

Vienna Beef Factory Store & Cafe

2501 N Damen Ave, Chicago

Any hot dog enthusiast worth their celery salt will make the pilgrimage to the Vienna Beef Company’s headquarters (and where the factory used to be until they moved it in 2016).

Here you can learn about the Chicago-style hot dog and buy merch, including jars of sports peppers and  neon green relish (the secret ingredient is blue food colouring!). These are great gifts to bring back home for all your hot dog parties!

The Wiener’s Circle

2622 N Clark St, Chicago

By Benny Mazur from Toledo, OH (Red Hot, Chicago style) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What can I say about the Wiener’s Circle? By day it’s your regular hot dog joint – family friendly, specializing in Chicago-style “char dogs” (grilled, not steamed). By night however… well, it’s a social study in anarchy where the staff are rude to the customers and, at the worst of times, the customers are racist and obnoxious to the staff.

I barely remember my experience at the Wiener’s Circle (apparently this is common) and I don’t have any pictures. I vaguely recall that the workers recognized our good-natured curiosity and gave us some tongue-in-cheek sass.

But I’d best leave the finer points of this discussion to the folks at This American Life (Warning: video is not for the faint of heart and is cringe worthy AF).

Superdawgs

6363 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago

Superdawgs has been open since 1948 and is one of the few original drive-in restaurants left in the United States. It’s still owned and operated by the family of founders, Maurie and Flaurie Berman. Here you’ll find old school car hop service, where they attach dining trays to your car window. All that’s missing are the roller skates!

Superdawgs is known for its giant figurines on top of the restaurant, and for substituting pickled green tomatoes for regular ones. As for the hot dog, it’s one of the best!

Portillo’s

numerous locations

This quick-service chain has their process down to a science but it can be a little overwhelming if you’re a tourist, especially at the River North location. There are a plethora of line-ups, crowds, shouting, menus and general chaos. But there’s a system. Just make sure you’re in the Hot Dog line-up, and go from there.

It doesn’t look like much, but this is one of the tastiest renditions of the Chicago-style hot dog I’ve had.

Wrigley Field

1060 W Addison St, Chicago

I finally got to see the Cubs play at the historic Wrigley Field last year! Eating a hot dog at Wrigley Field was also, of course, a bucket list item. Surprisingly, the hot dogs are served plain (or with grilled onions). If you think my hot dog looks like a hot mess, that’s because I had to dress it myself!

I found my way to the condiments station, where an angry mob was forming! Turns out they were all out of pickles and these Chicagoans simply refused to eat a hot dog without pickles!

Just before an all-out riot started, the pickles arrived and I happily constructed my own hot dog.

Outside of Chicago…

Shake Shack

691 8th Ave, New York, NY (and many other locations)

I friggin’ love Shake Shack. They make great hamburgers. But this is what happens when you order a Chicago-style hot dog outside of Chicago. It’s just not right. Relish figures prominently while there is a complete absence of peppers. I’d rather just have a Nathan’s or a dirty water dog when in NYC.

Stillwell Beergarden

5688 Spring Garden Rd, Halifax, NS

The only place I’ve found attempting a Chicago-style hot dog here in Halifax is Stillwell Beergarden. On this particular day it was advertised as a veggie dog, so I requested a meat dog with Chicago fixin’s.

Sport peppers are non-existent in these parts, but at least Stillwell found an approximation using pepperoncini peppers. House-made pickle slices were a nice touch, but the tomato and pickle were very thin and delicate compared to a robust Chicago garden! The celery salt really brings it all together, giving you that Chi-town flava! My only complaint is that the wiener they used didn’t lend itself to grilling. If Stillwell starts making these babies with their Peasant’s Pantry hot dogs, we’re in business!

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Have you ever had a Chicago-style hot dog? Tell me all about your hot dog adventures and favourites below! Or hit me up on social!

    2 Comments

  1. Karynne Cianfaglione

    I haven’t tired a Chicago-style hot dog but have you ever tried an Icelandic hot dog? OMG. It’s easily one of the best mystery meats I’ve ever put in my mouth! HIGHLY recommended

    PS: long time fan!

    Reply

    • Thank you! I’m hoping to visit Iceland next year, and you can bet I’ll be eating hot dogs! The Stillwell Beergarden sometimes makes an Icelandic Dog, but I don’t know how it compares. Cheers!

      Reply

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