This week we take a look at one of the country's most beloved regional hot dogs, the classic Chicago Dog. A few weeks ago we delved into Chicago's lesser-known minimalist style, the Depression Dog. But today it's all about the classic dragged-through-the-garden jumbo beef frank on a poppy seed bun, topped with pickles, sport peppers, tomatoes, neon green relish, bright yellow mustard and celery salt.
For the Chicago dog novice, the sheer amount of stuff on this hot dog stands out first. It's visually awesome but depending on the size of the veggies, it can be quite a challenge to eat. It's really almost more of a weiner hoagie than a hot dog. Some places even put lettuce and raw cucumber slices on there.
The garlicky jumbo franks—usually Vienna Beef brand although some prefer Best's or Klements—are typically served steamed, but I preferred a "char dog" which is blackened on the grill. The outside gets nice and crispy but because the dogs are so thick, the inside doesn't dry out, similar to how half-smokes are cooked in Washington, D.C.
Weiner's Circle serves char-dogs and some killer hand-cut fries. They're also notorious for late-night screaming matches between the staff and the drunk obnoxious customers—which even made it onto a segment of This American Life (definitely NSFW). The owners guess the phenomenon has at least doubled their business. I was there at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday and the staff was perfectly pleasant.
Another thing you might notice about hot dogs in Chicago is they are literally everywhere. There are more hot dog stands in the Chicago area than Wendy's, McDonalds, and Burger King combined. This isn't an obscure forgotten food item that you have to slither down an unmarked alley to find, unless you're seeking out the Depression Dog.
Like any regional dog worth its salt, for every Chicago hot dog stand that has lines around the corner, there's a secret spot that does it better. Or might possibly be run by the great-great grandson of the guy who made the first.
Unlike many variations across the country, the Chicago Dog's roots don't go back to Coney Island, where wieners were first served on rolls at Feltman's in the 1870s. Although the success of hot dogs in New York may have encouraged Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany to bring their Vienna sausages from Hungary to the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, where Vienna Beef, still the most eaten dog in Chicago, introduced its product to America.
Jacob Drexler and his son Abe, AKA "Fluky," were some of the first on record to serve hot dogs garnished with a myriad of vegetables at their vegetable cart on Maxwell Street, which eventually became Fluky's hot dog stand in1929. Other vegetable stands also offered hot dogs, with contributions coming from every ethnic group—pickles from the Germans, hot peppers and giardiniera from the Italians, and the liberal use of fresh vegetables from the Greeks. Poppyseed rolls came along in the late 1930s from Jewish bakeries.
Fluky's opened multiple locations over the years, all of which have closed except for a small stand in a Wal-Mart that gets mixed reviews. The closest you can get to the original today is U Lucky Dawg, a former Fluky's location that was purchased and rebranded by a few of the employees. Another option is Wolfy's, opened by Abe Drexler's brother-on-law and said to be one of Chicago's best. A newer favorite is Hot Doug's, where they do everything from the classic Chicago dog to wild game sausage, foie gras dogs and duck fat fries.
Chicago hot dogs can now be found from Hawaii to Florida but curiously no one has yet to stray too far from the recipe, although the Chicago Dog has definitely influenced other styles. They sprinkle celery salt on the dogs at Flo's in Maine and New York System in Rhode Island.
Pickles are a common hot dog condiment everywhere, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Chicago style wasn't just a little bit influential in topping-heavy variations like the Tijuana Dog and the Seattle Dog.
The Weiner's Circle
2622 N. Clark Street, Chicago IL 60614 (map) 773-477-7444
U Lucky Dawg
6821 N Western Ave, Chicago IL 60645 (map) 773-274-3652
2734 W Peterson Ave, Chicago, IL 60659 (map) 773-743-0207
3324 North California, Chicago IL 60618 (map) 773-279-9550
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.
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