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The Dog Show Mon Oct 11 2010
I feel like this article has been a long time coming. A very long time coming. If you are a true blue Chicagoan, you know what Hot Doug's is. Started by Doug Sohn, Hot Doug's strives to make hot dogs more than just something you get at roadside restaurants and sidewalk carts. The restaurant offers more than twenty different sausages every day, and about half of those change up every month or even every week. Hot Doug's was at the center of the foie gras controversy, has been named a top restaurant by Zagats and Bon Appetit, and was one of Anthony Bourdain's Chicago picks on his show No Reservations. And Doug Sohn has achieved all of this in a little less than a decade. It's a culinary cornerstone in my opinion. The gourmet hot dog is now springing up all over Chicago, but Hot Doug's still reigns at the top of the dog chain. You can't call yourself a Chicago foodie until you've eaten a sausage at Hot Doug's.
Hot Doug's is unique because, well, who else do you know that not only makes their own sausages but also provides a variety of culinary options every day? The menu is definitely daunting for newcomers, so I tailored my review to standard menu items, omitting the gourmet sausages, the weekly game sausage special, and the weekly celebrity sausage. Even then there are so many options to choose. I went with my favorite combo - a Kiera Knightley and a Sally Vega with fries, and a Cherry Coke. A Kiera Knightley is a fire dog grilled and topped with all the Chicago dog fixings. A Sally Vega is a corn dog "deep-fried to golden splendor."
The Fire Dog has such a nice flavor--spicy, but a step below Hot Doug's andouille so your stomach doesn't catch fire after eating. It's got a tasty heat that gives the Chicago-style toppings an extra kick and a mellow, all-beef flavor grilled to perfection. As far as craft goes, the Fire Dog is made to perfection. The Hot Doug's staff may be small, but they certainly know what they're doing. The corn dog is kind of a guilty pleasure--I'm a sucker for a good one and Hot Doug's version is one of the best. Better yet, the Fire Dog and corn dog together cost $4. That's how gourmet dogs should be done: high quality dishes at low, low prices.
It's also worth mentioning the french fries at Hot Doug's. Fresh cut potatoes fried with the skins still on really makes a difference, and as a result is one of the best fries in town. Crispy on the outside, a little tender on the inside but with enough crunch to satisfy any salt craving. My second-favorite hot dog place, Gene & Jude's, does their fries very similarly. You think the taste wouldn't differ that much but it really does, and it's cheaper than crappy frozen fries. I split a large order of fries, which as you can see from the picture is a big bag, and it only cost $2. Hot Doug's also serves cheese fries and duck fat fries (potatoes fried in duck fat) on Fridays and Saturdays.
This expedition to Hot Doug's will definitely have to repeated. I am determined to try every sausage Doug Sohn deems appropriate to serve. Hot Doug's is located at 3324 North California at the corner of California and Roscoe, and is open Monday through Saturday, 10:30am to 4pm. Please keep in mind that on Fridays and Saturdays the wait can be up to 2 hours. And it's cash only! If you're buying one of the regular menu items, your meal will be about $10 if you get a drink and fries. If you feel like splurging and want to get one of the gourmet or game sausages with duck fat fries and a bottled drink, your total will be more around $15-20.
Update:Upon further research I'm not sure if Hot Doug's make their own sausages. According to one article I read they instead track down gourmet sausage providers and purchase all their products. If anyone can offer some insight into this, please leave a comment!