Standing Room Only

Standing Room Only: Pick Up the Polish at Parse's Red Hots

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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Chicago has more hot dog stands than I can ever hope to visit, so I'm not surprised when I come across a stand I've near heard about before. That said, there's usually a reason a place has completely avoided my stand radar (which, I have to admit, is quite powerful). Most often it's just mediocre—not offensive, but not exactly trying either. This is a story about an exception. Incredible Polish sausages are involved.

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But the tale begins with a hot dog. I first came across Parse's Red Hots while researching Eat Your Way to O'Hare Airport. The Norwood Park stand is a block away from the Harlem Blue Line stop, making it prime target for the list. While there wasn't much online about the establishment, I was surprised to learn is that it was one of the few stands in the city that doesn't serve a hot dog from Vienna Beef or Red Hot Chicago. I hopped on the Blue Line the very same day.

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The first option on the menu is Parse's Original hot dog, and it's... good (note: you can order a jumbo Vienna Beef hot dog if you'd like). Instead of an all-beef sausage, Parse's uses a blend pork and beef, something that is much more common over in Michigan. The blend results in a slightly off-white color and a milder profile, which kind of gets lost amid the Chicago style toppings.

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Considering it reminded me of a Michigan-style dog, I returned a few days later to try it bathed in chili as a Detroit Coney. Parse's doesn't make the chili, and it's not very similar to the coney sauce at the best places in Michigan, but it's reasonably meaty. Along with yellow mustard and chopped onions, this route makes for a more rounded dish.

My story could have ended here—a stand with a hot dog that is more interesting than delicious. But after paying I noticed an employee wearing an apron from Harczak's Sausage, a deli located a couple of doors down. I put two and two together and assumed the shop made the hot dogs. I was wrong. While I could't pry the name of the hot dog manufacturer, I did learn that Harczak's makes the Polish sausage. It's fantastic.

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I've never encountered a fresh Polish as juicy as this one. Steamed instead of grilled, the plump sausage features a crisp natural casing. Sure, most places go with smoked Polish sausage, so comparing Parse's to Jim's Original is not particularly helpful. All I know is that I'd rather stuff my face with the steamed Polish from here—dressed with mustard and chopped onions—than a Polish from just about any other place.

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Parse's doesn't have a fryer, so you'll have to go with chips instead of fries. But it does serve cornmeal tamales, which I tried loaded up with chili, cheese, and onions as a tamale boat. Like the one I sampled at Morrie O'Malley's, it's a big, salty mess, which absolutely requires a fork. This is either your thing or it isn't.

But the Polish sausage is the real reason to return to Parse's. In a city where most stands serve the exact same brands in exactly the same way, Parse's deserves a visit.

Parse's Red Hots

7049 West Higgins Avenue, Chicago, IL 60656 (map)
773-763-9693

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