No, I’m not talking about New York’s disgraced former congressman. I’m talking about the iconic American food that’s eaten from sea to shining sea as well as in Alaska and Hawaii. But differences in buns, composition, cooking methods and condiments create regional versions of this most All-American treat: wieners – a.k.a. hot dogs. And entrepreneurial American chefs are taking the humble hot dog to new heights, creating fusion dogs with ethnic flare, and/or making them from scratch with various meats.
Chicago is home to one of America’s best hot dog versions. I first experienced a true Chicago dog while a freshman at UIUC. The place was Abe’s; their fully loaded dogs were called “garbage trucks.” Nestled in a poppy seed bun, the dogs were classic Chicago-style, garnished with pickle and tomato slices, chopped onions, neon green relish, sport peppers, ballpark mustard and celery salt – NEVER catsup! Abe’s delivered their grungy-delicious dogs, a student’s best friend when pulling all-nighters: eat two of those babies at 11 p.m., and you were guaranteed to be awake for hours! Chicago dogs are sometimes described as being “dragged through a garden.”
These days classic Chicago dog stands still abound: Wiener Circle (reputed to have the highest income per square foot of any Windy City restaurant, Gold Coast Dogs, and SuperDawgs and hundreds (thousands?) more. But there are also Chicago hot dog establishments that are exploring new wiener worlds, though they may still serve Chicago classics. The current issue of Chicago Magazine discusses the pros and cons of five:
Chicago’s Dog House, 816 Fullerton, has among its offerings alligator sausage with Asian chilli sauce.
Hotdogeria, 711 W. Armitage, includes in its menu an Argentinian dog with Chimichurri sauce on a French roll.
Westminster Hot Dog, 11 N. Wells, makes its own dogs and sausages. A favorite is the Jalepeño-bacon dog with chipotle cilantro mayonnaise and queso fresco.
Frank’s and Dawgs, 1863 N. Clybourn, also makes most of its own. Chicago Magazine especially liked their breakfast dog – a pork sausage topped with corncob-smoked bacon, fried egg and maple mayonnaise knife-and-fork concoction.
Hot Doug’s, 3324 N. California, has achieved legendary status – and lines. It’s nationally renowned for its classic Chicago dogs and (weekend only) duck-fat fries, as well as unusual encased-meat specialties, such as the foie-and duck Sauternes dog with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse, and fleur de sel, an artisanal, pricey, French sea salt. (Find out more about Hot Doug’s in my 5/6/2010 column, Good But Cheap Chicago Eats.)
A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed that the best hot dog in America was Speed’s, in Boston. It’s become a debate topic, not least among Bostonians. But with reviews like this one on yelp, I wanted to check it out on a recent visit to my son, Robb, who lives in Cambridge:
“Speed’s tried to kill me with a hot dog. Kill as in, death by gluttonous consumption of delicious mystery meat on a perfectly grilled bun. One massive [half pound], expertly grilled, dripping with meaty goodness, hot dog.” Although we found Speed’s hot dog truck (thanks solely to our GPS) in a grungy warehouse district, it was closed – Speed’s hours are notoriously variable. So I’ll have to wait for another visit.
As for those regional specialties, of course there’s Springfield’s own Cozy Dog. But the most widespread are wieners dressed with meat (no bean) chili, found from Los Angeles to Connecticut. Their taxonomy is wildly confusing. In the Midwest they’re called Coney Dogs, probably because the hot dog itself was first served in that Brooklyn Beach amusement park. But chili-dressed wieners have never been served there. The Coney Dog was purportedly invented in Detroit at Todoroff’s, which is still in existence. That’s probably why in upstate New York, hot dogs dressed with chili are called Michigans. In Rhode Island, they’re called New York System. The chili is called “meat sauce” and additional de rigeur condiments are – as in many other versions – mustard and chopped onion. Rhode Island/New York System dogs also include a dash of celery salt. In New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania and upstate New York, chili dogs are called Texas wieners.
In New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut, deep-fried dogs are a specialty.
At New Jersey’s Rutt’s Hut, fried dogs come in three categories: the in-and-outer, barely fried; the ripper, with crinkly burst skin; and the cremator, well-done and crunchy. Connecticut is particularly famed for its hot dog wagons, many fancifully decorated. Also in New Jersey is the Newark (Italian-style), two fried weenies stuffed into a half-round of Italian bread along with sautéed peppers and onions and fried potatoes. Condiments range from mustard and hot onion relish to marinara sauce.
Bacon-wrapped Sonoran dogs, found in Arizona, are nestled into steamed bolillo rolls, then topped with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayo and perhaps shredded Mexican cheeses, salsa verde, and guacamole. Hawaii is home to the Puka dog, served in a big bun that’s had a hole (puka) pushed into it that also toasts the inside. Pukas are served with “garlic lemon secret sauces” and tropical relishes.
In Los Angeles, Roy Choi draws raves for his Kogi dogs. Choi has become nationally famous (2010 Food and Wine Best New Chef ) for his Korean/Mexican cuisine such as Korean short rib (kalbi) tacos, kimchee quesadillas, and Kogi dogs. He’s also famous for how he sells them – from (now a fleet of five) food trucks, advertising their location schedules on Twitter and YouTube. Choi is credited with the new, phenomenal popularity of food trucks offering creative fast food.
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My husband, Peter, loves Korean food. So as soon as he saw the recipe for Kogi dogs, he just had to make some. I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the concept, but one bite converted me. Kimchee, a chili-hot fermented pickle not unlike sauerkraut, is most commonly made with Napa cabbage, although other vegetables are also used. Like sauerkraut, browning kimchee mellows its flavor.
- 2 c. finely shredded cabbage
- 2 thinly sliced small scallions
- 1 T. freshly squeezed lime juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 T. toasted sesame seeds
- 1/2 c. mayonnaise
- 1 T. peanut or other vegetable oil, plus additional for brushing the buns
- 1 c. cabbage kimchee*
- 8 hot dog buns, partially split
- 8 jumbo hot dogs
- 1 c. shredded sharp cheddar
- 2 c. shredded lettuce, preferably romaine
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 2 c. cilantro sprigs
- Siracha hot sauce for drizzling, optional
In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, scallion and lime juice; season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a mortar, pound the sesame seeds until they are crushed and transfer to a small bowl. Alternatively, this can be done in a small food processor or pounded with the handle of a wooden spoon or knife in a small bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise and season to taste with salt.
If the kimchee is in large chunks, chop it coarsely. In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 T. of oil over high heat. Add the kimchee and cook, stirring frequently, until it is browned all over, about 3 minutes.
Light a grill. Brush the insides of the buns with oil and grill over moderately high heat, cut side down, until crisp, 20 seconds. Turn and grill for 20 seconds longer. Spread the cut sides with the sesame mayonnaise.
Grill the hot dogs over moderately high heat until nicely charred all over, 3 minutes. Tuck the hot dogs into the buns with the kimchi and cheddar. Top with the cabbage salad, romaine, onion and cilantro sprigs. Drizzle a little Sriracha on top if desired and serve.
Makes 8 Kogi dogs.
Adapted from Roy Choi’s Kogi dog recipe that appeared in the August 2009 issue of Food and Wine Magazine.
*Kimchee is available locally at Little World Market, 2936 S. MacArthur Blvd.