For the first time in 15 years — in the city that made him a folk hero of encased meats — Doug Sohn ate a hot dog prepared by someone else.
He slowly lifted the poppy seed bun containing a Chicago-style dog to his mouth about 1:45 p.m. Thursday at the Hot Dog Station, 4742 N. Kimball, in Albany Park.
And he promptly ate the whole thing and loved it.
“That first bite. It’s just like, ‘Oh, good gosh! When done well, it’s awesome,” said Sohn, who closed his famed Avondale eatery, Hot Doug’s, in October.
“He nailed it. It tasted great. Not great enough to make me want to reopen or anything — let’s not get carried away. Nothing’s that good,” joked Sohn, 53.
The visit left owner Dimitri Anagnostou a bit discombobulated.
“He just left. I’m actually still shaking,” said Anagnostou, 36. “When you’re in this business, you want to be like him —like when you’re young and play basketball and want to be like Michael Jordan.”
Sohn washed the dog down with a Coke.
“Once I saw him, I thought I was hallucinating,” Anagnostou said. “I introduced myself and told him ‘You’re a big inspiration for me.”
Sohn weighed his dog down with relish, mustard, onions, tomatoes, pickles, celery salt and sport peppers.
“He told me I inspired him, and I told him I wasn’t going to take the blame for that,” Sohn joked.
“I’m definitely looking forward to getting back on that bandwagon and having more, they’re just so good,” said Sohn, noting that a friend recommended the hot dog joint.
“I’ll be eating hot dogs as long as the doctor says I still can, and when he says I shouldn’t, I probably still will. Because why go through life without eating Chicago-style hot dogs?”
Sohn has not totally acclimated himself to eating out.
“The whole going out to lunch thing is still pretty novel to me,” he said.
His next venture is unclear.
“I’m just trying to figure out at what point I’ll have to figure out what I’m going to do next,” said Sohn, who wouldn’t tip his hand except to say whatever he pursues will not be in the restaurant business.
Sohn has been traveling a bit since he retired, leaving behind the long lines that formed daily outside his shop. He took an RV trip through the southern states earlier this year. He next plans to visit a friend — a former customer—in Sitka, Alaska.
For Anagnostou, the memory of Sohn’s visit will have to suffice — he was too nervous to ask for a picture.
“He said he started just like I did, and at first it’s a struggle but keep going,” said Anagnostou, who opened his hot dog store in 2012 with his wife, Toula.
For the young restaurateur, who spent 84 hours working last week between his hot dog shop and The Egg Basket, a breakfast place in Schaumburg that he co-owns, Sohn’s visit was a much-appreciated boost of confidence.
“He’s the forefather . . . to hear about what I’m doing here from his mouth really puts me in a better position.”