Certainly, Valentine’s Day ups the ante at restaurants all over Chicago. The heat is on, so to speak, to deliver an elegant fine dining experience. So when Hot-C and I pulled into Phil’s Last Stand on this magical night of romance with our appetites honed to a fine edge, expectations were high.
Chef Allyssa, who brings to the grill a pedigree from a six-month tenure at Great American Hot Dog, did not disappoint. She turns a char dog over an open flame with a mastery that would be envy of that ‘fro-sporting Dean of Barbecue University himself, Steven Raichlin.
The dog presented is nowhere near the clumsy behemoths you find at lesser establishments (think 7-11’s Big Bite), and it’s as snappy as a revival of West Side Story. With parallel char-mark branding, it’s a purist’s dream of low-key elegance. And when the sweet spiciness of the piccalilli tiptoes against the dour savor of the barbecued Vienna beef, it’s a Viennese culinary symphony perhaps rivaled only by the first bite of the duck salad at L.A.’s Ma Maison.
My companion Hot-C and I ordered a shrimp boat starter, which consisted of crispy, golden brown, tailless shrimp, which sailed to our table in a yellow tugboat basket, with two side skiffs of cocktail sauce that were suitably tangy, with a horseradish and vinegar bite, cooled down by a suggestion of lemon, with a brown sugar finish. This piquant dish piqued our appetites for the arrival of the Vienna star of the show.
Chef Allyssa must take great care in the morning delivery of produce, as the tomato slices were as firm fleshed as a Bond girl, and the pickle spear crispy and sharp enough to mount on the end of a bayonet.
The dining room is an eclectic mix of what could be called Thrift Shop Chic, with faux-laminate tables and a row of noir and chrome stools fronting a black lacquer board. Walls are screaming mustard yellow and a notable presence is an ATM machine, winking its blue light and making a stand of its own, proclaiming in no uncertain terms: “Phil accepts cash only.” Good thing Hot-C had a $14 Groupon.
So – Did anyone besides your Humble Narrator have the audacity to take your date to a hot dog stand on Valentine’s Day? I’d love to know. Hard to beat this kind of “haute cuisine.” That’s what I told Hot-C anyway….
(From top: Clockwise from top: the Phil's Last Stand Char Dog with everything, exterior, night, cashier Zoe and Chef Allyssa, Hot-C in her Valentine's Day sweater with dog.)
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