Saturday, July 2, 2011

Week of Chicago Dogs: Day Five

Week of Chicago Dogs: As Americans near their various and as sundry Independence Day celebrations coming this July 4, there will be a great number of hot dogs consumed. Most of them will be grilled, Oscar Mayer numbers with a pathetic assortment of condiments of least resistance. A few of them, God help them, will have ketchup on them--ketchup! To help liberate the masses from mediocre hot dogs, this next week will detail the essence of a good Chicago-style hot dog from several Midwest vendors. You're welcome.

Michael's Chicago Style Red Hots

Michael's is the place to go if you are ever in Buffalo Grove. I've been going there for over ten years. When I first discovered the place I was working down the street, and I seriously considered the weekly lunch run to Michael's to be one of the biggest perks of the job. Even today, living about thirty miles away, the wife and I still make the occasional trip to the shop whenever we're remotely in the area (which by our standards is usually a 5-10 mile radius). This trip, we picked up two Chicago Dogs, a large root beer, chili-cheese dog, and chili-cheese fry for about eighteen dollars.

Dog: Michael's Chicago Dog is a delicious Vienna Beef hot dog. Pink and steaming when you get it, they always make sure their red hots have that marvelous snap as the all-natural casing bursts with each bite. Their dogs are a little bigger and longer than most places, too, and they feature distinct pinching towards their ends from the links--a nice detail you don't get at most other places.

Bun: Michael's hot dog buns are soft and big, pillowy guys over-flowing with poppy seeds. Having the big bun is important to facilitate the full spread of toppings they include, but the dense spread of poppy seeds on both sides of the bun is essential. It gives a good texture and grain to each bite of the Chicago Dog, the ballast to the rest of the dog's foliage.

Toppings: Michael's hot dog garnishments are doled out by an employee on the opposite side of the counter's bar of toppings, so they tend towards generous helpings on your typical Chicago Dog. The peppers are the popping variety, bursting full of seeds and fiery juices, and they tend to get doubled up compared to the competition. The pickle spears, likewise, normally get added to your dog in pairs, but the relatively slender slice means their garlic is a faint highlight in the overall bouquet of this formidable dog. The tomato slices and diced onions are fresh and thick, and the celery salt is a tangy accent that teams up with the peppers and mustard to dominate the experience with a mouth-watering but manageable burn over the beefy hot dog.

Side: Ah, the cha-cha fries. You start with a bed of crisp, stout french fries with a light seasoned salt over them. Add to that Michael's hearty chili, which has a decidedly homemade style and filling number of ingredients. In it you'll find a thorough mix of plump red kidney beans, chunks of tomato, green pepper, and ground beef. It's a meaty, savory chili with a subtle spice to it. Cover that with some Merkt's cheddar dip. At most places, you'll get a fluid cheese sauce--often nacho flavored--that just gets poured over the entree. Now, excuse me but cheese shouldn't pour that well without being prohibitively hot. The Merkt's cheddar dip has such a thick consistency that they spoon it onto your order with a spatula--a frakkin' spatula. Without fail, my mouth waters just watching them prepare my order. The combination of filling, rich elements reaches a sort of critical mass as you eat them, and the thick cheese over the top helps to mortar the chili to each fry. Highly recommended, though with a caution for the faint of stomach--the fries' serving is sizable and filling, and with the thick, heavy toppings it could serve as a meal in and of itself.

Special: Now, my usual order at Michael's--despite my penchant for Chicago Dogs--consists of a cha-cha dog and cha-cha fry. The cha-cha dog is a delightful, addictive culinary experience--messy, simple, and crassly gratifying. Just describing it elicits a salivating reaction, and I will probably gleek on my computer before this paragraph is through. The chili and cheese described above falls onto the hot dog and bun in a deceptively tidy mortar in the bread trench. Once you start to bite into it, though, you get the one-two punch of Michael's cha-cha dog: you feel a sublime rush of juicy flavor even as you panic to realize that some of the decadent topping is sliding aft on your hot dog. My gut reaction every time is to extend my jaw like an egg-swallowing snake and wolf down the entire delicious cha-cha dog in a handful of bites to minimize the chili and cheese lost. It's a filling, energizing entree that, when combined with the cha-cha fries, exacts a draining gastric toll. But, for my money and mild milk allergy, it is well worth every dimension of the cost.

Venue: Michael's is a wonderful place. For a small business in the suburbs, it is the largest hot dog place in which I've ever been. It's a large corner lot location, with the line for the order line leading up to the doors through the middle of the shop, with two bar-style counters leading to either side of the registers--one for sandwiches, another for salads. The whole place has a spacious layout and very crisp retro design. The menu is framed in glowing neon lights, and the ordering lines are blocked off from the dining area by clear block dividers with angular dividers off the top--very trippy. I've only eaten in a few times relative to my numerous to-go visits, but it's a very pleasant place to sit and appreciate the atmosphere, whether it's a quiet weekday afternoon or a packed weekend lunch-hour.

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