Location: Chicago, IL
The Foodie: Strongly Recommends
For those who have never heard of Hot Doug’s, let me just lay down some facts and stats for you:
- Facebook: 4.7 out of 5 Stars (based on 4,676 ratings)
- Urban Spoon: 88% Like It (based on 1,442 votes)
- Yelp: 4.5 out of 5 Stars (based on 3,163 reviews)
- Google Reviews: 4.6 out of 5 Stars (based on 364 reviews)
- Zagat: Chicago’s 10 Best Hot Dogs
- Anthony Bourdain: “This is like the greatest thing that ever happened“
- Mario Batali:
— Mario Batali (@Mariobatali) July 13, 2014
- Aziz Ansari: Approved (Even those who make people laugh do not laugh about the food here). See Here.
- Book Written About It: True. See Here.
- Has Its Own Theme Song: Yes, true. See Here.
Now, a shocking statement:
¡¡¡THEY CLOSE SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4TH, 2014!!!
The good news (for me, at least): I ate here.
The good news for you: I’m going to tell you about it.
I decided that the best way to document my experience would be to walk you through my journey from the end of the famous line to the legendary sausages themselves.
The Hot Doug’s lines are famous. We waited 2 ½ hours (at about 10:30am on a rainy Saturday) from the point depicted below to sausage time. The crazy part is that every minute of the wait is worth it. By about the completion of first meat roll, all memories of the line melt away like shredded fontina on your celebrity sausage.
As the 2 ½ hour climb bore on – we began noting various trail markers along the path to the country’s best encased meats. The first such milestone was the fence and the painted pig.
Down the trail a piece, you come to the infamous window. Spend time here salivating and scoping out the show schedules for various music venues around town.
So close you can smell it. Here one makes nervous small talk and shoots dirty glances at those finally crossing the threshold.
If by now you haven’t ferociously finger-poked the Hot Doug’s menu on your ubiquitous mobile device, this is the time to strategize your order.
Awww Yeah. You reached the “Game of the Week” plaque. We visited when a Pernod-infused pheasant sausage was on the menu. More on that inspiring item later.
At this stage your palms are sweaty, your legs are tired, and butterflies are going ape shit in your tummy. You are unable to think of anything else besides mentally rehearsing your order and any questions you have for Doug.
Your turn. The rest of the world fades to black and burning spotlights beat down upon your one-on-one interaction with the legendary sausage king of Chicago. But soon you realize that Doug is a chummy, down-to-earth dude who proudly stands (literally) behind every order. A 2-minute interview ensued between this food blogger and the Oracle of Meat Pipes.
Nick the Foodie: [Bowing, showing praise]
Doug: “Haha – you got the wrong guy.”
Nick the Foodie: “So what are you going to do after October 4th?”
Doug: “I’m going to take a nap and then I’m going to go out for lunch. A lot of chefs in the city owe me lunch…I heard that people were saying that I would be opening a gourmet restaurant – that is totally untrue.”
Nick the Foodie: “How about a food truck?”
Doug: “I don’t get the economics of it – I don’t know how people make any money.”
Nick the Foodie: “Well, if anyone could pull it off, I bet you could.”
Doug: [Smiling] “I’d rather sell crack to kids.”
Nick the Foodie: “So what do you eat when you aren’t in the restaurant?”
Doug: “Oh, I eat everything. We end up with a lot of extra sauces – so most of the time I cook with those. Spaghetti is one thing that I make with all the leftover tomatoes.”
Nick the Foodie: [Places order, walks away, drools in anticipation]
- Game of the Week (2) – Pernod-infused pheasant sausage with rhubarb mustard, goat cheese and truffled radishes
- Celebrity Sausage (1) – Jaymee Tigzenskee (1) – Hungarian smoked pork sausage w/ smoked paprika mustard, fontina cheese, and smoked onion marmalade
- Hot Doug’s Cassoulet (1): Saucisse de Toulouse with fresh herb mustard, great northern beans, duck confit and black sea salt
- The Paul Kelly (1) – Bratwurst with everything (mustard, caramelized onions, relish, tomatoes, pickle, celery salt)
- Duck Fat Fries
THE ENCASED MEATS.
There was nothing but silence interspersed with groans of pleasure for the 10 minutes that encompassed taking the initial first bites of each sausage. When I was able to formulate speech and weave together thought fragments again, I came to the following impressions:
- The pheasant sausage was bursting with flavors and perfect seasonings – totally juicy and perfect in every sense. A sweet and complex rhubarb mustard was the next thing that I noticed – were those black currants in there too? I was then hit with rich waves of goat cheese and thin wafts of radish atop my meat.
- The celeb. sausage was insanely good too. I ended up wishing that I had ordered two of these as well. The spicy pork sausage with smoked paprika mustard, cheese, and onions embodied everything that encased meat sandwiches should be.
- I wanted to sample a bratwurst just to get a sense for how well Doug does a classic, basic sausage in addition to the zany “full meals on a bun” that he creates with his specials. I was glad that I did. The bratwurst was among the best that memory can recall – complete with all the traditional Chicago toppings.
- Cassoulet: French-style sausage, herby moutarde, beans, confit, and sea salt? What’s not to like? This one was a bit more mild than I had anticipated and I found myself wanting slightly more flavor – but perhaps that’s because I had already eaten 2 lbs of pheasant and Hungarian pork sausage.
I came, I saw, and I conquered the trek to experience an iconic American restaurant before closing. After eating here, I can fully understand why Hot Doug’s has spawned such a fervent cult following and I, too, have joined the ranks of loyal followers.