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The Dog Show Mon Feb 01 2010
Wiener and Still Champion has been an institution of the Evanston area since 1975, when a local grade school contest resulted in renaming an old restaurant in the area. In 2005 the new owner Gus revamped the restaurant into a totally new establishment, featuring freshly made burgers, fries and of course hot dogs. What drew me to travel to one of Evanston's finest hot dog joints can be summed up into one word: bacon. What I've heard Wiener and Still Champion can do with bacon is enough to make me jump up and down with joy. Bacon-wrapped hot dogs, country fried bacon -- it's enough to make my digestive system scream in terror and my mouth to water with anticipation. I had to try it for myself.
Not everything at Wiener and Still Champion is covered in cured pork meat. The restaurant offers a couple other variations on the hot dog. I decided on the regular Chicago-style and chili cheese dog as my other two choices for this outing. The regular hot dog comes with all the fixings on a poppy seed bun and can be served steamed, charred or...deep fried? For the sake of science, I got mine deep fried. This new style of preparing a hot dog had it's benefits and drawbacks. First off, the deep fried hot dog is rather greasy. Now, I'm not saying grease is a bad thing. I've always liked my bacon a little greasy and fatty than most people do. It's a personal choice. However if too much grease makes you sick, as it did my mother that accompanied me on this trip, getting your Chicago-style dog steamed or charred is your best bet. Deep frying it also makes the hot dog a little tough on the outside but plump and juicy on the inside, but not in the way serving it charred does. There's no crunch to it when you bite in. It's harder, with the consistency closer to a softer jerky than a Vienna Beef's normal outer shell. It's very different from what I'm accustomed to, but it was worth the try. Having it deep-fried adds something to the hot dog. That oil seeps into the poppy seed bun and mixes well with the vinegar of the condiments. It may not be everyone's thing but it is worth a shot if you want to try something different.
Their chili cheese dog was also a pleasant surprise. This isn't a gourmet chili cheese dog by any means. Just a simple Vienna Beef hot dog steamed nestled on top of a slice of cheese with hot chili and chopped onions on top of it. It's a chili dog found at tailgate parties and backyard gatherings, and it's a perfect addition to the menu at Wiener and Still Champion. No frills, nothing fancy, simply a damn good chili dog.
But now comes an explosion of all things bacon. First up, the bacon-wrapped hot dog. I'm not sure how one does this at home, but the way Wiener and Still Champion does it is by carefully wrapping a hot dog in bacon and then deep frying it until the bacon is crispy. Then you can top it with whatever you want. I got mustard and onions on mine, because I'm not really sure what goes well on a bacon-wrapped hot dog. In hindsight doing this up Chicago-style might have added a bit more to the overall flavor. But this hot dog creation is so good you could even eat it plain. The salty flavors from the bacon add to the plump beef taste of the hot dog, and whatever toppings you put on top of your dog makes it come out more. Unlike the tough outside that I experienced with the regular deep fried hot dog, the bacon-wrapped hot dog is crunchy on the outside because of the crispy bacon and tender on the inside. The more toppings may cut down on the overall grease but that same snap to each bite still remains.
The country-fried bacon was a whole other experience. Each strip of bacon is breaded and fried and served with hot sauce and their Argentine Garlic and Herb sauce. I thought the country fried bacon would have the same texture of the bacon-wrapped hot dog -- crispy and salty. I was very wrong. The breading gives each slice a softer texture than expected, with a little crunch at the end when you hit the bacon. It's still salty, but also somewhat sweet. Each sauce really brings something different out of the dish. The hot sauce soaks easily into the outside breading and is a perfect balance sweet heat and salty crunch. The Argentine Garlic and Herb sauce is thicker and coats the outside breading. Instead of blending into the country fried bacon like the hot sauce it adds a whole other layer of flavor to it. First you taste the strong, creamy garlic and herb blend before tasting that sweet salty flavor from the bacon itself. It's an interesting taste, something I never expected to experience with this dish.
There are a couple things on the menu that I wish I did get a chance to try, but didn't have the room in my stomach to order. The Dippin' Dogs, which are all-beef hot dogs hand-dipped in cornmeal batter, just sound delicious because of the variety of sauces Wiener and Still Champion has to offer. I did get to try their Spicy Aioli sauce with my freshly prepared fries, which was just enough heat to add something extra to them. I can imagine them going very well with Dippin' Dogs. Wiener and Still Champion offer about nine sauces to choose from as well as a couple rotating weekly sauces. They also offer a variety of sides, from olive cheese fries, country fried gyros, and deep fried pickle chips. So many choices, so little space in my stomach to hold them. After seeing the menu at Wiener and Still Champion, I am seriously considering stomach enlargement.
Wiener and Still Champion is located at 802 Dempster St., near the Dempster Purple line stop. The stand is open Monday through Saturday 10:30am to 8pm and Sundays 11:30am to 4pm. However, closing times can change without notice so I would recommend checking their Twitter to see what times they operate, as well as to see daily specials. Wiener and Still Champion is a cash only restaurant, and unless you're a glutton like I was this week, $10 will get you a decent meal.