Standing Room Only: Rotten Johnny's
801 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); RottenJohnnys/Facebook
The Short Order: Classic Chicago stand with natural casing hot dogs.
Want Fries with That? Come with every order. Make sure to order them extra crispy.
Seats?Nope, but there are some stools.
Rotten Johnny's is a stand in the strictest sense, which means I can't help but automatically love it. In fact, it's the kind of establishment this whole column was inspired by, even if that has more to do with the building than the food (though it does have some major pluses in that department, too). The narrow storefront on the corner of Chicago and Ashland is all of five feet wide, which is nowhere near big enough for a pesky table to get in the way.
Of course, its ideal location shouldn't come as a surprise to those who remember the building's former tenet, Rockstar Dogs, which was a much loved hot dog joint before it oddly closed a few years ago. (George Boy's Grill immediately took over, but closed in the fall.) The location isn't the only thing it shares with Rockstar Dogs, as it also copied that stand's love of schtick. Rotten Johnny's cops a faux-hostile stance in its signage, if not in its actual customer service. (It was all "Thank you very much," when I was there.)
What about the actual food? There is much to admire, if nothing to absolutely love. Luckily, it is does seem to be making an effort towards the right direction and some minor improvements could make a huge difference.
Case in point, Rotten Johnny's serves natural casing Vienna Beef hot dogs. And unlike some stands in the area, the fully loaded Chicago-style hot dog comes with all seven condiments accounted for. It's unfortunate that the hot dog I got looked a little worse for the wear, almost like it had been hanging out for while. Though it had the right beefy flavor, it was missing the aggressive snap that a properly served Vienna Beef should have.
As is customary at most of the best stands around, fries are included with every purchase. These also happen to be freshly cut and fried twice. But instead of the thicker style most often seen around, these are thin-cut and look like they came from McDonald's (which I mean in a good way). Unfortunately, unlike the specimens from the Golden Arches, these were a tad too limp, if still full of potato flavor. Next time I'll order them extra crispy to see where that gets me.
Interestingly, though Rotten Johnny's takes the time to cut its fries and source natural casing hot dogs, it uses frozen burger patties. I knew not to expect much, but unlike some of the seriously subpar burgers I've been subjected to recently, a mad sear helped save this one from being a complete waste. Now, would I order this again? I doubt it. Still, Rotten Johnny's should earn special points for cooking over high heat. Plus, if they used fresh meat, they'd really be on to something.
Rotten Johnny's has only been open for a couple months, so it feels wrong to pick on it when it is doing so many things right. Instead, here's hoping Rotten Johnny's gets its groove soon.