03 November, 2005

Ode to the hot dog: Frankfurters, wieners, hotdogs, and buns

Mmm, hot dogs.

When I was much younger, I found the hot dog rather boring. It didn't excite me as it does now. Through the years and the many places I've lived, I find new expressions everywhere on a hot dog bun.

Some of the most memorable were several I downed at the old Cleveland Stadium at Browns games in the Bernie Kosar days. I hope that the Brown's new stadium has the onion machine, where a satisfying crank of the handle leads to a stream of chopped white onions. I hope also they still have that glorious brown mustard, so close to Dijon. I never thought I would see a sporting event devoid of yellow mustard. Second place on the memory banks were the two or so hotdogs that I inhaled at Yankee stadium. The dogs themselves were merely average, but the buns were intriguing, looking like a piece of white Wonder bread folded arouns the dog. Rather disconcerting, but the liberal availablity of Sabrett's onion relish was distracting enough to keep my mind off it.

New Year's morning in London, around 1 am, walking from Parliament to Russell Square: Shaftesbury Avenue, streams of drunks annoying the few cars stupid enough to venture out at this time on this day... my feet hurt... I'm so hungry from our earlier pub crawl... I'm also so thourughly sick of the food in London... and all of a sudden, there, in a little square in front of the theatre playing "Woman in White," the unmistakeble smell of onions grilling.. wafting through the throng... I'm in a frenzy, trying to find it - I had never seen street meat in London before, and this smell was indescribably welcome, like manna from heaven. Putting aside my fear that my nose would lead me to some strange 'ethnic' concoction from London's teeming and kaleidoscopic immigrant multitude. HOT DOGS!!! I was so happy to find that incomprehensible man selling those quasi-sausages that I don't even rememeber how much they cost. It truly was one of the worst hot dogs I have ever had - bland, mushy, and only lukewarm - but it was so welcome I almost didn't care.

Gray's Papaya on 6th avenue in the village... I drool just thinking of the aroma, and the dilemma of which fruit juice concoction arises; I'll just go with the papaya to be safe... or how about the pina colada? One way to avoid the whole embarrasment of choice is to hit a dirty water street cart. I go for sauerkraut, ketchup, and mustard. I have the urge to moan aloud with each toothsome, textured bite.

Regrets: I still have not tried a lucky dog in New Orleans. Every time I would pass one of those goofy carts, I couldn't help imagining Ignatius Reilly, struggling to make it in the world at his first job, consuming the entire contents of his cart.

Looking back on the verbosity my fingers just farted out, I notice most of my hot dog memories come from New York. But I'll always have the orgy on a bun that is the Chicago hot dog.

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Chicago hot dogs
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By Charles Leroux
Tribune staff reporter

August 30, 2005

Not much in this world is perfect.

The Chicago hot dog is perfect.

Boiled or steamed, not grilled, it lies regally in a lightly steamed poppy-seed bun and is annointed with:

- Diced onion
- Tomato wedges
- Pickle relish the color of Kryptonite
- Yellow mustard
- A few sport peppers
- A dill pickle spear
- A shake of celery salt

There's your classic Chicago style dog, a perfect teaming of tastes and colors and textures. Also there's a bonus, the "snap" as your teeth sink through the casing -- like Chicagoans themselves, a little resistant at first, and then so welcoming.

We don't have to mention, no ketchup! None! Ever! Do we?

Some readers nominated the genre; others, specific local shrines -- Fluky's, Murphy's, Byron's, Gene & Jude's, Superdawg, The Wieners Circle, etc. -- though with about 1,800 local hot dog stands insuring that you're never more that about a half mile from heaven, a pilgrimage isn't necessary.

So far this year, there have been 231 mentions of "hot dog" in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. We've reported that Vienna Beef Company Co. -- dating back to two Austro-Hungarian immigrants selling franks at the 1893 World's Fair -- signed a deal with Target to sell Chicago-style dogs in 1,350 Target food courts nationally, a blessing for America.

We reported that executives from Vienna (the one on Damen, not the one on the Danube) joined with executives from the company that bakes S. Rosen's buns to put right an age-old inequity. For generations, dogs have come eight to a package while buns were packaged in dozens or half-dozens.

The companies agreed on an eight-pack standard. Justice is served.

A handful of "hot dog" stories this year were obituaries. The loved ones of departed Chicagoans who once owned or even just worked at hot dog stands wanted that connection to a Chicago icon mentioned in print.

The late Margaret Robertson, born here in 1927, retired with her policeman husband, Bob, and opened Margo's Chicago Style Hot Dog Stand first in Colorado Springs and, later, in Temple, Texas, missionaries of a sort, spreading the truth.

Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune

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