Hot Doug’s For My First Time
The Chicago-style hot dog. It is just one of the food masterpieces of the great city of Chicago that we take pride in. An all-beef red-hot “dragged through the garden” with all of those fixings piled heartily on top (mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickle, celery salt, and don’t you dare ask for ketchup on top of your hot dog). Hell, Anthony Bourdain, a hardcore New Yorker and sausage fanatic, succumbed and said that Chicago has a better hot dog than New York. And on his show about Chicago, he chose to do a piece on Hot Doug’s. At the time, I’ve never heard of the place, but as a hot dog connoisseur, I was definitely interested with what this place had to offer. When Anthony Bourdain talked about the duck fat fries every weekend and the foie gras dog (which is a duck sausage, truffle mustard, and patties of foie gras), I was definitely intrigued and I wanted to see what Hot Doug’s had to offer for myself.
So two years ago, I took the two-hour drive from Milwaukee and headed out to Hot Doug’s (3324 N. California, Chicago). I went by myself; that’s how much I was willing to give this a shot (I tried to get some friends to go, but sometimes Milwaukeeans have an aversion to things Chicago). When I got there, there was a line outside of the building, wrapped around the one side of the building, and out into the alley way. I asked how long the wait was and I was told it would be 1.5-2 hours from where I was standing (since the weekend is the only time that Hot Doug’s does their duckfat French fries). This is where many first-times probably lose their will and turn back, but since I came this far, I wasn’t about to turn back now, so I waited patiently. I would see people walk out of the restaurant with their drink in hand, feeling satisfied about their food choice for that day. It is a feeling I wanted and I wasn’t going to turn back.
I finally got through the door in just over an hour and a half, but I was still 25 people away from the cash register (where the owner, Doug Sohn, usually works day in and day out). When I was able to see the menu, I did not see the foie gras dog listed. I was kind of disappointed, but reading the menu and all the unique combinations of sausage and toppings just made my mouth drool. Everything from venison sausage topped with blue cheese and cherry creme fraiche or rattlesnake with jalapeno pepper jack cheese and a garlic mustard, I could just stare at the menu for 20 minutes and still not known what I wanted. I finally decided on a celebrity sausage (Doug usually names a celebrity sausage every week), and it was the time that Jay Cutler signed with the Bears. The sausage was a shrimp and pork Cajun sausage with blue cheese and a Creole sauce. Along with a standard Chicago-style dog, and some duck fat fries, I was ready to mow down. I took a seat in the packed restaurant and waited for my food to arrive.
When my food finally arrived, taking the first bite out of the Jay Cutler sausage was simply amazing. It was a truly unique food experience that I’ve never felt before. Something that is gourmet and served in hot dog form just blew my mind and that by itself made the two hour drive and two hour wait well worth it. But the food journey continued….the Chicago-style dog was simply amazing. It would bolster a Chicagoan’s civic pride. And the duckfat fries…well, I mean how can anything fried in duckfat not sound delicious. It really did not disappoint. I drove back to Milwaukee fully satisfied.
Eventually, I went back to Hot Doug’s and tried the famed foie gras dog and it was seriously the most amazing thing I’ve ever tasted. To put it honestly, it was like biting into childhood memories at Disney World…yes, that heavenly. The creaminess of the foie gras and the distinct tastes is truly something I would love to repeat over and over again. At least once a month, I would take a drive to Chicago just to experience the sheer enjoyment of some of Hot Doug’s gourmet dogs. I would bring friends and family who were definitely intrigued to try it, but if I had to go by myself, I wouldn’t have minded at all. Of course, I would try some of the various unique items on the Hot Doug’s menu, but I always hoped that whatever Hot Doug’s virgin I brought would buy a foie gras dog and share a bit with me.
The Chicago-style hot dog is an important part of Chicago cuisine and something all tourists must eat during a visit to Chicago. But if you are a local who hasn’t been to Hot Doug’s, you truly are missing out. This place should be a Chicago institution, as much as Lou Malnati’s, Pizzeria Uno, or even Superdawg. Part of me regrets writing this because it may increase the wait times on the weekends, but this place is so good, that it would be a crime not to share it to anyone who has never been there.