I know this page has been consumed with the unhealthy tales of burgers, hot dogs and fries recently, but I can’t resist one more meat-laden post. Mango Mama and Daddy Salmon are visiting us in Chicago this weekend. Needless to say, we’ve done a serious amount of eating. The indulgence began after Mango Mama landed at O’Hare on Friday afternoon. (Daddy Salmon had to work, so he stayed in Portland until Saturday.) I picked her up at the airport, and we drove directly to Hot Doug’s. Hot Doug’s takes the Chicago dog and made it gourmet. Already a popular spot, Hot Doug’s rose to even greater prominence when it was the first establishment to receive a citation under Chicago’s notorious foie gras ban. A rebellious foie gras dog was the cause of all the commotion. It serves about 20 different kinds of house made sausages made from meats ranging from chicken to kangaroo. Toppings correspond to the ethnic influences and flavor profile of the meat. Fries cooked in duck fat (Fridays and Staurday only!) are a must. The decor could be described as “sausage.” And even on weekdays, the line is out the door.
There is a lengthy sausage menu, which includes celebrity-inspired choices like “The Keira Knightly” (“Mighty Hot”) and “The Salma Hayek” (“Mighty, Mighty Hot”). There’s also a menu of specials, changing every day according to the whim of owner Doug Sohn. Mango Mama and I ordered specials because their descriptions were just too mouthwatering and original to pass up. We settled on the calvados-infused smoked duck sausage, pictured here, topped with apple mustard and duck rillete (basically duck pate). Our second selection was the Mediterranean lamb sausage with roasted garlic butter and Les Frères farmstead cheese, pictured above. Both sausages were fantastic, but we agreed that the duck made for the best all-around combination. The already rich meat was made juicier with the addition of the calvados and the rillete sealed the deal. Apple flavors in the sausage and the mustard made for a satisfying underlying sweetness. The lamb sausage was also pack with flavor, but the cheese on top didn’t add much to the ensemble. It had creamy texture, but not much flavor. Another vegetable addition might have been preferable. Olives perhaps? You can be sure such a combination will show up on this creative menu someday.
Almost as good as the encased meats are the duck-fat fries. Mango Mama and I got a small order, which could have easily served four. Still, we couldn’t resist gobbling up the delightfully crispy, deeply flavorful, spears. “We’ll take some home for Empanada Boy,” we told ourselves. A few minutes later, we had eaten the whole basket.
Hot Doug’s is worth the wait. You can pass the time examining the hot dog-strewn walls of the multi-colored restaurant. Signed pictures of celebrities hang next to a hot dog clock and other goofy retro posters. Even the bathroom was a tribute to all thing encased and meaty. I whipped out my camera when I opened the door to find “American Gothic” with hot dogs filling in for ma and pa. Mango Mama and I had a great meal and our gorging was a sign of things to come. Hot Doug’s is a perfect place to introduce guests to the Chicago way to do gourmet.
3324 N. California Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618