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.
Big Jack's Chicago Style Red Hots
Big Jack's is a fairly new place that's just down the road from my folks' place. For this visit I picked up three Chicago Dogs with small order of fries included with each and a medium soda at a cost of just nine dollars and some change.
Dog: A delicious red hot, but not Vienna Beef, a Big Jack's hot dog is still a delicious basis for the Chicago Dog. It has a medium-firm texture and the red hot signature meat has a smoky pork after taste that is tastily appreciable despite the fact that it isn't technically Vienna Beef. In a location fairly close to several other Vienna Beef hot dog shops, passing on the preferred hot dog brand gives Big Jack's a unique, distinctive taste at a bit of a risk.
Bun: Keeping with their distinctive approach to the Chicago Dog, Big Jack's bun is a white bread with no poppy seeds. Moist and full (when not smothered by take out wrapping, as in the above picture), the bun conforms to the Chicago style toppings, making it a bit easier to chow down on this messy meal.
Toppings: The Big Jack's Chicago Dog has the classic stable of toppings. With fresh, small diced onions that anchor in their mustard and very thinly sliced tomatoes, the hot dog has a decidedly spicy bite to it. There's only a smattering of celery salt applied to each dog, giving it only a very subtle bitter counter to the savory dog, and the thinly sliced pickle offers only a little garlic tang, which is further countered by the sweet flush of their bright green relish. The really distinct feature of their dog, however, is the subtle, soft sport peppers. Without the bitter burst of other peppers, their subtlety is possibly the perfect sport pepper according to my own taste for more subdued flavors. Overall, it creates a savory Chicago Dog with a soft bite of onion and capsaicin.
Side: A lot of places include fries with their Chicago Dogs, and Big Jack's is no exception. Fresh cut potatoes, the perfect dog partner is brown and floppy, with potato skin decorating almost every fry. They're meaty and lightly seasoned, giving the fries the effect of being like thin baked potato slices. They're good and hearty, requiring no ketchup to enjoy--which is good, as your ketchup should sit things out when Chicago Dogs pay a visit.
Venue: Big Jack's is the consummate hot dog stand turned into a proper vendor. It's a small shop with barely enough seating for a dozen people at round tables and a short bar with maybe eight stools as well as some seating in the attached building next door. With good hot dogs and sandwiches and a location that's convenient for two sets of schools, I only wish this place was around when I was in high school. The walls are pretty thickly covered with posters and pictures featuring downtown Chicago, and a board near the register usually sports a neat quotation or proverb. When I visited this time: "the most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother." It's a nice touch to a small, intimate space, although I admit I've never actually sat down to eat at Big Jack's--like most of the customers, I swing by and get my Chicago Dogs to go on my way elsewhere.