Chicago-style hot dogs were a staple in my childhood. My single mom didn't have much time or energy to think about making dinner, between raising two kids and working, be it in the office of the local grocery store or as the secretary at the Methodist Church in Whiting, Ind. So at least a couple of days a week, we would head to Wally's, later called Arnie's, hot dog stand and order dinner.
Initially, I had a Vienna Beef hot dog simmered in water and topped with yellow mustard and chopped onions on a steamed poppy seed bun. Then I graduated to adding bright green (fondly referred to as neon) sweet pickle relish, a couple of pickled sport peppers and celery salt. Later, two tomato wedges and a dill pickle spear to give it heft. Snap! (That's the little bit of resistance from the casing.)
It probably — okay, for sure — was a terribly unhealthy diet, but it was what it was. And I survived to adulthood. When our sons were born in the late 1980s, I made sure they ate well and I cooked dinners every night. I'm not sure they have had Chicago-style hot dogs more than a few times in their lives — including the ones they ate when visiting Whiting. Are they missing out? Well, some baseball fans might say so, given that Chicago dogs sell briskly during games at Wrigley Field.
The Chicago dog, hotdogchicagostyle.com says, is more than just a hot dog. It's a "taste sensation with the perfect blend of toppings." Well-known Chicago hot dog stands include Gold Coast Dogs, Wieners Circle and Mustard's Last Stand.
Speaking of mustard, that is the condiment to put on a Chicago-style dog. Forget ketchup. There are, let's say, "strong" opinions in Chicago about putting ketchup on a hot dog. (No. Never. Yuck.) So much so, in fact, that some hot dog stands don't even offer ketchup — except to go with the french fries. The ones that do provide ketchup might add a warning: You are spoiling the hot dog.
Chicagoans take great pride in their hot dog. Its history dates to the Great Depression, when the dogs were sold for a nickel with a "salad on top." Chicago-style hot dogs, along with deep-dish pizza, are the Windy City's culinary icons. Last month's annual Chicago Hot Dog Fest presented by the Chicago History Museum celebrated "an American food classic." And the Greater Chicago area is said to have more hot dog stands/restaurants than McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King restaurants combined.
At Bruce's Chicago Grill in Largo (7733 Ulmerton Road, (727) 524-1146), you get an authentic hot dog with snap (among the 23 different kinds of dogs) on a tender steamed poppy seed bun (starting at $3.15).
In Tampa, Mel's Hot Dogs (4136 E Busch Blvd., melshotdogs.com) proudly serves a juicy $4.75 Chicago Style Hot Dog with the works ($7.24 with a basket with fries and a side). Don't worry about making a mess, by the way. That's part of eating a Chicago hot dog. It's a lot to bite into at once. Just savor that taste sensation.
Contact Jeanne Grinstead at jgrinstead @tampabay.com.