“It didn’t really taste like a burger, obviously, because that would be weird.”
It’s mid-afternoon on an unseasonably warm St Patrick’s Day, the green dye in the river has long dissipated and we’re speeding away from downtown Chicago ‘just to see’ the famously long line at Hot Doug’s. We were fully resigned to not getting to try the famous dogs here and have to go with a more pedestrian example of the Chicago Hot Dog.
Our timing, however, was spot-on. Only ten people hanging out on the corner waiting for some sausage. The locals must be fully embracing the day of green-tinged carousing. We park up and join the line.
Now then, a bit about Doug. Hot Doug’s has only been around since 2004, so it’s not the immediate first choice for a ‘classic’ Chicago Dog. That said, it’s often touted as the only dog destination you must check out in Chicago. Bear in mind that Chicago has an unusual marriage between restaurants for locals and restaurants for tourists: Doug straddles them both.
Doug has concocted an intriguing proposition. On one hand he’ll do a classic Chicago dog, the contents of which we’ll get on to shortly. On the other, he makes his own custom franks, many of which are pretty insane.
We order two, with some special weekend duck fat fries. The Chicago Dog for purity’s sake, and the CJ McCollum. This was the closest sounding thing to the bacon cheeseburger style dog we tried to concoct at Big Apple Hot Dogs, which at least one and a half people liked.
Come on. How could we not order that.
But firstly, the Chicago Hot Dog. There is a surprisingly long list of rules with these. In London the only decent dogs come from the aforementioned BAHD and Costco. The accepted wisdom is onions, mustard and ketchup. In Chicago, this is not how things are done.
So there are six ingredients. You’ll note the lack of ketchup. Ketchup is the devil here. We’d been briefed not to ask for it - the waitress even asked if we wanted some after ordering. I overcompensate and almost scream my negative response back. There is sliced tomato though, that’s the proper way of doing things.
The real star though is the luminous green pickle sauce. It’s the Chicago staple, mostly because you don’t get it anywhere else. Think of a standard pickle relish, tarted up with some blue food colouring and that’s all it is, but once combined with the celery salt and mustard, the whole thing comes together in spectacular fashion. For the record, we bought two jars1 of it back to London and gave them to Abiye from BAHD. Here’s hoping he’s putting them to good use.
Mine was steamed. It’s a lovely dog, but I was almost taken aback by how small the frank was, especially compared to the jumbo sized dogs that are commonplace elsewhere. As an ensemble piece though, it’s like a really good burger: all about the whole package.
This bacon cheeseburger deal though. Wow. Lifechanging. It didn’t really taste like a burger, obviously, because that would be weird. But it did have a line of liquid cheese running the length of the frank. That alone blew us away. The crispy onions and sprinkled smoked cheese on top combined with a sweet BBQ sauce was superb. A perfect sandwich.
The success of Doug’s reminded us of Aaron Franklin back in Austin.
- Firstly, the main man is at the counter.
- Secondly, everything on offer here is the result of unflinching attention to detail and a desire to do things properly.
- Thirdly, he’s sticking to The Rules, but also breaking them at the same time with all his crazy sausage concoctions.
Now we’ve sampled the Chicago Hot Dog, we can’t help but feel that they’ve done a pretty terrible job of exporting it. For a town that is so fixated on their local delicacy being done right, it’s almost like they’re pointing and laughing at the rest of us for doing it so wrong. A bit like that pizza that they have maybe, but that’s another story entirely.
Well worth the trip, and arguably the only Chicago Dog you need.