At 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday, October 1, I settled into a folding chair on a Chicago sidewalk, waiting for a hot-dog shop to open. Twenty-five people were lined up ahead of me. We devoted foodies had assembled not just for any ordinary dog but for a specialty sausage (or five) from the famed Hot Doug’s during its final days. I’m not ashamed.
If you caught wind of Hot Doug’s closing, you probably know how the self-proclaimed “sausage superstore and encased meat emporium” in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood drew up to 10-hour lines for its specialty dogs during its final weeks. After such long wait times, customers (myself included) showed no restraint upon ordering their dogs. Order everything you can manage; this is your last chance. That seemed to be the general consensus.
Sausage-loving Hot Doug’s customers in line before 6 a.m.
I ordered four of the daily specials. The hot dogs featured a range of exotic proteins, cheeses and sauces. The foie gras-topped duck sausage was quite rich and more of a dessert dog; I split it with my foodie friend. My order was as follows:
- Nacho Cheese Pork Sausage with jalapeño mayonnaise, pico de gallo and Chihuahua cheese
- Bacon Cheeseburger Sausage with Coca-Cola barbecue sauce, maple-smoked cheddar and smoked onion marmalade
- Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with truffle aïoli, foie gras mousse and fleur de sel
- Escargot and Guanciale Sausage with parsley-garlic butter and Camembert cheese
Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage from Hot Doug’s
Hot Doug’s has largely dominated the sausage-restaurant niche in Chicago since at least 2006, when it appeared on the popular Chicago TV show Check, Please! However, now that the owner has closed shop, the city’s residents are bound to give other restaurants a chance to satisfy their sausage cravings. Who will step up to the challenge? Here are a few contenders:
- Franks ‘n’ Dawgs, which opened in 2010, offers a menu of handcrafted, artisan sausages with locally sourced ingredients. For vegetarians, it offers a smoked tofu dog with basil paneer, spicy turnip masala, chivda (Indian trail mix) and cilantro.
- Haute Sausage opened its first storefront in 2013, after it found success with its food trucks. A specialty sausage highlight from its menu is the Bacon Guacamole sausage, which is bacon sausage with Merkts cheddar, chipotle mayonnaise and roasted poblano and corn guacamole.
- Chicago’s Dog House launched in 2009 and features a menu of classic dogs, specialty dogs, gourmet sausages and burgers. It offers, for instance, a Chompers Gourmet Alligator Sausage, with smoked alligator sausage, caramelized onions and sweet chili sauce.
While Chicago may be the nation’s hot-dog epicenter, other gourmet sausages are popping up at restaurants around the country—and fast. These pioneering hot-dog concepts have recently appeared across the U.S.:
- Tasty 8’s Gourmet Hot Dog Co. opened this past August in Raleigh, NC. It offers eight gourmet dogs, eight beverages, eight milkshake varieties and eight on-tap microbrews (seeing a theme here?). One of its signature dogs is the Southern Comfort, an Angus-beef sausage with blue-cheese slaw, Carolina chili, red onions and scallions.
- Detroit Dog Co., which opened in late 2013 in Saline, MI, was inspired by the gourmet dogs prevalent in Chicago, but offers a uniquely Michigan spin. Options range from the Original Detroit Dog, with mustard, onion and the option to make it Coney style (by adding a beanless beef chili sauce), to the Mexicantown, with ground chorizo, avocado, tomato, jalapeños, cheddar and sour cream.
- Los Perros Locos, which opened in New York City in 2013, builds its menu around different varieties of Columbian hot dogs—all-beef, vegetable and chorizo sausages topped with Columbian ingredients. The Con Todo dog features crushed chips; five different salsas including piña, ajillo, rosada, verde and ChipZana; melted mozzarella; and deep-fried bacon cubes.
Beyond hot-dog-focused concepts, expect to see more haute hot dogs pop up on full-service restaurant menus. As is the case with most sandwiches, the tried-and-true handheld format allows operators to showcase a variety of innovative, unusual ingredients, which can set them apart from competitors. Hot Doug’s did this very well with its foie gras hot dog, albeit illegally for a few years (Chicago outlawed the liver from 2006 to 2008).
I look forward to discovering the future chef-driven hot dogs in this city, and imagine it will be much easier to secure a spot in line during my visit.