May 21, 2013

A Chicago fast food sampler – Part Two: Hot Doug’s

(Editor's note:  The "brick-and-mortar" location of Hot Doug's is no longer open for business; however, if you're enjoying a Chicago Cubs game from the bleachers at Wrigley Field, look for the Hot Doug's stand at the ballpark.  My suggestion -- order the Keith Moreland.)

In tribute to the Young Curmudgeon, who is currently in Chicago on his senior class trip (how did he get old so fast, anyway?), I’m continuing my series of blog entries based on the fast food joints that help define Chicago – or vice versa. 

You really can’t go more than a couple of block without finding some place selling a Chicago-style hot dog.  Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on where you choose to go.  Well, when Doug Sohn, the founder of Hot Doug’s opened his hot dog joint, he dared to be different.  Yes, you can find the classic Chicago dog there, but with all their unique and off-the-wall choices of toppings and specialty sausages, why would you?

Hot Doug’s was our second stop on our daylong Chicago road trip after Al’s Beef in Shorewood.    With it being the northernmost spot on our food tour, it seemed to make sense to tackle it next then work our way toward downtown.  Located in the Avondale neighborhood on North California, between Belmont and Addison, it was surprisingly easy to get to from the Kennedy Expressway (I-94).  And even more surprising, we found free street parking very close to the corner where Hot Doug’s is located. 

Because networks like the Travel Channel and Food Network -- and shows like Anthony Bourdain's “No Reservations” -- have made Hot Doug’s relatively famous, we were expecting a long line.  Once again, we were pleasantly surprised (admittedly, it was about 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday).  In fact, I still had not decided what to order by the time I got to the counter.  This seemed to be a recurring theme for most people in line, actually. 

The menu shown here features your “classic” selections – the twist being your Hot Doug’s version of a Polish, thuringer or Italian sausage, for example, are named – and patterned – after local and national celebrities.  One thing I can vouch for is Doug’s sense of humor in his marketing. 

To the left of this menu you’ll find their daily specials.  If you get one of these, don’t expect it to be on the menu the next time you come.  They change them that often.  These are your more eclectic choices, with not your average everyday toppings.  Check their online men, so you can prepare your taste buds before you go.  And because the “game” these sausages are made from can range from elk to pheasant, duck , veal, yak and rattlesnake, I’d have to say Hot Doug’s has earned its self-proclaimed status as the “Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium.” 

Daring guy that I am, I opted to try the elk sausage that was on that day’s menu.  One reason I selected it was because I really do like elk, but I also had to taste how the blueberry cream and Madrigal cheese cubes as toppings would work with the elk.

I think this reaction shows my approval. It was absolutely delicious – and well worth the $7 for the experience.

And if you want to know where Doug is while you’re there, he’s not hard to find.  In fact, he’s usually the guy taking your order. 

I should also not slight the guys working the grill who bring it all together.  It was fun to watch them work while waiting for my order. 

By the way, although the Young Curmudgeon was being kind of curmudgeon-y in not trying something different here, he did share my fries and did express that Hot Doug’s had the best fries of the entire trip.  If only we could have been here on a Friday or Saturday when they offer duck fat fries.  Every review of this place I've encountered claims they are off the chain good. 

So, if you’re looking for something different to curb your appetite for some type of encased meat product, I highly recommend Hot Doug’s.  It’s also worth a side trip if you want a food experience that’s identifiable with Chicago.  For the next chapter in my Chicago fast food sampler series, I’ll write about a place that’s more of your typical Chicago style hot dog joint – Wiener’s Circle. 

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