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The Dog Show Mon Nov 23 2009
Murphy's Red Hots started in the mid-Eighties when Bill Murphy decided to create a more family-style hot dog place that represented a Fifties vibe before the Fifties vibe became chic. With his wife and daughter helping him man the small restaurant in Lakeview, the three started grilling up Vienna Beef hot dogs for the budding neighborhood to enjoy. Little did they know but their creation and care would take off, making Murphy's one of Chicago's most notable hot dog stands. Bill Murphy's hot dogs were so incredible that you can now find the restaurant in Japan. The Manabe company found Murphy's back in the '90s and wanted to bring the signature America food to Japan and Murphy agree. Now, there are two sister restaurants overseas serving up "Chicago-style" hot dogs. Vienna Beef has also entered Murphy's into their Hall of Fame, which to me is like the Oscars of the hot dog world. This above all things drove my decision to eat at Murphy's for this week's edition of The Dog Show.
Murphy's is a no frills kind of place. There're no special hot dogs, no special burgers. You get the standards. Hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches comprise the main menu, with some salads and soups to encourage some other health conscious patronage. When you go to Murphy's you have a choice between three sausage creations -- the famous Red Hot (regular sized or footlong), the "Screamin' to be Eaten" Polish, and the Usinger Bratwurst. Of course I had to try all three, along with Murphy's homemade American fries and a soft drink.
First up was the Red Hot, a Chicago standard. Murphy's take on the Chicago hot dog is one Vienna Beef hot dog (charred or steamed) topped with yellow mustard, relish, raw onions, shredded lettuce, a tomato slice, a cucumber slice, a pickle spear, and the option of sports peppers which we all know make a Chicago hot dog sing on a steamed poppy seed bun. I chose to get my dog charred and got everything, including sports peppers.
I've seen Chicago dogs topped with lettuce and a cucumber slice before and often wondered why. Well at Murphy's they serve a great purpose. I'm not sure where Murphy's gets their sports peppers but these were some of the hottest I've ever eaten. I usually have a higher tolerance than most people to spicy or hot dishes because of my upbringing, but for some reason these little guys got to me bad. A combination of both green and red peppers, each one packed a huge punch. By the time I was chomping down on the final red pepper, my eyes were watering profusely and I had downed about half of my cherry Coke. It was the cucumber slice and the lettuce that saved me. The coolness both vegetables offered combated the extreme heat of the peppers, and combining the two in one bite offered just enough heat from the sports peppers to make the hot dog a more pleasurable experience. I will never deny these two key ingredients again.
The Murphy's Red Hot was one of the best I've ever eaten, a perfect combination of pure beef dog and fresh condiments. Getting your dog steamed offers a more plump sausage and clean flavor. My personal suggestion is to get the hot dog charred since its smoky flavor and snappy texture only enhance the overall taste of it. Every bite is filled with that great hot dog flavor that places strive for. It's salty, smoky, meaty, cool, with just enough kick from the hot dog and peppers to make it go above and beyond expectations.
The Usinger brat though exceeded all culinary expectations. I'm usually not a fan of the American brat. Many times when I do take a chance on one I find the meat to be chewy and tough with a strong, overbearing flavor of beer or something that's supposedly beer flavor. But Usinger brats are completely different. Made in Wisconsin, these sausages are prepared in a traditional German way using fine meats and fine craftsmanship. The Usinger bratwurst is a pork and veal sausage with natural casing grilled and served on a Turano roll with horseradish mustard and grilled onions. The first bite brought me back to my childhood, eating veal brats supplied by the traditional German deli by my house on Christmas breakfast. It's a tradition my family does every year and I have yet to have a bratwurst that could compare. Murphy's broke the mold on this one. It was incredible. The brat was tender and juicy on the inside with a nice grilled texture on the outside. There is no comparison to this and an American style brat like Johnsonville, and to even think to compare the two is an insult. The Usinger has a surprisingly complex in flavor with just enough spices to make the veal and pork sing with every bite. Never bland and never chewy, it gave my hope back to the American brat. Serving it up with a stone ground mustard and the grilled as opposed to raw onions made it that much better. Vienna Beef will always have my heart but I think I'm going to have to make some room for Usinger as well.
Lastly, I had the Polish on my plate. The Murphy's Polish is a pork sausage sliced down the middle and grilled then served on a Turano roll. I put raw onions and yellow mustard on mine. I've only had a polish dog steamed or boiled so on first bite this tasted more like a long, spiced red hot than a polish sausage. But as I continued eating it I found the Polish to be right up there with the rest of Murphy's creations. I wouldn't call this sausage tangy but it had a certain kick that separated it from the Vienna hot dog and the Usinger brat. Add in some homemade fries, cut, fried, and salted to just the way I like them, and it was one hell of a meal.
Murphy's Red Hots is located on 1211 W. Belmont by the corner of Belmont and Racine. If you're taking the CTA, it's closest to the Belmont El station or the 77 bus at the Racine stop. Open Monday 11am-4pm, Tuesday through Friday 11am-8:30pm, Saturday 11am-8pm, and Sunday 11am-5pm. $10 will get you a hot dog, fries, and a drink and trust me, you'll be stuffed to the brim afterward.