For this week’s Gastro Friday, we’re going to take a journey deep into the world of encased meats, specifically, the hot dog and other sausages. This was perhaps the biggest topic to tackle in the high school food studies class I taught this semester, especially considering I teach in Chicago. The hot dog is so big in Chicago, we even had to coin our own way of eating the damn thing with Chicago-style toppings! Which–by the way–makes absolutely no sense from an eating perspective. Sure, it tastes delicious, but construction-wise, it is a nightmare! The little poppy seed bun can never seem to hold on to a poor little hot dog crushed by twice it’s weight in vegetables and condiments, including mustard, neon green relish, raw onions, sport peppers, tomatoes, a pickle spear and celery salt. I’ve developed my own eating method that involves a death grip on the pickle spear with one thumb, and a slick squish-n-shove motion with my other hand to ensure that 1)all the toppings stay on the damn thing, and 2)I actually get it all in my mouth instead of dribbling onto my lap. Also…Chicago-style hot dogs? NOT the best food to sneak into a movie. I’ve left more than few movies looking like I got beat up by a salad bar. Chicago-style hot dogs seem a bit over the top today, but they were created during the Great Depression as a way to make a hot dog sandwich seem a little more filling to customers already strapped for cash. While most hot dog street vendors would sell just a hot dog and bun for 5 cents, a few vendors got the idea to run the dog through the garden, so to speak, by letting the customers pick from a variety of condiments and toppings, the ultimate being what we now call Chicago-style toppings. When you look at it that way, Chicago-style hot dogs seem less ridiculous and more like an homage to local history. And I can rock with that.
For this week’s class, I wanted my students to have a really unique, Chicago-only hot dog experience that I knew they probably wouldn’t have their own: Hot Doug’s, Chicago’s greatest gourmet hot dog and sausage stand. If you’ve never heard of the place, check out this post I wrote about it. Due to time constraints, a field trip wasn’t possible. Instead, I printed out the menu the week before and let the students choose what dogs they would like, and bought them just before the next class. This was a bit tricky, because Hot Doug’s changes their menu weekly. They have a basic menu that never changes, but the students who had ordered one of his special dogs knew that I might have to pick a random dog for them if their one wasn’t on the new menu. And surprisingly, almost one entire class wanted the crazy hot dogs! I was so darn proud, I could have spit. Of course, most of the other class ordered hot dogs with ketchup, but I’m trying to work the positive thoughts here.
Doug has gotten a reputation of doing everything his way. He opens the hours he wants to be open, typically 10am-4pm. He is not in a convenient location in the city. He only makes certain things like duck fat french fries on certain days. And from what I have read and can tell, he doesn’t really compromise for anyone. In my eating experience, these are the best kinds of chefs to eat food from, because they really care about their end product. It reminds me of Jules from The Hundred Eaves in Australia. In Doug’s case, this also means he can be incredibly generous whenever he wants. Over two days, I ordered probably 40 hot dogs from the man, and even though I had fully intended on paying for them, he donated them to my students for free. FOR FREE. And he had his staff pack each hot dog individually in a paper bag with a napkin and the student’s name on it, so it was super easy to sort them out in class. Now, I am not saying this to have you go and bug this nice man for free hot dogs. Don’t do it or I’ll throw a poodle at your head. I just want to give props where props is due. And maybe bake him a few cookies.
And the best part? Instead of having my students do another food writing assignment, I taught them how to take their own food porn photos using Hot Doug’s dogs! I’m no food photo expert, but I know a thing or two, like how it is better to use natural light over a flash, and using a neutral background. A lot of the photos were blurry, but some of my students’ photos really blew me away. And thankfully, I saved the hot dog lecture for after they ate, you know, the one that talks about what REALLY goes into a hot dog? They were plenty thankful for that! In the end, hot dog week turned out to be a fun run into the gourmet world for my little gastronomes in training. Only a few classes left! ~LTG!