"I guess Doug believes about hot dogs what Robert Frost wrote about fences. Good hot dogs make good neighbors."
Since Robyn had never been to Chicago before our recent visit, I decided she had to experience the deservedly much heralded Hot Doug's, the self-described encased meats emporium and sausage superstore. When we arrived, already at least partly sated and fortified by the serious barbecue we practically inhaled at Honey1 BBQ, the line was already past the church that is two doors down from Hot Doug's.
I've always found the outside line at Hot Doug's to be an integral part of the Hot Doug's experience (especially on Fridays and Saturdays when Doug Sohn serves his duck fat fries). Why?
Because the queue is filled with an interesting assortment of characters. Hot dog-loving Chicagoans who know how delicious Doug's dogs and duck fat fries are; serious eaters of all ages from out of town who've heard they cannot go to Chicago and not go to Hot Doug's; and a smattering of food professionals, chefs, and food writers there to see just what the fuss is all about.
And everybody is friendly and chatty to boot, so waiting in the Hot Doug's line just doesn't seem like torture, though I have to admit that the stop at Honey1 BBQ helped as well.
It took us about half an hour to make it inside to the front of the line. That's when serious eaters get their first glimpse of Doug himself, who is always there taking orders and money. Doug is the only one who I have ever seen taking orders at Hot Doug's, which is really cool because he makes the whole experience personal and memorable. He is incredibly friendly and efficient, genuinely helpful, and manages to move the line along without being a jerk.
There were four of us, including one non-meat eater, so we ordered two regular hot dogs (one steamed and one grilled), an Atomic Bomb (a damn spicy pork sausage with blood orange mustard and habanero-jack cheese), a fancypants Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage (with truffle aioli), an order of the bagel dogs and tater tots, and of course some duck fat fries. Were they worth the wait?
Oh yes, they were.
The regular Chicago dogs were just really good Chicago hot dogs augmented by caramelized onions, which turns out to be an inspired addition to the Chicago hot dog condiment canon. I like the extra color and slight crunch supplied by the grilled hot dogs, but the steamed one is a more tender dog.
The Atomic Bomb ($7.50) was really, really, really hot (that's hot to the third power) courtesy of the habanero-jack cheese and the red pepper in the damn spicy pork sausage. It was too hot for me, but the hot food freaks at the table loved it.
The Foie Gras Dog ($9) has creamy chunks of foie gras strewn on top. It's actually a well thought-out and constructed (and obscenely rich) dish that happens to be in hot dog form. When the Chicago City Council banned foie gras in 2006, Doug was actually the first restaurant fined for violating the ordinance.
The bagel dog bites were just fine, as were the tater tots, but the duck fat fries were sublime. They were more than just ducky.
The vegetarian dog was, well, much appreciated by the vegetarian with us.
We got to taste one more fancypants hot dog, the fabulous and highly recommended smoked Portuguese linguica ($7.50) with the saffron rouille and 12-month Manchego cheese, thanks to our chef neighbor in line who sat at the table next to us.
To me that's what eating at Hot Doug's is all about--the vibe that Doug himself creates. I guess Doug believes about hot dogs what Robert Frost wrote about fences. Good hot dogs make good neighbors.
3324 N. California Avenue, Chicago IL 60618 (map) 773-279-9550