New York food critic Alan Richman should not be writing about Chicago hot dogs. But, that's what happened in his GQ piece last week, as we've previously mentioned. Richman swooped into the Windy City, ate a dozen or so dogs--and by his own admission, cut them up like a street food dilettante with a plastic knife--and deigned to decree four of them so wonderful "even New York should be in awe."
Along the way, Richman, the man I like to call the Marilyn Manson of food critics (I feel he's a public opinion puppeteer fully aware of both sides of an issue, but intent upon picking the side that incites the most controversy) took as many shots at Chicago and our dog vendors as he could.
Among the many insults, he suggests that most Chicago dogs get pulled from a pot of hot water, saying that's what New Yorker's call a "dirty water dog." While many certainly get pulled from a steam bath, there's a big difference between your average New York street vendor dog and an honest Chicago restaurant dog.
Richman also ate out both sides of his mouth, complaining in the same article that our dog restaurants have become "infantilized"--as if the drunken patron show at Gray's Papaya at 3 a.m. is so mature--but then a few paragraphs later chides Hot Doug's for their sophisticated offerings of duck fat fries and caramelized onions saying, "Who do they expect to walk in, Charles de Gaulle?"
Spending so much time wading through his vitriol, you almost forget Richman had actual conclusions about our dogs.
The first of his conclusions that's interesting: his disdain for the cardboard box crammed Superdawg. While fawning over Rockstar Dogs, he fails to mention that not only do their dogs also get crammed and oversteamed in a cardboard box, but they get packed in with French fries and an ice-cold can of soda, ensuring a lukewarm dog and flaccid fries. That being said, I really like Superdawg. In a field of imitators, their pickled tomato and thick spicy beefy franks stand out against the pencil-thin wieners sold at many of our joints.
Richman gets it right by liking Hot Doug's, but gets it wrong when he makes fun of them for buying Vienna dogs while making the specialty dogs in-house. Owner Doug Sohn makes many of his toppings and sauces, but he sources all of his sausages out.
Richman likes Byron's, but their dogs are casing-less, which robs them of that important super-snappy toothsome bite.
Richman lauds the Weiner's Circle, which is cool, if you like to get your dogs at a racist culinary Disneyland.
Gene and Judes, which serves up natural snap casing Vienna dogs with a touch of garlic is conspicuously absent. In the Gene and Judes vein, you also have Poochie's, Fast Track, Al's on Taylor, and believe it or not, the local uberchain, Portillo's (downtown location is one of my favorites). For those who complain that the Chicago salad toppings obscure the dog, the jumbo version at Portillo's makes for a good beef to garden topping ratio.
Excepting maybe Gene and Judes and Hot Doug's, one thing I'm sure Richman ran into is their inconsistency issues at almost every stand, so I cut him some slack on places that didn't get mentioned. That being said, the griddled Best's Koshers topped with grilled onion served at Sox games at US Cellular can be some of the best dogs around when they're on, but like Richman, maybe that's just the hometown bias talkin'.