Serious Eats: Chicago
Lunch in the Loop: America's Dog
Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to this week's edition of Diners, Drive-Ins, and... tee-hee, I'm such a kidder. By the way, If I ever utter the words "flavor town," get the shovel, because I've turned. Lately, I've realized that during my heartwarming coming-of-age Lunch in the Loop journey, I haven't done much exploring of hot dog joints. Mostly because there aren't as many as you'd think in the Loop. The majority of the hot dog stands live in the other parts of the city. Weird, right?
One of the few places I've been intrigued about, however, is America's Dog. Despite the patriotic name, America's Dog is actually a local chain, with a handful of outposts around town. However, they're aiming high. Rather than stick solely to a traditional version of a Chicago hot dog, their gimmick is to combine hot dogs from around the country into one menu. There are dogs like the Dallas Dog, Atlanta Dog, Buffalo Dog, and Green Bay Dog. Get it? That's ambition, folks.
Look at that sad, lonely pepper up there. Sorry, pepper. You bring a twinge of sadness to the composition of this photograph. I will remember you...forever.
I had to start with the hometown favorite, the Chicago Dog ($3.39). Okay, let's say it all together. Mustard, onion, relish, tomato, pickle, sport peppers, and celery salt. And of course, it's an admirable execution and my favorite among the bunch, though, obviously, I'm biased. All the ingredients are in the proper amounts without any of them being overwhelming, with the satisfying crunch of pickle with every bite. The skinless Vienna Beef hot dog is a decent foundation—salty, a bit snappy, and satisfying.
The Maxwell Street Polish ($3.79) is made with a considerably bigger tube steak, dressed with the standard-issue mustard and grilled onions, and it's topped with sport peppers for good measure. It's big, charred, salty, and hearty, and I'd have no problem ordering it again. There's a considerable lack of sweet grilled onions, however, so you might want to order a little extra just in case.
The Cincinnati Dog ($3.39) imitates the chili dogs you get over in southern Ohio, with chili, mustard, and diced onions. It's messy, but mostly forgettable. If you're in the mood for a chili dog, it'll work just fine.
The Richmond Dog ($3.39) isn't so successful. It's topped with mac and cheese, bacon, and what the menu says is supposed to be shredded cheddar cheese, but is actually just a load of salty, processed cheese sauce. And here's where it gets weird. The mac and cheese isn't really mac and cheese, it's plain overcooked noodles with sauce ladled on top. Sorry guys, but that's not going to cut it. The salty bacon just makes the entire thing even saltier and harder to enjoy.
I like fried pickles ($3.69) but they're sort of a rarity in Chicago. Rather than pickle chips, these are giant spears in a thick breading that ends up being chewy and gummy. Ranch isn't served by default, so you might want to ask for it, if that's your thing. Plus, the picture makes the fried pickles look like a hermit crab.
The curly fries ($1.69) are pretty much what you'd expect. They are of the seasoned variety, and have a slightly bitter aftertaste, sort of like Arby's curly fries.
So overall, I feel like America's Dog is one of those places that tries to do everything. There's 18 hot dogs altogether, and you even have an option to upgrade your hot dog to jumbo, all natural, or veggie. But with so many versions of the hot dog, it's damn near impossible to do all of them complete justice.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.