When you travel, it’s difficult to have a perfect first bite.
You arrive at your destination exhausted, famished and cranky, eager to shove the first thing you see down your throat. Which is why my first bite in Paris was an only-slightly-better-than-average eclair, and my first bite in Barcelona was bull intestine. But last week, when I arrived with Lizzie the Photographer to stay with my friends Ben & Andy in Chicago, they took us out for the perfect first bite ever: a Chicago-Style Hot Dog.
On the walk over to consume this hot dog, I got a little prickly and defensive as Lizzie put down the hot dog of my fair city.
“I once had a cousin visit from Chicago,” she told us [Note: this cousin may have been from somewhere near Chicago and not Chicago itself.] “I bought him a New York City hot dog and he wouldn’t eat it, he thought it looked so awful.”
“Now wait a second!” I jeered. “Did you take him to Gray’s Papaya? Their hot dogs are awesome.”
“No, it was a street dog,” she explained. “From one of those steamer baskets.”
“I grew up eating those!” I shouted. “I like them, they’re soft!”
“Calm down you two,” advised Andy. “Here we are.”
Where we were was Flub A Dub Chub’s:
This wasn’t a place recommended to me by my readers (that’d be Hot Doug’s which, unfortunately, was closed for summer vacation) but a place that Ben and Andy enjoyed, near their apartment.
We entered the crowded premises and stood in line. I could tell this place was popular because every seat was taken; the room, which is below ground, almost reminded me of someone’s basement converted into a restaurant:
Your choices, as far as hot dogs go, came down to The Chubby (“our signature 1/4 lb. with the works”) or The Flubby (“classic Vienna dog.”) I knew no matter which dog I got, I’d have to get the works: that’s what’d make it a Chicago-Style Dog. Here’s a definition of “the works” on the wall:
That’s: mustard, onion, tomato, relish, cucumber, pickle, celery salt and sport peppers. Sport peppers??? That sounds like a side-effect of jock itch. (Sorry!)
The sassy owner at the counter (she’s also a school teacher, I later learned) advised me to get the Flubby over The Chubby because it’s a more traditional Chicago dog. Any time someone at a restaurant advises me to get the cheaper option, I listen because they must value the truth over making money.
When our dogs were ready, we took them outside. Here are our hosts Ben & Andy:
And here’s my first Chicago-Style Hot Dog:
It took one bite to understand why this dog is such a force to be reckoned with. The crunch of the pickle, the heat of the sport chilis, the sweetness of the relish and the unique vegginess of the celery salt created a hot-dog eating experience unlike any other I’ve known. It can’t even compare to a New York City hot dog experience because it’s just so peculiar; it’d be like having a beauty contest between Angelina Jolie and the alien lady from Avatar. Actually, Angelina and the alien have more in common than the Chicago Dog & the NYC dog. Suffice it to say, I like them both.
And there you go: the perfect first bite for a visit to a new city. Thanks Ben & Andy for making that happen, and thanks city of Chicago for crafting such a strange and winning hot dog topping combination.