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The Dog Show Thu Oct 04 2012

The Dog Show: Jimmy's Red Hots

Thumbnail image for TheDogShow_01.jpgChicago is a city steeped in tradition and history, a town full of allegiance to memories and what we love. Whether you grew up in Chicago or not, once you live here you have those first places you visit in the city that, for the most part, remain favorites. It's the type of city with pride where you'll find multiple generations eating the same food, shopping at the same stores, and cheering on the same teams for years to come. This week in the Dog Show, we visit one of those family institutions on the West Side, Jimmy's Red Hots.

Jimmy's is Chicago to the core. Around for over 50 years, the stand is family owned and operated, serves a very small, specific menu in a brisk no bullshit manner. There are rules at Jimmy's, such as move to one of the two lines, cash only, and don't even think about asking for ketchup. You can bitch all you want, but this is the rules. You don't like it, don't come there. Sure, the neighborhood is a bit rough, but no worries, the guy behind the counter has a permit to pack heat. And honestly, no one is going to mess with a local institution that is a staple in the neighborhood. So quickly grab one of everything to go (no tables, just a stand-up counter at Jimmy's) and get ready to celebrate something truly Chicago.

Now I know a lot of people aren't aware that there is more than one Chicago style dogs, which explains the numerous furious reviews of Jimmy for not serving a "Chicago style" dog. This is old school Chicago style, no fancy bun or neon relish but the lesser known "depression dog." You get one of the smallest dogs around (I'd go double myself for more meat) topped with just mustard, onions and sport peppers, all served on a steamed bun. Dogs are steamed too. And you get a pile of fries to go along with it. We ordered one of everything: a regular dog, polish, a tamale, hot sauce, and drinks to go. That is the entire menu right there, and including two small drinks the total bill was $10.50.

Before even returning to our car, the sack started to leave a red burn on my arm, the grease leeching through. Do not set the sack on anything you don't mind throwing away, because the grease will soak right through the bag and possibly a few more layers before reaching your destination. We headed to Humboldt Park to enjoy a nice afternoon and discover the charm of Jimmy's.

jimmy's red hots

You get the full grease effect as you unwrap your order, the wax paper turning translucent as you peel hot fries away, dip them in the vinegar peppery hot sauce and pop them in your mouth. First off, the hot sauce, made in house, reminded me of the vinegar kick of heat of Co-Op hot sauce. It's got just enough kick to be an addictive condiment for the fries, which at first glance have a nice golden brown color but look limp as a wet noodle. I prefer my fries crispy, so I was ready for heartbreak, but Jimmy's must know some magic because these fries worked. They were more like eating a fresh baked potato — creamy and full of flavor with just a little bit of texture and skin. These fries have soul and character, perfected over the years to be totally unsuspecting at first glance but pack a total punch at first bite.

I tore myself away to try the generic steamed processed tamale from Chicago manufacturer Supreme Tamale, nothing like the homemade stuff you get out of a red or blue cooler at the bar Saturday night. Just soft enough and with a little acidic kick, it was surprising comforting. Soft and salty, it was nothing fancy, but I could see myself craving them late at night in the future.

Finally we can to the dogs. Both the hot dog and the polish have a nice snap when you bite down, thanks to their natural casing. Obviously the polish had more flavor — not surprising since it's twice the size of the hot dog — but the puny red hot still had that great flavor you'd expect from a dog. Encased in a perfectly steamed bun, just soft enough, and topped with those minimal onions, mustard, and some of the best (and spiciest) sport peppers I've had in Chicago. The sport peppers looked to be homemade, based on their size and depth of flavor. Unfortunately, as you can see from the photo, Jimmy's wraps their dogs and fries together in a tight little package, which means that the nicely steamed bun ends up a bit mangled and squished. The flavor comes through, though.

Overall, Jimmy's Red Hots is a perfect example of the art of restraint, just simple humble ingredients that have been perfected over time to be a crowd favorite that brings back those memories time after time.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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