Standing Room Only: Fast Track
629 West Lake Street, Chicago, IL 60661 (map); 312-993-9300; fasttrackonlake.com
The Short Order: Solid hot dog stand, close to downtown.
Want Fries with That? Very good hand-cut fries
Seats? Besides the outdoor patio, only a few counters and a couple high tops.
It's hard to pin down Fast Track in the West Loop, but let me give it a shot. Thanks to the train paraphernalia scattered around, including a toy train track inside, one might feel tempted to call this a themed stand. But it's not, or it doesn't feel like kitsch. Instead, it has a no-nonsense atmosphere more in common with a minimalist hot dog stand, like Redhot Ranch. Except, that is, for its epic menu, where you can pick between 80 odd different dishes. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to sample all of them, but I did try a few of the heavy hitters.
Located by the Green and Pink Line train tracks and with a pretty amazing view of downtown, Fast Track is always busy, but never swamped. That's probably because it is far enough away from downtown to avoid the usual tourist crowd, while having a menu that isn't quite distinctive enough to lure people in from other neighborhoods. Regardless, however you want to classify it, Fast Track is a solid stand worth visiting.
I wasn't lying about the menu. There really are over 80 items to choose from. But if you have only one shot, you might as well go with the Charbroiled Hot Dog ($2.55). The natural casing dog is steamed, cut with a knife a few times, and then tossed on the grill, where the casing crisps up. Set on a steamed poppy seed bun and loaded with all of the classic Chicago-style toppings, this is one of the better char dogs around.
Also very good is the Italian beef ($5.49). Sure, the pre-sliced beef and Turano roll aren't much different from what you'd find at other places, but the giardiniera is. Along with pickled chiles and carrots, I spotted cauliflower and even olives in the mix. The pungent condiment asserts itself in every bite, elevating what would be a standard beef.
Beyond those two items, I wasn't sure where to turn, so I kind of picked randomly and went with the turkey sandwich ($5.35). But even this shows how the restaurant sweats the details more than your average stand. Though I wasnt quite sure what to expect from the item (I hoped they wouldn't serve me a whole turkey breast) what came out sort of looked like a regular turkey lunch meat, but instead of slimly slices, the thickly cut pieces had obviously been cut off a whole roasted breast. It wasn't exactly the most flavorful sandwich, but I'm glad I tried it.
The fries, on the other hand, are kind of essential. Hand-cut and crispy, these make a fine addition to any main item.
With a menu so huge, I'm sure there are other gems here. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to konw. I'll be back here for sure.