Chicago eats: In search of the world’s best hot dogs

Share Button

Last September Kyle Duke, one of my best friends from Chicago, sent me this photo with the caption, “9:00 a.m.”

This block brought back many fond memories of the best hot dogs I've ever eaten.

This block brought back many fond memories of the best hot dogs I’ve ever eaten.

I knew exactly where he was and why he had texted at 4 a.m. Hawaii time. Kyle was in line at the world-famous Hot Doug’s Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium. He and I had spent countless hours waiting patiently in this line in single-digit winters and triple-digit summers for Chicago’s best gourmet sausages.

Those dogs were highlights of my college days. The snap. The creative flavors. The proteins you never expected, like elk, bear and alligator. There was the Brigitte Bardot (smoky andouille), the classic Chicago dog (never with ketchup!) and my favorite, the Thuringer with its big bold garlicky smokiness and sweet caramelized onions.

Hot Doug’s owner Doug Sohn had announced the October 2014 closing of the iconic establishment, and locals and tourists were flocking to enjoy one last meal before they closed their doors for good. Kyle stood in that line for over three hours to savor the last of the sausages. It goes without saying, I was jealous that he would have one final taste without me.

The iconic Chicago dog from Hot G Dog. An all beef hot dog topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, neon green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers and celery salt. Most importantly, no ketchup.

The iconic Chicago dog from Hot G Dog. An all beef hot dog topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, neon green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers and celery salt. Most importantly, no ketchup.

Fast-forward to April of 2015: To the delight of loyal Doug’s followers, two line cooks from Hot Doug’s opened up Hot G Dog, a strikingly similar sausage shop in the city’s Uptown neighborhood. Most importantly to fans like Kyle and me, they opened with Sohn’s blessing.

A visit to Hot G Dog was at the top of my list when I visited my old stomping grounds a few days ago. I was pleased to see that the quality was the same as I remembered from Hot Doug’s, with some improvements to certain dishes like the duck fat fries.

Considered a hidden menu item at Hot Doug's, the tater tots are now on the regular menu at Hot G Dog. These perfectly deep fried tots are topped with delicious melted cheese.

Considered a hidden menu item at Hot Doug’s, the tater tots are now on the regular menu at Hot G Dog. These perfectly deep fried tots are topped with delicious melted cheese.

The duck fat fries at Hot G Dog are cut noticeably thicker and longer than those from Hot Doug's. The result is a crispier exterior with a nice hit of potato flavor all coated in luxurious duck fat. Easily one of the most sinful and delicious dishes I've ever eaten.

The duck fat fries at Hot G Dog are cut noticeably thicker and longer than those from Hot Doug’s. The result is a crispier exterior with a nice hit of potato flavor all coated in luxurious duck fat. Easily one of the most sinful and delicious dishes I’ve ever eaten.

The most iconic (and controversial) dog from Hot Doug's was the duck sausage with a truffle aioli, generous slices of foie gras and a hint of sea salt. This is replicated in its entirety at Hot G Dog. The rich, velvety foie gras melts in your mouth and is met with a smooth burst of truffles.

The most iconic (and controversial) dog from Hot Doug’s was the duck sausage with a truffle aioli, generous slices of foie gras and a hint of sea salt. This is replicated in its entirety at Hot G Dog. The rich, velvety foie gras melts in your mouth and is met with a smooth burst of truffles.

Hot G Dog lived up to the expectations of this Hot Doug’s fanboy. I will definitely be back.

Now, is there anything that can make this story better? The story of a longing rewarded, of loss and resurrection, of knowing that what once was — the dogs, the decadence, the duck fat fries — graces the Windy City once again?

What could make my trip better? This: Doug Sohn, the man himself, announced that Hot Doug’s sausages were returning for a hot dog and beer festival at the Goose Island Barrel Warehouse. For one weekend only. The weekend I was there. And it was all you can eat.

The Goose Island Barrel Warehouse definitely lived up to its name.

The Goose Island Barrel Warehouse definitely lived up to its name.

I was so ready for the Dog Dayz of Summer festival. But I was blown away when my good friend Tony Smith and I were greeted by the man himself, Doug Sohn.

Hot Doug's Doug Sohn (center) with one of his biggest fanboys (me).

Hot Doug’s Doug Sohn (center) with one of his biggest fanboys (me).

Walking through the massive barrel warehouse, Tony and I were in awe of the carefully labeled and stored barrels of beer and spirits.

Admiring the neatly labeled barrels in the Goose Island warehouse. Can I just live here?

Admiring the neatly labeled barrels in the Goose Island warehouse. Can I just live here?

Outside, about a dozen gourmet dogs awaited. Everything from a spicy andouille sausage to a smoked Hungarian pork sausage was assembled to order for us hungry festival-goers.

The half-dog portions were perfect and allowed people to taste each sausage without bursting. If you're like me and tried all of them, you would have eaten five and a half regular dogs.

The half-dog portions were perfect and allowed people to taste each sausage without bursting. If you’re like me and tried all of them, you would have eaten five and a half regular dogs.

Goose Island’s beers were the perfect match for the gourmet dogs. We got started early with the 312 urban wheat and then moved to the Matilda and Sofie.

A nice frosty tallboy of 312 urban wheat, duck fat fries and a Chicago dog.

A nice frosty tallboy of 312 urban wheat, duck fat fries and a Chicago dog.

Meet Jake, he's from Wyoming, studied architecture, and loves Hot Doug's sausages. If you had sausages this great, you'd be smiling too.

Meet Jake, he’s from Wyoming, studied architecture, and loves Hot Doug’s sausages. If you had sausages this great, you’d be smiling too.

Meet Tony, he doesn't eat fried foods and has probably eaten a total of five french fries in his life. On this day he ate his sixth, a Hot Doug's duck fat fry.

Meet Tony, he doesn’t eat fried foods and has probably eaten a total of five french fries in his life. On this day he ate his sixth, a Hot Doug’s duck fat fry.

The coveted Goose Island token redeemable for a limited-run brew at a special tapping at the Dog Dayz of Summer.

The coveted Goose Island token redeemable for a limited-run brew at a special tapping at the Dog Dayz of Summer.

It looks like quite a few other beer lovers already tapped into the thick Bourbon county vanilla rye.

It looks like quite a few other beer lovers already tapped into the thick Bourbon county vanilla rye.

The thick and luscious Bourbon county vanilla rye stout was a meal in itself. Initial flavors of fig and vanilla give this beer a memorable flavor.

The thick and luscious Bourbon county vanilla rye stout was a meal in itself. Initial flavors of fig and vanilla give this beer a memorable flavor.

My favorite sausage from the festival was the spicy Thai chicken sausage. The heat from the dog is balanced by the cool curry and coconut flavors of the toppings.

My favorite sausage from the festival was the spicy Thai chicken sausage. The heat from the dog is balanced by the cool curry and coconut flavors of the toppings.

After thoroughly enjoying the brews of Goose Island Brewing with the world’s best hot dogs, we left satiated and happy. The dogs of memory were still there. The man himself was too, and it was a thrill to see him. This trip to Chicago was turning out great.