Rating Chicago airport hot dogs

January 12, 2019 2:51 pm

Chicago Airport hot dog from Gold Coast in the Midway food court… maybe not the best ever but pretty pretty good.

Chicago takes its hot dogs seriously. This includes the Chicago airport hot dogs served to travelers at O’Hare and Midway who never get on the L and see the city first hand. I usually connect through Midway early in the morning on my way to the west coast and I grab a dog with the works at Gold Coast Dogs in the food court. I have no idea how it stacks up against the very best neighborhood hot dogs, but judged against a universal standard of hot dog goodness it’s excellent. The sausage is generous in size and nicely charred on the grill. The bun is soft, but sturdy enough to stand up to the fillings. And the condiments are just what you want and expect: mustard, neon green relish, onion, two sport peppers, a pickle spear and a shake of celery salt at the end.

America’s First hot dog… small (can you find the dog?) and sad.

When planning my current trip, I discovered Southwest has eliminated its ALB-SNA itinerary so I had to fly United and go through O’Hare. This opened some new hot dog opportunities. I strode off the plane, searched “hot dogs” on Yelp, and found several places that were within walking distance. The nearest place was “America’s Dog” so I got there quickly and ordered the Chicago dog. What a disappointment! It was a much smaller frankfurter to begin with, and the ingredients, though they were all there, were arranged haphazardly on the bun. And it was a terrible value at $6.49…. as I recall the Gold Coast dog was a little over $5. The only positive thing was that it left me so hungry I realized I could eat another hot dog for breakfast, and did.

Kiosk hot dog was better, but suffered the effects of the steam table.

I went off in search of “Chicago Style Hot Dogs” but that place is not where Yelp says it is, nor is it where the signage on the airport wall says it is. Perhaps it has gone out of business or morphed into a deep dish pizza place? I ended up (and mistakenly checked in) at one of several kiosks that are operated by a single server who assembles the dogs off a steam table. The server gamely put the ingredients through their paces. She even added some slices of cucumber, which I had never seen before. (They didn’t add much.) But the steam table meant both the bun and the dog were flaccid.

Looking at the morning’s experience with Chicago airport hot dogs, I marvel at the variability that can be encountered in a simple tube steak. I am going to stipulate, and I will wait for Chicagoans to tell me I am full of lake water, that the dog absolutely has to be grilled to a crackling brown (close to black) crust. And it needs a sturdy bun that won’t fall apart when you eat it.

Like many people who discover they enjoy cooking at a young age, I fantasized about opening a restaurant as a way to make people happy. A hot dog restaurant was one of my ideas. I would offer endless variations—my favorite innovation was a curry dog with mayo and mango chutney—and they would be cheap, nutritious and filling. Certainly a Chicago dog would merit a place on the menu. It’s not easy because you have to get that special neon relish (which, as I discovered when making Texas Schoolburgers, is more than just relish with green food coloring) and you need sport peppers (which aren’t actually a thing) with just the right degree of hotness.

A guy tried a hot dog business in Saratoga awhile back and it failed quickly. His Chicago style hot dog cut corners, and was unsatisfactory. You need the real thing. And grill that dog, dammit.

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