Hot dogs are everywhere in Chicago. They are the default snack wherever you go: baseball game, shopping at Target, the Chicago Art Institute. Macy’s basement food court fed us hot dogs on our first or second day in Chicago, when we were jetlagged and looking for kitchen appliances. And Saturday night before a soul gig we finally tried out an Evanston institution: Wiener and Still Champion.
Exhibit A, above, is the classic Chicago-style hot dog. This has to have seven toppings, and I considered it part of my preparation for emigration to learn these by heart. They are: sport peppers, a dill pickle, chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, neon green relish, mustard and celery salt. You must NOT add ketchup. It is profoundly unChicagoan to do so. According to the Time Out guidebook to Chicago this top-heavy approach developed in the Depression, as hot dog vendors competed to add value to their product, and the Italians and Greeks vied to win customers over to their sport peppers and neon relish (Italian) or tomatoes and onions (Greek), which were additions to the basic German-Jewish mustard on a beef (not pork) sausage. When the ketchup got demonised I can’t quite make out.
The nice thing is that there isn’t a chain of hot dog stands or stores, or at least not a big one. Each hot dog joint has its own personality, silly name and jaunty logo. Indeed, apparently there are more hot dog places in Chicago than there are branches of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s combined. Vienna beef is the Chicago brand of dog that’s cornered the market, but there’s a rival: the slightly more expensive Polish sausage, which is grilled rather than boiled. That is the variation photographed above. Generally you get a little garnish of fries like the one you can see, making it the perfect early evening or lunchtime meal on the run.
People rave about Wiener and Still Champion’s fries, but I thought they were nothing special and the oil probably needed a change. Still, I was wowed (if my clogged old heart could still manage a wow) by their other variation on the hot dog: the dippin’ dog.
Yes, it’s not particularly pretty. Or healthy. But it is a very, very tasty and crunchy cornmeal casing around a juicy hot dog. I forgot to order the dipping sauce for which W&SC is famed – they have about ten options, with a special every week (this week: miso mayo). Must go back and try that.
Anyway, the next place on my list is Hot Doug’s in Wrigleyville. They have duck fat fries, game sausages, and a theme song available in three mixes.