If you watch Anthony Bourdain, you probably saw his recent episode that took him to Chicago. One of his stops was Hot Doug's, the encased meat emporium, and one of my favorite places to grab lunch before I left town last month.
For those who haven't been to Chicago, don't read the New York Times, missed the episode, or just live under a rock, Hot Doug's is perhaps the finest Hot Dog joint in North America. Doug Sohn, the proprietor, takes your order, day-in, day-out, rain or shine. If he's not there, Hot Doug's is closed because the whole team is probably on vacation. Sometimes in France.
Doug designs his specialty sausages, which range from wild game to more (relatively) tame variants on pork, beef, poultry, lamb and sometimes shrimp. The menu can change daily, and acolytes check the menu online before heading down for what is at least a 15 minute wait to order at the counter. On weekends, holidays, vacation days and during the summer, the lines are usually much longer. I've waited about 45 minutes on a summer weekday. Vacation frees up the schedules of the student set, who can eat fresh cut fries and a dog for around $5. I've never gotten out of Hot Doug's for less than $12 - the premium priced sausages are in the $7.50 range and I always want to share a second one, just for curiosity's sake.
Though I've never ordered more than 2 sausages at Doug's, I've seen customers order every single sausage on the menu and make their way through each of them, usually in the name of a birthday or a special visit to Chicago. On Friday and Saturday, Doug pulls out the duck fat and fries up some of the best frites I've ever had for $3.50 - delightful duck fat fries cut thinner than his regular fries.
Incidentally, an act of civil disobedience on Doug's part helped knock down the ban on Foie Gras in the city of Chicago.
If they can find it, tourists love Hot Doug's. They photograph everything. The Hot Doug's sign in front:
Their hot dogs and sausages:
And their friends, posing with Doug. Actually, I'm the tourist in this case. That's my friend Jenny. She's been a regular at Hot Doug's since he opened his first location, which burned down years ago. He spent his time off at Wrigley Field, catching up with the Cubs.
This is my friend Drex, slurping down a fountain drink. We're waiting for our order. The wait is seldom longer than 5 minutes.
The clientele at Hot Doug's is diverse and all are welcomed. Those who dawdle at the counter get a sharp reprimand from Doug, unless he's trying to slow the crowd so that no one is left without a table.
At lunch time the place fills up with workers from the slot machine manufacturer across the street, Waste Management, and other not-too-out-of-the-way offices. After school the place is packed with the loud-talking, space-hogging high school set. In between just about everyone and their grandmother shows up, cash in hand. Hot Doug's is cash only.
Doug has two menus - the specials and the regular menu. In the above picture, the regular menu is on the right. The ever-changing specials include the Celebrity Sausage (you have to be tuned into local news to get all of the jokes), the Game of the Day, and the Specials board. The day I took these pictures (obviously not during the winter) the specials were especially interesting:
I ordered the Cognac and Bacon Pheasant Sausage that day. It was lovely. Foie Gras Mousse? Oh yes.:
Doug sometimes makes statements about demographics with his encased meats:
Yep, Chicago has become a much more ethnically diverse city since the advent of the Hot Doug. And how delicious it is.
I was there on a Friday and, of course, ordered the duck fat fries. Saturated fat? Yes please.
And the fries:
Here's a Chicago-style dog (well, actually it is a chicken sausage, my standby "Dave Kingman") with everything PLUS giardiniera, a spicy relish made from carrots, peppers, cauliflower and hot peppers. Notice the pickle spear and the tomatoes? Mmmmm. Salad!
Jenny ordered a Thai Chicken dog with satay and fried onions that day:
This is a jalapeno-smoked chicken sausage with mole and cotija cheese:
This is a ribeye sausage with chimichurri...
Mmmm. These pictures get my tummy rumbling and make me miss Hot Doug's.
I think there's a seat for you, whenever it is you get to Chicago:
3324 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60618