Hot Dog Day is (finally) here, so do yourself a favor and grab a designer dog
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Not only is Wednesday National Hotdog Day, but July is National Hotdog Month. What better way to celebrate than by shadowing a guy who perfected the art of the designer dog? For Chef Cliff Rome, the brains behind H-Dogs, it’s all about patience in cooking and panache with the accoutrements.
“Take your time,” says Rome, whose restaurant sits on the northeast corner of 47th and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Bronzeville. There, a good dog takes around 15 minutes to create, from start to finish. “Then take a traditional approach to your [toppings] and make it untraditional.”
For Rome, that means artfully piling a lamb hotdog with tzatziki sauce, sliced raw onion and finely chopped tomatoes. Or it means purchasing a quality turducken dog (for the famous Turducken Cobb Dog,) and keeping it carefully refrigerated at the right temp before searing it first to get the lines, and then moving the meat to a different part of the grill to complete cooking. (As Chef says, the “juices, not the grill,” cook the meat.) The dog is then dressed like a Cobb salad.
At Rome’s swanky eatery, which is now entering its third year, the dogs are seared, grilled or, (in the case of the vegetarian, all-soy dog) split open and cooked on a griddle. Lettuce is bought whole and then finely chopped into slices only upon finishing the order. Fries are tossed with a pinch of sea salt in pristine steel bowls before being folded into a paper boat with the dog. A Chicago dog is the most basic order, and even that will take a good ten minutes before it’s handed over to you.
Is it like the north side’s, soon-to-be-closed Hot Doug’s? Perhaps, but Rome is hardly alone in his one-upmanship of the lowly dog. Franks n Dawgs on north Clybourne sells something called the “singhing fu” dog, which is comprised of smoked tofu, basil paneer, spicy turnip masala, chivda and cilantro. And Rapidito Colombian Gourmet Bites, in Lincoln Park, also turns things up. There, dogs are served as they are served in Bogota, Colombia – the all beef frank is layered with cheese, crushed potato chips, honey, hard boiled quail eggs, pineapple sauce, a signature pink sauce, ketchup and mustard.
Rapadito’s owner, Carolina Diaz, says the dogs will be on “special” tomorrow in honor of the big day. “It’s going very well,” she says, of how Chicagoans embrace a South American treat. “The Chicago staple is what the city is famous for, but in Colombia every city has a hotdog. This is just a variation fo what everybody loves. And, instead of fries on the side, we put the potato chips on top.”
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The Chi is fifth in the nation in terms of hot dog consumption, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. O’hare Airport alone serves up more dogs in one year than Los Angeles International Airport and New York’s LaGuardia combined. Most of those dogs are basic: bread, dog, relish, mustard.
Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re ready to add a little zip to your at-home dog, Rome suggests looking to what you already like for inspiration. “You might want to do cherry tomatoes and instead of regular cheese, do a buffalo mozzarella,” he says. “You could add chili paste for the red. And, you want to build height. It’ll look fun, and food is supposed to be fun and attractive, and, taste good.”
— Adrienne Samuels Gibbs