Archive for the ‘City Snapshot – Chicago’ Category
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.
Occasionally, the Foodie hosts a travel segment. Word. This time, we revisit one of my favorite food towns: Chicago. The windy city should derive its name from the furious breezes created by the arms of hipsters eating muy rapido.
The last time we visited Chicago, I listed out the top things that I consumed. Lucky for you, I’m going to do that same thing again.
So here it is – the best of Chi-town, served up on your favorite food blog.
TOP NINE THINGS THAT I DEVOURED IN CHICAGO (IN RANDOM ORDER, BUT ALL EQUALLY ABLE TO PLEASE)
1. Au Cheval – A Burger to Remember
Oh mah gawd. There were murmurings about a diner. Tales of waiting in limbo with no reservations. Whispers scattered throughout the streets of what might be the best burger in town. Fittingly, Au Cheval (which means Horse in French) pulled some reverse-whisper judo on a human through what may be the ultimate hamburger.
I ordered it without any questions. Note: In Horse-speak, “A double cheeseburger with bacon” means “three thin patties instead of two, topped with slab high-quality bacon that is almost as thick as the burger meat.” Tackling this stack of wonder, I found myself tucking into the finest quality beef, perfectly melty cheese, a special sauce, thin-sliced pickles, tomato, and a divine bun.
A flawless burger is like true love: You can’t really describe it adequately, but you know that it’s there.
2. Frontera – The Guac
Eager to try one of Rick Bayless’ restaurants, I headed over to Frontera to sample authentic Mexican fare done local, fresh, and inventive. You’ve gotta praise the man for omitting burritos from the menu in favor of complex moles, duck enchiladas, and tamales. The real stand-outs here are the sauces, but I enjoyed the humble Guacamole the most – perfectly creamy and flavorful.
3. Hot Doug’s – The Pilgrimage
This sacred stop on the American food trail deserves a separate post, which will be forthcoming. All I will say here is that I waited in line, met the man, and ate the sausages in time to experience Hot Doug’s before they close later this year. Stay tuned for a full-on food porn special.
4. Yusho – Chicken Wings, Yakitori Style
I had never before tried yakitori anything. Now it’s all I can think about. The chicken wings with bonito salt, lime, and Thai chile are definitively the best way that I have EVER experienced this ubiquitous bird. So good we placed another order instead of dessert.
Quick Tutorial on Yakitori: Literally meaning “cooked chicken,” yakitori joints are a staple informal street food in Japan. The cooking method usually involves placing your desired protein on skewers and then grilling them over a unique smokeless charcoal called bincho-tan. This charcoal burns hot and white (like Scarlett Johansson), contains no chemical additives, and is much sturdier than the kind you use in your Weber. This stuff is expensive and goes for $50 for a 5-lb bag according to one source.
Though the yakitori chicken really blew me away, Yusho serves a wealth of excellent yakitori-driven dishes including octopus (with delicate enoki mushrooms, micro-greens, and egg yolk vinaigrette) and kakuni pork belly (with a creamy polenta-like version of the okonomiyaki savory Japanese pancake, hon shimeji mushrooms, and a sweeter, mild sauce).
The yakitori grill gives meats a unique and indescribable flavor. The lack of smoke produced by the charcoal means that the meat is infused with the pure essential vapors produced from the juices released onto the white-hot embers. If that doesn’t make you hungry, I give up on you.
5. Intelligentsia Coffee – Quad Latte
These guys have actually established a dominant presence throughout Chicago and are the best option for coffee around in some neighborhoods. They epitomize the highest-end of the coffee scene with new-age gadgetry, futuristic beatnik baristas, and words like “extractions” used in lieu of “pulling an extra shot,” because that would be so Dunkin’ Donuts of them.
The espresso drinks here are among the best in town. Luckily, I can also get Intelligentsia coffee at Bloc 11, which is where I first discovered them.
6.Parson’s Chicken & Fish – Amish Fried Chicken*
This Logan Square spot is one of those places that makes me angry that they weren’t also located somewhere around Boston. They do only a few things but they do them extremely well – including fresh salads, some of the best fried chicken, and a lightly crispy fish fry.
*Amish Fried Chicken = The most humanely and purely raised birds possible from regional Amish farms, fried expertly.
7. Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter – Croissants, Waffles, and Other Delights
They would have had me with a mighty good croissant, but with apple turnovers and liege waffles, this hidden bakery magically transported me to Europe after a single bite. I left singing their praises in French.
8. Revolution Brewing – Anti-Hero IPA
I usually stumble across at least one new baller beer each time I voyage to Chicago. With so many excellent local craft brewers, it’s hard to go wrong. Anti-Hero by Revolution Brewing is a big, bold, and hoppy IPA that is supremely drink-able and would be stocked in my fridge at all times if it was available in MA.
9. Vosges Haut-Chocolat – Truffles & Wine
This is the first chocolate shop that I’ve seen with a tasting room, wine pairings, “flights” of truffles, and absinthe. I was unable to leave the place without turning back to sip on big Spanish wine and down boozy truffles.
Finally, and randomly, I leave you with an unforgettable scene from Taste of Chicago:
OK, I know all you Nick the Foodie readers out there come here for the latest local food chummery and to discover good eats foraged from Bostonian soil. Believe me. I know…but every once in a while I’m going to magically sweep you off your crocs to a different food mecca.
Yes, the windy city certainly blew some amazing grub onto my red circular plate. I could get long-winded myself telling you about it, but I’m going to make my review of the food scene easier to digest than a slice of Gino’s deep dish.
TOP SEVEN THINGS THAT I CONSUMED IN CHICAGO (NOT NECESSARILY IN ORDER OF GREATNESS – THEY WERE ALL GREAT):
Why I loved it: Gibson’s has their own frickin’ grade of beef people…
2. Chorizo and medjool dates wrapped up in smoked bacon bathing in piquillo pepper-tomato sauce from Avec.
Why I loved it: Read above again and check the pic.
3. Quadruple latte zapped to me from the 80’s while caught in the Wormhole
Why I loved it: Locally-roasted beans, great technique, good machine, and a full-scale Delorean.
4. Chicago-style hotdog from Portillo’s
Why I loved it: The Chicago hotdog is transcendent glory on a bun. If this is how they did it back east I’d be eating one of these bad boys once a week (even if it meant knocking a few years off my lifespan)
5. Breakfast burrito from the Bongo Room
Why I loved it: Just a damn good breakfast burrito. Topped with spicy sour cream and melted cheese
6. Arctic Panzer Wolf “massive IPA” – an insanely strong, beautiful, earth-shattering IPA from a family-run operation called Three Floyds Brewing in nearby Indiana.
Why I loved it: Just one the most flavorful, crisp, unique IPA’s I’ve had in recent memory. It will put hair on your chest.
7. Everything devoured at Girl and the Goat – read sub bullets below:
- Confit goat belly, lobster, crab, and bourbon-infused sauce
- Mussels in a fragrant coconut broth and goat-infused croutons
- Hen of the woods mushroom ragout, sweet potato agnolotti, shroom creme fraiche, capers
Why I loved it: Needs a separate post. Stephanie Izard’s homage to goat and incredibly inventive dishes simply blew me away. This restaurant is worth every word of the hype. Reserve at least a week ahead.
TWO SHOCKING TRUTHS:
- Deep dish is not all it’s made out to be. At least not at any of the big chi-town joints I scoped out. It’s just decent food, but not life-changing in the world of pizza. Each spot had the piece of the pie they did well.If you want the best crust go to Lou Malnati’s, if you want the best sauce go to Gino’s, if you want the most baller toppings go to Pizano’s. But overall I found that these deep disheries made a perfect waste of all that cheese by slopping on average mozzarella rather than really making the most of the gooey stuff. Most of the crust is just overwhelming, hard, and not worth struggling to eat. I continue to search for deep dish that will wow me.
- I DID NOT go to Hot Doug’s. I know. Heresy. Travesty. Not for lack of trying though – the king of hot dogs was closed because the owner (Doug, I guess) was on vacation. But that gives me reason to come back to this city.
A PARTING BIT OF FOOD-RELATED RANDOMNESS:
- T-Shirt Deli.I stumbled upon an amazing custom t-shirt joint out in Wicker Park that was fashioned from a former deli. Coolest shit ever. Choose your decal(s), your lettering, and your knit and the friendly staff here will press up a hot t-shirt sub in about 20 minutes. They’ll wrap it in hoagie paper, and even stuff a pack of Jay’s chips in your baggie. Great gift (and they deliver).