Review: Da Chicago Dog and Subs - Phoenix (w/ photos!)
I am always curious about regional difference in food. I like knowing the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese or Hong Kong Style cooking. Mexican food has some great regional differences as well. That always intrigues me because I like being able to see and sample the difference between an enchilada made in Sonora as opposed to Baja California. In America, you always find great regional differences such as Southern, Cajun, Hawaiian or a host of others.
A couple of areas that I don’t like getting involved in understanding regional difference is BBQ and pizza. The dividing lines are so thickly drawn that you are made well aware that no matter where you are, they have the best BBQ or pizza (even if they don’t). This is why you will never get someone from the Carolinas saying that Texas BBQ is the best they have ever had. Nor will you get anyone in New York or Chicago to admit that Pizzeria Bianco is fantastic pizza. People seem more concerned about regional pride than fact, so I let them go on about their business.
One other area of regional food that gets put in the same camp as BBQ or pizza is the good old American hot dog. If you live in New York and say you like Chicago style dogs, get ready for a fist fight... over a frankfurter. I have had hot dogs in NYC and I adore the BBQ onions that get slathered on my hot dog. Likewise, I love the taste of pickle relish and a dash of celery salt on my Chicago-style dog.
Every so often, I get a taste for a hot dog, and wanting to stay out of the great hot dog debate, I just stop in any place offering them. So, I recently found myself in Da Chicago Dog and Subs located at 38th Street and Thomas in central Phoenix. The place had been open a year or so and was in a small strip mall within a larger strip mall. I had seen the place when I had a tragic lunch at Ono Hawaiian Grill located a hop, skip and a jump away.
My goal was simple: hop in, have a couple of dogs and a side of fries and a soda and relax while reading the paper or watching whatever sporting program was on the television. I entered the place and was a bit unnerved at the fact that smack dab in the middle of the busy Saturday lunch hour, there wasn’t a soul in the place. In fact, there wasn’t even a staffer at the prep line or at the register. The place was eerily quite with no music or sporting event on the television to be found.
A moment later, two teen-age girls bounded in from the back room and asked if I was ready to order. The menu was fairly limited, but had plenty of styles of hot dogs. I decided to be traditional and ordered two Chicago Hot Dogs ($2.00 each), an order of Cheese Fries ($2.25), and a large soda ($1.75). While one staffer rang up my order ($8.66 including tax), the other got to work on making my order.
I was handed my cup and went to the fountain for my drink. Unfortunately for me, they were all Pepsi products, but they did have a diet grapefruit/cranberry/fizzy thing that was tasty. I grabbed a few extra napkins and found a table with a newspaper and began to read.
About five minutes passed and my order arrived. On my tray were my two hot dogs. Each was in a poppy seed hot dog bun and coated with mustard, red onions, a tomato half slice, neon green pickle relish, a hot pepper, a pickle spear and a dusting of celery salt. I was pleased with the look of the dog, but the dogs had rolled around a bit from being in such a large basket that I ended up scooping up a lot of the toppings back onto the dog.
I took my first bite. It wasn’t very good. I could taste the mustard, pickle and the bread, but the taste that dominated was the celery salt. These dogs were sandblasted with the stuff, so much so that the taste had me grabbing for the fizzy drink to wash it all down. I managed to get some of the salt off with a napkin, but the overabundance of seasoning had really decimated the taste. I ate another few bites and found that I couldn’t taste the meat at all. Perhaps the shock of the seasoning had killed my palate. I wasn’t sure, but I did detect some heat from the hot pepper and that was about it. All in all, a poor hot dog experience.
My Cheese Fries arrived and I was hoping that a decadent treat like this would get rid of my grumpy disposition. I grabbed some of the shoestring potatoes that hadn’t been in contact with the sauce and took a few bites. They were outstanding. Hot, crisp, salty and really satisfying. I was very, very happy with them and wish I had gotten two orders of the fries and only one hot dog. Then, I tried them with the cheese sauce. Apparently, my good mood was not meant to last because this cheese sauce was vile. It had no cheese taste at all. It made the cheese sauce on the nachos at Sun Devil Stadium seem downright gourmet. I am sure it came from some Chicago-based company that distributes huge cans of the stuff and swears it is just like the sauce in Chicago, but I had regrets on all levels that I just didn’t have the fries with ketchup.
I was able to get a few fries free of the orange sauce and munched on them enough to satisfy my hunger and finish reading the paper. I filled up my glass again and headed out. It was a very disappointing experience. I now know why the place had very few customers. Even though my meal was less than nine bucks, I still felt like the value wasn’t there.
If this was what the people in Chicago would classify as a good hot dog, then I will have to take the side of the New Yorkers on this one.
Or, I could suggest Nogales Hot Dogs from the cart parked at 20th Street and Indian School at night, but I really don’t want to get into a fist fight.
Da Chicago Dog and Subs
3923 East Thomas Road, B-2
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Notes: Near the Panda Express and Ono Hawaiian Grill
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
As a an ex-Chicago/Milwaukeean (lived between the two), I'll second Al's. Nothing more than a counter and booths, but the menu is very Chicago -- hot dogs, Italian beef, sausage, gyros, burgers and fries. Plus they have proper Chicago giardiniera which they'll put on if you ask for it.
I just looked at the photo, and just eyeballing it, I'd say they went *way* heavy on the celery salt (that pickle looks like it has freckles!), a little heavy on the relish, and they needed another slice/wedge of tomato in there, assuming the tomato you mentioned was hiding behind the pickle. The dog itself also looks a bit pale and anemic - maybe held in the warmer too long past it's prime.
As I said in my other rely, it's about balance of flavors and textures, and in most cases, the colors create a visual balance as well. Looking at the picture, it even *looks* wrong, sad to say.
To reiterate the point of my other post, with the number of possible permutations of the "sacred seven" toppings, there's a lot of ways to screw it up, and once the balance is thrown off, the taste suffers greatly.
The truly great Chicago dog vendors also know how to alter the proportions to hit a proper balance when the customer requests that one or more of the standard ingredients be left off. It's a different balance than one with "everything", but there's still a right way to do it.
First a caveat: not having tried any of the places mentioned, I'm not sure to what extent they may suffer from being "lost in translation". A badly done Chicago dog can be a great disappointment, perhaps because there are so many more ways for it to go wrong than your average dog with less stuff on it.
That said, a properly prepared Chicago-style dog is a balance and blend of temperatures (dog hot, bun warm, condiments and veggies chilled), textures (the "snap" of the casing on the Vienna beeef dog, the varying crunch of the veggies, the smoosh of the "nuclear green" relish, the softness of the bun), and the flavors (sweet, hot, salty, and the savory balance of the whole). In a way, it's the same mindset as some of the best Chinese food - contrasts and complimentary textures and flavors, all bouncing around your mouth simultaneously.
It's true that if one wants to highlight the sausage, one would create a much different sandich - and that's a legitimate thing. But in a Chicago dog, like a good pizza, the goal is for no one ingredient to dominate - the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Even though it is nominally about "the dog", the concept is that the dog is one among equals, not the dominant part with the rest only serving supporting roles.
There's a place in Austin, Texas run by Chicago ex-pats who bring in all their ingredients from the "traditional" Chicago suppliers. I took a friend who is quite a good cook who had always turned up her nose at my description of Chicago dogs. As she looked at her dog, she said "It's too much stuff - you won't be able to taste the hot dog!" Then she took a bite. <munch, munch> "Oh! It's the whole thing..." <munch> "TOGETHER"
<munch, munch> "You know, this does work..." <munch> "but if anything was missing..." <munch> "no balance". At the end, grinning from ear to ear, she said "Now I understand - it's the effect of all that stuff together, not just the dog!"
And as somebody who grew up in Chicagoland, the best advice I can give is to find a place that understands the importance of the balance between the ingredients. Then try to mentally prepare yourself by putting the Chicago dog in a different place in your brain from the "it's all about the dog" approach. Both approaches are valid, but different.
And if it's not to your taste, that's OK. There's no "right" food, and what appeals to me might not appeal to you. Just try to understand the basis of what the Chicago dog is trying to accomplish, and approach it as a recipe/dish that has evolved because it works, not just out of arbitrary whim (though some things, such as using that particular neon green brand of pickle relish rather than any other relish are admittedly more "tradition" than "necessity"). In the end, it may still be a recipe/dish that you may not like, but there is a method to the madness, when it's done correctly.
I don't disagree with your analysis, and I think it is important to point out that this isn't the first time I have ever had a Chicago-style hot dog (some have been fantastic and some have been awful).
I think a well-prepared creation - as you stated - is a culmination of the various tastes (no different than a complex mole sauce). In the case of Da Chicago Dog and Subs, there wasn't even an attempt to balance the tastes.
Sadly, it destroyed the dog and everything else in between.
Haven't been to this one but have been to Z's across the street from Ted's. They claim Vienna dogs over there too.
I'm with you on not getting the Chicago dog thing. Where was the hot dog taste? I didn't bother to finish mine at Z's. It just wasn't worth the calories. I just don't like the taste of all the stuf fon there enough...I wanna taste the dog!
When we're craving a hot dog, Ted's is where it's at for us...
Isn't Johnnie's on Thomas Rd & 1st Ave near Z Pizza a Chicago style place?
I pass by it, but have never been in. One of these days.
There is also Z's, which has an ironic location being right across from Ted's in Tempe. I've never been, but they claim to have Chicago style dogs as well.
Bummer! Nothing better than a good Chicago dog, and apparently nothing worse than a bad one!
I always enjoyed stopping in Chicago Hamburger Co. at 3749 E Indian School Rd. They serve up a fine cheese slider (mini cheeseburger) and the Chicago dogs are true to form as well...serving Vienna beef. Always friendly service...check it out.
Having had Chicago dogs in Chi-Town as well as other cities I can confidently say that you need to be in Chicago or Milwaukee to appreciate Chi-Town style dogs. Did the Phoenix outfit use Vienna beef? I find that whenever a place in another city tries to bring you authentic food from another city (ex: Philly cheese steaks made in NYC) it usually doesn't work. You need to go to the source.