As American as hot dogs and apple pie. That’s what they say, right? For such an iconic American food, there seem to be really only a few places throughout the United States that see hot dogs as elevated cuisine. New York has Coney Island dogs and Gray’s Papaya. Cincinnati has the venerated chili dog, and Chicago has something else, again.
The proper Chicago dog with everything has a very specific make-up. To vary from this can be grounds for arrest and jail time, or at least a slew of bad reviews on Urban Spoon. HotDogChicagoStyle.com lays down the law this way:
A Chicago Style Hot Dog is more than just a Hot Dog; it’s a taste sensation with the perfect blend of toppings. So, what exactly is a Chicago Dog? A Chicago Style Hot Dog is a steamed all beef Hot Dog topped with yellow mustard, bright green relish, onions, tomato wedges, pickle spear or slice, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt served in the all-important steamed poppy seed bun.
The toppings are just as important as the order they are applied to the Hot Dog. Add toppings in the following order:
- Yellow Mustard
- Bright “Neon” Green Relish
- Fresh Chopped Onions
- Two Tomato Wedges
- A Pickle Spear or Slice
- Two Sport Peppers
- A Dash of Celery Salt
Remember: When adding toppings, dress the dog and not the bun!
I’ve seen scathing reviews on restaurant sites where the vendor has elected to toast the bun instead of steaming it, or serve chopped tomatoes instead of sliced. An outsider may ask, “does it really matter?”. To the initiated it certainly does. And having now had a Chicago Dog done the right way, all I can say is that it’s a mighty tasty tradition.
The place we wanted to go to to experience the tradition for ourselves (Hot Doug’s Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium) decided to take a protracted Labour Day holiday and is currently closed. We do hope to swing by there for lunch tomorrow when they re-open, so there’ll be no “I wonder” moments over what it would have been like.
Today we chose to visit another place that makes the top 3 list: Portillo’s Hot Dogs. This business is now an empire, with locations opening in other big cities, but their reputation remains intact.
We pull up at about 12:15pm and there’s a line-up that extends from the back of the restaurant to the front door. That’s just to order. There’s another line just as long to pick up your order. Maureen scoped out a free table and camped there while I worked the lines. This place had an amazing system in place, a staffer took my order while still well back in the first line and gave me a paper bag with the order written on it in code, so when I went to pay, the cashier immediately processed it and gave me an order number on a receipt. Line one took all of about 90 seconds.
In line 2, a counter worker was calling our order numbers fast and furiously. My wait must have been only about 2 minutes. In the time I spent in both lines, at least 60 orders must have been filled. I had ordered two dogs with everything each and a small french fry (krinkle cut – yay!) to split and couple bottles of water.
The hot dogs were a sight to behold. When you look at the list above you wonder how they get all that on a hot dog, and they do and it’s gorgeous, surprisingly easy to pick up and eat, and a perfect combination of flavours and textures.
The “snap” of the all-beef frank, the freshness of the tomato, brightness of the pickle and heat of the sport peppers combine against the more expected backdrop of mustard, relish and onion. The steamed poppy-seed bun was soft and served to provide both architectural support and flavour.
One side note: while it’s customary to forgive those who are under 18 years of age for putting ketchup on their hot dogs, it is simply “not done” by adults here. They have ketchup pumps available for your fries, but I got the impression that an alarm would go off and security would be called if you put it on your dog.
I feel like pasta and a nice glass of red tonight. I talk Rob out of BBQ. I’m sure Chicago BBQ is awesome and I would love to explore it another time, but I’m a little BBQ’d out right now. We make reservations for Rosebud Trattoria, a pleasant short walk from our hotel. The ambiance is typical Italian, white table cloths and silverware, warm, friendly, homey.
We start off with a shared app of burata mozzerella, pesto, roasted tomatoes and crostini. It is beautiful to behold, but we are two diners short. This app could easily feed four. We dig in. The crostini is perfect – crispy, yet chewy in texture, slathered in good quality olive oil.
The pesto is good and the hot roasted tomatoes are salty and slick with oil. The burata itself is less liquidy than we are used to but is delicious. My only comment would be that the burata was cool and it would have benefited further if it was at room temperature.
Our mains arrived with a bottle of full bodied Chianti Ruffino. Rob ordered the Brasato: braised beef short ribs and pork, San Marzano tomatoes, ruota pasta and whipped ricotta. I selected the Penne Diavola which featured lobster, shrimp, Asiago cream, lobster butter, crushed chillies and penne pasta.
The pasta was perfectly cooked. My diavola was creamy and redolent of lobster and roasted garlic. The shellfish was good but the pasta and cream sauce was the star of the show. It could have used a healthy dose more of crushed chillies. It was a diavola but I detected no heat.
Rob’s short rib pasta was inspired, with the rich meaty braising liquid forming a sauce that coated the pasta. The braised beef melted in your mouth, and the ricotta provided a light creamy finish as a contrast to the more robust flavours from the braised short rib. Portions at Rosebud are overly large. This is fine if you are not traveling and can take it home. I would have appreciated smaller portions.
Our server, despite being a Flyers fan from New Jersey was awesome but even she could not talk us into dessert. We saw the tiramisu get trucked by. It would take me three days to eat it even if I hadn’t just eaten most of that pasta.