CHICAGO — Doug Sohn has made an art of the traditional Chicago-style hot dog, replete with mustard, onions, pickle relish, dill spear, tomatoes, celery salt and sport peppers. (No ketchup!)
But if you stop your order there, you’ll miss much of the joy of eating at his Hot Doug’s restaurant on the city’s northwest side. Because what really draws the crowds — and foodies from afar — is Sohn’s menu filled with rare sausages curated to offer up spicy and sweet, ethnic and American, and all served for about $10 or less.
It’s what earns Hot Doug’s the title “The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium.” Things like smoked and spicy alligator sausage with crayfish etoufee mayonnaise and smoked blue cheese drizzled with honey; or apple, pear and port wine elk sausage with cherry-apricot mustard, double cream brie and pate de campagne; or even red mole turkey sausage with chipotle Dijonnaise, queso asadero and fried tortillas.
Sohn has a rotating stockpile of about 100 recipes that he’s created and gets his meats from about dozen sausage makers. He says he knew he hit it big when the sausage companies started coming to him.
So there are two menus, the basic hot dogs, Polish sausages, bratwursts and corn dogs. That menu doesn’t change, though the names of the dishes do. For example, a hot link is now known as an Anna Kendrick (previously Britney Spears, Jennifer Garner or Keira Knightley).
The other menu lists the gourmet dogs and it changes week-to-week, based on inventory, and has about a dozen dogs on it.
“There are new ones coming on and off the board all the time,” Sohn said recently.
He also serves fries made in rendered duck fat, but only on Fridays and Saturdays. Foie gras is on the menu, too. This got Sohn into some trouble a few years ago when Chicago banned the goose and duck liver delicacy. He was fined $250 when he refused to stop serving it. The city later repealed the ban.
It’s no surprise that the line into Hot Doug’s can stretch along the side of Sohn’s brick Chicago two-flat before his 10:30 a.m. opening, and sometimes down the block. He’s got fans. His book, “Hot Doug’s: The Book,” features pages filled with people who have Hot Doug’s tattoos.
Inside, the walls are decorated with hot dog-themed pictures, posters and memorabilia, including “Critical Links: A History of Encased Meats.”
Sohn said his clientele include tourists, mostly on Saturdays, but also mothers and children, police officers and construction workers. You can tell it’s important that he not only be seen as a gourmet hot dog connoisseur.
“We’re a classic Chicago hot dog stand,” he said. “To me, it’s really still this classic Chicago restaurant.”
If You Go ...
HOT DOUG’S: 3324 N. California Ave., Chicago, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from downtown, http://www.hotdougs.com , 773-279-9550. Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m., closed Sundays. Closed for holidays and vacations so check the schedule online. Cash only.
Follow Caryn Rousseau on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/carynrousseau