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Sep 10, 2001 12:39 AM

More Insomnia - The decline of the Chicago Hot Dog

  • v

Instead of falling to sleep with thoughts of the world series or a shocking upset of the super bowl champs, I get 9 to 5 and 17 to 6. Hardly sweet dreams!

As I'm wont to do when bored, I read old chowhound threads. I came across the hot dog stuff from a few months back. Being a vienna come lately, i missed my dog in the ring (how's that as a sentance, you english teachers?). My overwhelming thought about chicago dogs, is that, well, were not much of a dog town anymore.

when i worked downtown, there were several dog places including irv's and u-dog u. they would be packed at lunch. although perhaps forced out due to real estate prices, there are no free standing outdog stands anymore in the loop. plus, the original gold coast on state closed a while back. seems like people prefer pot belly.

i recently ate at the gold coast/popeyes by the el tracks on wabash. first of all, the thin business reinforced my thought that chicago was disdaining dogs. second, the product was just not that good. the great dogs had freshly steamed buns, these were rocks. you would also expect a bit more dog in your gold coast dog. these were practically as skinny as a new york dog and as skinless. the condiments also paled.

gold coast was not the first encounter with the sub-par red hot. most of the dogs these days at byrons seem to have sat in their water bath for the entire week, and their buns are even worse--the one redeeming byron's feature is their tomatoes. flukey's used to serve the best chicago hot dogs, some how navigating through the variables of dog seeping, bun package steaming and condiments waiting. then, they went to the strange mushy house brand they use, and the whole thing fell apart.

wally's a holdout of the quickly disappearing leon saugage (oddly soft and spicy dog/ used as a platform for the garden in the bun school of chicago dog) also closed recently. as you all know, the epicenter of hot dogdom, jim's recently grilled its last onion. shuttered hot dog stands litter the city. while a few great dogs remain, wiener circle being one (ask for them boiled), our reputation as a great dog town sadly dissipates.

in mourning,


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  1. VI,

    Did you happen to read Mark's post? I still haven't been, but I'll be there soon... [Link]


    1. I'm from N.J. and posted before, but I'm wondering if anyone knows what type of dog is used at Superdawg. I've heard that it isn't Vienna Beef. I've also read that Fluky's gets their hot dogs from Klement's in Wisconsin. I'll have to find the article; I think I mentioned it in a July post on this page. In a Best of Chicago review, the reviewer said they use Vienna dogs. Which is it? In N.J., there is one wagon that serves the Vienna dog; it is skinless. It's ok, but I think the Best Brand in Chicago and Usinger's from Milwaukee are better. Maybe people are just used to Vienna the way New Yorkers are used to Sabretts. I wish N.J. had as many hot dog joints as Chicago. We have a few that are good. Syd's in Union; all beef, spicy, and charbroiled. Jerry's in Elizabeth; cooked a unique way, boiled, then grilled. These places don't have that cheap, red onion mixture that is popular in New York. We like em here with just a litlle mustard so we can taste the dog. Also, has anyone heard of a brand called Schmalz's? It is made in Newark, N.J. and sold in Chicago. A German style beef and pork frank. It might be sold under a different name there, however.

      3 Replies
      1. re: John Fox

        Having recently moved to Chicago's Arctic (West Rogers Park), we tried the legendary Fluky's for the first time. Major disappointment.

        These days our favorite cheap street Polish is at Home Depot (North Ave. near Elston, or Oakton near California and Evanston) - not kidding!

        Definitely miss those pushcarts (mentioned in a nearby post) - didn't realize it was a political thing that killed them. There was a great one in the parking lot of the Sears and North and Harlem.

        1. re: Tom R (TJR)

          what aboout Max's on Western or further north, Bills just past howard, or a little further poochies in skokie. I actually think that in terms of food west rogers park is a very nice place to be in the city. Devon, albany park etc so close.

          1. re: zim

            I just returned from a trip to the Toronto Film Festival. Though the terrorist attacks took away much of the fun and most of my appetite, I made a point, as i do every year, to eat at least once at one of the ubiquitous hot dog pushcarts located all over the city. I too,love a good hot dog(though actually i prefer the fatter, spicier polish). I wish i knew the history of the toronto dog, but we chicagoans should be envious. the wierd thing is that all the carts and their contents are virtually identical, but what treats they hold! they have hot dogs; polish(enormous and carefully slit by the vendor after grilling, not boiling, so that they can be eaten more easily out of hand); vegie dogs (not bad, and large); and chicken dogs. the buns are huge, pale yellow, fresh and taste like challah and always offered plain or lightly grilled. I love the condiments. Big glass jars of corn relish, relish,pickled pepper rings, chopped onions, jalepeno slices and a few others i've forgotten already. also, many squirt bottles of different mustards, some hot sauce(?), celery salt, salt and pepper. I'm not a fan of soggy steamed buns or tomatoes on a dog, so I'm happy.

      2. Unfortunately, most of the really, really great Chicago hot dogs disappered years ago when the city powers chased the guys with the small push-carts off of the street corners. The small self-contained steamers held only so many dogs and buns forcing the vendor into keeping a fresh supply on hand at all times (nooo two or three hours in the steamer). The same with the tomatoes --- sliced fresh every half hour or so. No french fries;but that just left more room for another dog. Oh how I miss the clank of those steamer lids being flipped up with a pair of tongs.