Monday, November 22, 2004


Odge's on Damen
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

I hadn’t been to Chicago in years (10 of ‘em, actually). Both of the times I’d been there I was very much a vegetarian. I’d eaten really well, but my diet had consisted of Swedish breakfasts and Ethiopian, Mexican, and Polish dinners. I’d never had two of the most famous contributions the city of Chicago has made to the world of food: the Italian beef sandwich and the Chicago-style hot dog. I still haven’t had an Italian beef sandwich (not enough time), but I finally had my first Chicago dogs.

To be honest, I didn’t even really know anything about Chicago-style dogs the first times I was there—I was unaware of the myth. I only began to get a sense of Chicago’s hot dog culture a little later when my dear friend Cathy came back from visiting her friend Cherry. Cherry was a born-and-bred Chicagoan, and she knew the city inside-out. When Cathy came to check out the town Cherry insisted on a trip out to Superdawg®, in spite of Cathy’s vegetarianism. Cathy was so impressed she got me a Superdawg® box and sent it to me in Virginia when she got back. The box was covered with all kinds of crazy images of an anthropomorphized Superdawg™, including one of “Maurie” (yes, he’s got a name) lounging on a chaise longue. The text waxed poetic on the Superdawg™ and its attributes, and it encouraged its reader to check out Superdawg’s® legendary Whoopskidawg®, too. I was starting to get the picture.

Now Superdawg® claims that its namesake sandwich isn’t a wiener, a frankfurter, or a red hot—in other words, it isn’t your average Chicago-style dog—but its wide assortment of “trimmings” are common to the variety . Superdawg’s® sandwiches come with “golden mustard, tangy piccalilli, kosher dill pickle, chopped Spanish onions, and a memorable hot pepper.” I haven’t come across a Chicago-style dog with piccalilli yet—most come with a cucumber relish, and in many cases it’s Day-Glo, for some reason—but then I wasn’t lucky enough to make it to Superdawg®. The other features of a Superdawg™ that are typical across Chicagoland are the steamed poppy seed bun and the beef dog—Superdawg® claims theirs is a pure beef dog (“no pork, no veal, no cereal, no filler”).

Superdawg® might very well set the standard when it comes to Chicago-style dogs, but probably the most famous version comes from Wrigley Field. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council places Wrigley Field as the #3 “hot dog eating stadium” in the nation (sales approaching 1.5 million per annum), in spite of Wrigley Field’s small size (capacity: 39,558). The distinctiveness of the Windy City-style dog is given much of the credit for these astronomical numbers. The Food Network™ provides the recipe below for their awkwardly named Wrigley Field Chicago-Style Grill Cart Hot Dog, but their inclusion of catsup, mild banana peppers (as opposed to hot peppers), and grilled onions calls their recipe into question:

Hot dogs and Buns:
All beef hot dogs, as needed
Poppy seed buns, as needed

Wrigley-Style Toppings:
Grilled sliced onions, as needed
Diced tomatoes, as needed
Mild banana peppers, needed
Sweet relish, as needed
Catsup, as needed
Mustard, as needed
Celery salt, as needed

Grill the hot dogs, transfer them to buns, and top according to your tastes.

Wrigley opened in 1914 and they most certainly started serving Chicago-style dogs from day 1. The Chicago dog with “the works” had become both a local and a national sensation some 20 years earlier when it was first introduced at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893—by 1914 the Chicago-style dog was synonymous with the Windy City. According to Vienna® Beef—the most ubiquitous of Chicago beef hot dogs—the Chicago-style came into being, “when two young immigrants brought their frankfurter recipe from Austria-Hungary to [the] Chicago's World Fair.” These two strangely anonymous characters started serving their “pure beef frankfurters in a steamed bun with yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped onion, tomato wedges, a kosher pickle spear, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt”—this was the first time most attendees had had a sausage served to them on a long bun. The classic formula for the Chicago-style had been established, and their invention—the hot dog—became an American obsession. Too bad the Chicago-style stopped being the national norm a long time ago. Here in Montreal, you can find “un hot dog steamé” at nearly every greasy spoon in town, but you’ve got to go to a place like La Charcuterie Hongroise to get a decent sausage on a decent bun with some decent toppings.

I had a few Chicago-styles this past week. My favorite were the “charred” “Red Hots,” and, with the exception of tomato slices (much too anemic this time of year), I liked them “run through the garden”: mustard, diced onion, relish, hot peppers, a pickle spear, and some celery salt. A cacophony of flavors, to be sure, but one appropriate for a big town with broad shoulders like Chicago.



kelli ann & lorie said...

i don't know the charcuterie hongroise. can you give me the address?

your blog is very well-done, btw- somebody should pay you both to travel, and eat, and write about it.


aj kinik said...

Hi Kelli,
Thanks for the feedback. The "Charcuterie Hongroise" that I referred to is actually called Boucherie Hongroise and it's located at 3843 St.-Laurent Boulevard, between Roy and Napoleon. There are still a few good places for take-out European sausage sandwiches between Prince Arthur and Duluth on St.-Laurent (they're usually the places with the steamed-up windows), but my favorite is Boucherie Hongroise. They've raised their prices on their sandwiches recently (even a year ago their prices were still absurdly low), but they're still totally worth it. My preferred sandwich is the spicy Hungarian sausage with sauerkraut and hot mustard. I got my dad hooked on Boucherie Hongroise, too. Every time he comes for a visit he insists on making a trip down St.-Laurent for a "snack." I don't blame him.

aj kinik said...

By the way, I couldn't believe that the signs outside "Boucherie Hongroise" actually read "Boucherie Hongroise"--I was beginning to think I was really slipping. So I went by on the weekend and, sure enough, the signs actually read "Charcuterie Hongroise." The mystery continues...
In any case, the address is correct, and, whatever the name, the sausages are delicious.

Allison said...

Oh dear! Catsup on a hot dog?! No true Chicagoan would commit such a sin! Many hot dog stands/carts won't even have catsup as an option. Stick with the true Chicago-style dog... and PLEASE no catsup!!

aj kinik said...

Hi, CmB,
Yeah, I know, that's why I ridiculed its inclusion in the Food Network's recipe. Ketchup or catsup on a hot dog is something I'll just never understand. Again, I had mine with the following: mustard, diced onion, relish, hot peppers, a pickle spear, and some celery salt. Hope that meets your approval.

TomD.Arch said...

Hey! I live a few blocks from Odges - it isn't Chicago's best, but it's worth a stop if you're in the area. Stick with the hot dogs, though. Other than the water bath for the dogs, they only have a deep fryer - no griddle for burgers, no grill for chicken breasts. (It's practically Belgan!)

About that cooking method: I like grilled (over wood/charcoal) hot dogs, but if you're attempting to create a Chicago hot dog, you really should simmer the dogs in water. You're only re-heating them - real Chicago hot dogs are pre-cooked. In an ideal world, you would get your hands on Vienna all-beef dogs - not those goofy, skinny New York things.

Ah, the ketchup controversy: I'm a 4th generation, actual Chicagoan (not a suburbanite) and darn it, I like ketchup on my hot dogs! Yes, that's blasphemy, but that's how I like 'em. Not too much - just a little. But, again, if you're going for the authentic version, skip the ketchup. One classic topping that I don't care for is pickle relish - the "real thing" is un-naturally green. Because I'm not a fan, I don't know a good source.

If the hot dog place serves fries, just ask for some ketchup for the fries, don't order it on the dog. If you really like ketchup with your dog, just make a big puddle on the side of your fries, and dip the dog in it as you go....

Other than that, simmer the dogs, steam the buns, load up the fresh, mild veggies like cucumber, add some zip with a little yellow mustard and/or relish, throw on some minced raw onion, and what ever you do ... don't skip the celery salt! Enjoy!

You can't talk about hot dogs in Chicago without mentioning Hot Doug's. You can get a good Chicago dog there, but he has really taken encased meat on a bun to whole new level. It's worth standing in the snow/rain for an hour on Fridays and Saturdays to get a gourmet "dog" with the duck fat fries.

As for Al's Italian Beef, yes, get it dipped, and no, don't wear nice clothes - it's a very messy experience, but totally worth it!