Sausage City: The Chicago-Style "Ripper" from Bangers & Lace
The Chicago-style hot dog, in many ways, cannot be improved upon. It makes no sense to anyone who's never tasted one—the long list of toppings, especially that long spear of dill pickle, seems out-of-balance and over the top—but the fact is, there is something magical in that combination of flavors that makes our hot dog justifiably famous.
But the one criticism Chicago dogs receive the most is that they're hard to eat. The toppings are piled so high you can sometimes hardly get your mouth around the bun, and they're at great risk of sliding off. But what if you combine all that goodness into a single topping and slather it on the dog?
That's what lead me to Bangers & Lace, which opened in Wicker Park on Division St. last year, and has quickly earned a loyal following as much for their high standard of beers on draught as for their chef-driven takes on various kinds of sausage. The sausages come from all over the city and beyond, including their various interpretations of the Chicago Dog.
The Ripper ($4), as its known, is the most interesting: it comes on the traditional poppyseed bun and the dog comes from Vienna Beef. So far, faithful to the Chicago Dog. But the topping is the real story: it may look like guacamole, but it's actually a briny, piquant relish that tastes like all the best things that normally go on top: pickle, mustard, onions, relish (and I'd swear there's some celery salt in there).
Let's be clear, this is not an improvement on the Chicago Dog. The interplay of textures is one of the most enjoyable things about eating one, and that pleasure is mostly absent while eating the Ripper. The deep-frying technique they use for cooking the dog is interesting, but not necessarily an improvement, either; it somewhat mitigates the lack of a natural casing by turning the outside into a dense, crisp exterior, but it doesn't compete with the "snap" of natural casing. It does make it seem more caramelized, and there is definitely some novelty to it, but that's about it.
Still, this is a hot dog worth reporting about. For $4, you could have one sitting at the bar with a superb glass of beer (my choice was from Michigan's Greenbush Brewery, which was fantastic) and spend very little money, which is exactly what I did.
In addition to the food, the interior is gorgeous, cozy, and full of people wearing plaid. As far as beer and sausages go—and those two have gotten along famously for quite awhile—this is a pretty good way to spend an hour.