Last weekend Isabel and I drove to Chicago. It was our second visit to the city in as many years, and if I claimed the urgency of our return was prompted by anything other than eating a hot dog, I’d be lying. But of course, a Chicago-style hot dog is much more than a regular dog. And when you are talking about one from Hot Doug’s, that’s another matter all together.
To say that the self-proclaimed, “Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium” is much more than your average hot dog stand, would be an understatement. In fact, the exotic and inventive menu has landed it on Bon Appetit’s list of the “50 Best Restaurants in the World.” No small feat for a place whose logo is a cartoon hot dog with glasses, and the most expensive item is a whopping $10.
So yeah, the place is good. But the urgency of our return was prompted by owner Doug Sohn’s shock announcement earlier this spring that the restaurant will go into “permanent vacation” this fall. Which meant if Isabel and I were going to sample some of these famous dogs, this summer would be our last chance.
If driving 850km to eat a hot dog sounds insane, than how would you react if I said that before even setting foot in the small restaurant you have to stand in line for upwards of 2 hours? Well that’s part of the Hot Doug’s experience. I won’t say it was a pleasant part of it, but time flies when you’re aware of the ridiculousness of the situation.
So after waiting over an hour and a half—which is about average, I’m told—we came face to face with Hot Doug himself. Part of the restaurant’s charm stems from the fact that Doug personally takes every single order, and happily makes chitchat with every single person. Isabel and I ordered three dogs. The first was Doug’s version of the classic Chicago-style dog. We got ours charred (instead of boiled). It was as good as any Chi dog we’ve had to date. We considered this our “control” in the taste trip. Which meant we had two more opportunities to sample some of the more adventurous dishes. A no-brainer for us was the foie gras dog—a duck and sauternes sausage, with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de sel. It was as rich as it sounds, and probably the tastiest bite of food I had on our trip. Our third order—based on Doug’s recommendation—was his cassoulet dog. It was a Toulouse sausage with herb mustard, great northern beans, duck confit and black sea salt. We found this one to be a touch salty, but delicious nonetheless.
The verdict? Amazing. Worth the ridiculousness we went through to try it. When it closes this fall, Chicago is losing a real gem.