Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hot Doug's:Encased Meats::Peanut Butter:Jelly

Landing in Chicago energized me the way only a big, bustling city can. Mentally, I absorbed the spirit of downtown and I thrived. I love to be in the big city, and Chicago was no different. 

Surprisingly (for some), when I was planning my trip to Chicago, my list of to-do's included trips to restaurants and foods to sample; Hot Doug's, Tru, deep-dish pizza and korean cuisine.

While studying abroad in Italy in the fall, I did a lot of research on Lonely Planet's website to plan economical trips around Europe while I was there. It was at this website where I first learned about Hot Doug's. On the homepage, my eye was drawn to an article profiling a hot dog restaurant in Chicago doing unique and revolutionary things with their sausages. Soon after, Anthony Bourdain did an episode of his show No Reservations in Chicago and visited Hot Doug's. Clearly, word of mouth was benefiting the establishment and curiosity was spreading, including mine.

Drawn in by promises of Spicy Alligator Sausage with Cajun Remoulade and Golden Chesire Cheese, or Blue Cheese Pork Sausage with White Peach Creme Fraiche and Citrus-Soaked Dried Cherries, we could not keep away. We chose to visit Hot Doug's on friday for one main reason: Duck Fat Fries, and I could not have been more excited. We arrived via taxi at about midday on a chilly, 50 degree Chicago afternoon and faced a long, looming line of people freezing their butts off waiting for sanctuary inside Hot Doug's Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium. An one-hour long wait, and everyone around us was happy about it! Eavesdropping on surrounding conversations, I listened to friendly customers chatting about their love and loyalty to Hot Doug's. Tourists spoke about how excited they were to try Doug's famous "encased meats" and the great things they have heard about this Chicago culinary establishment, and locals compared favorites and tried to one-up each other on the frequency they visit each week, month, or year.

Despite the cold, the hour flew by quickly, and soon we were next in line to order and still very undecided on what to try. We were greeted at the counter by Doug himself and immediately felt at home. He has a way of making you feel comfortable by chatting with visitors as long as they desire despite the long line spanning behind. It was here I learned that my Twitter friend HotDougs really was not Doug. "As long as he is not saying anything negative about my restaurant or doing it from outside my window at night, I am thankful for the representation," he said. Sooner than we would have liked, it was time to order. My father's tactic was to go basic and let the genius work his magic. He ordered The Dog ("Chicago-style hot dog with all the trimmings 'nuff said") and a Paul Kelly ("Bratwurst soaked in beer - sort of like Paul"). He then recruited Doug to decorate his "encased meats" with the trimmings he would consider best. My ordering strategy was the last-minute, snap decision, letting my mouth voice the selection my eye first lands on. My order was one of the specials, chipotle-cilantro chicken sausage with mole and queso fresco. I was satisfied.

Shortly, we were settled into our seats, which were surprisingly easy to find, and were being handed our meals. It was as pleasant as you could imagine. My sausage was crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, snapping as you bite it. The mole sauce was tangy and chocolaty delicious. The fries were the only point of the meal that left me asking, "That's it?" They were perfect size, shape, texture, crispness and very delicious, but I guess I was expecting more from the famous Duck Fat Fries. Next time I visit, I will jump to ordering another dog to sample before the fries. 

My experience at Hot Doug's was one to remember and I was not let down despite the hype and popularity. It is definitely a figure in Chicago culture that is important to take in and enjoy. As is said in paint of the restaurant's wall, "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'Encased Meat.'"

Here is a link to their website:

1 comment:

Camoduk said...

Hot Doug's was better than I thought it would be. The Duck Fat fries were a little "richer" but I'm not sure it was up to the hype. If I shut my eyes and ate one I could still tell it was a french fry with a clean taste. This lunch was a good start to the long week-end in Chicago. The simple foods offered at the highest form of creation are well appreciated. When you live in a city where you can stand in the open, rotate about a circle 360 degrees and not see a mountain tends to focus, I think, on the simple things in life. I'm felt the pride that Doug had for his place when we met him. It was a verification, for me, that if you put your heart and soul into what you do you will be successful. One of the highlights of the trip and I'll, perhaps get to visit Hot Doug's again someday.