by Sarah Steimer
Almost every visitor Bill and I have had in Chicago has requested deep-dish pizza — and I try my hardest to sway them.
Not only do Bill and I just plain prefer nice, thin New York-style pies, but it’s also just totally not Chicago’s signature food. If I want a city’s specialty, I want to find the menu item that’s found on nearly every street corner, something that’s good no matter where you get it and something that the locals even get a little snotty about. I’m convinced that food for the Windy City is the Chicago-style dog.
What’s on Chicago’s hot dog? It most commonly starts with an all-beef frankfurter made right here in town by Vienna Beef. The dog is nestled into a steamed poppy seed bun and topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onion, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, neon green pickle relish, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt.
Notice I didn’t mention ketchup? It’s because it’s NOT OK here. I’ve been to hot dog joints around town where signs are posted saying they will not put ketchup on your dog, and Bill even received a scolding from someone when we first moved here and he made such a request. At least he didn’t go to the Weiner Circle, because they will chew you up and spit you out no matter how you order.
“One of the best things about hot dog shops is that they’ve not become standardized and franchised across the country. They’re still small and regional and unique.”
What a great point. Could the hot dog be the true American food? Almost every region has its favorite style of hot dog, and I can’t think of any national hot dog restaurant chains. Really one of the only such chains in Chicago is Portillo’s. Most hot dogs in the city are bought at independent shops no bigger than a trailer, and — in my humble opinion — food is the tastiest when the operation remains small. Granted, it’s hard to screw up a hot dog, but I stand by that assertion. Each shop retains its cool individuality, even though they’re serving up generally the same item.
So please, when you come visit me or anyone else in Chicago, request a hot dog. You’ll thank me.