What chance would a fat old guy who likes hot dogs have of hosting “Check, Please?” Slim and none, as it turns out. Did I audition? No, I did not – but I can see when I look at the beaming faces of the five finalists that it would have been small hope for a rumpled dude like me to nail this one down. Especially one whose idea of fine dining is an outing at Plush Pup.
This happens a lot in the job market. I’m gregarious enough. Knowledgeable enough. I can keep a conversation going, even when sitting next to self-important dolts. I can enthuse and wax eloquent at the drop of a dinner roll, and hew my out with a broad-ax of criticism when called for – and I can listen, too. These seem like appropriate skills for the gig.
But alas, it’ll probably go to the sleek Catherine De Orio – she of the confident smile and bleached-to-perfection choppers, and tastefully elegant black cocktail dress. But I do kind of like that last name – reminds me of my favorite dessert. Sarah Levy has a chance, too, especially with those flashy white teeth and soulful, Alpana-like brown eyes. While it would no doubt be fun and entertaining if Senam "SistaTV" Amegashie got the nod, I doubt it will happen. Donny de Castro (what’s with all the “de” names?) would be like having lunch with that up-and-comer guy at work that you can’t fully trust not to get back to your boss with a shared confidence, and Ina Pinkney, who is the chef/owner of Ina's Kitchen, might be a bit patrician – but I bet she’d also be gracious and personable and would know a thing or two about the food. She’s my pick. “You had me at the white hair.”
All this leads me to think of how much fun it would be to be a panelist – and then choose a Chicago hot dog stand as my chosen restaurant. But which one? Superdawg would be too easy and too trendy, as would Hot Doug’s. I’d want something just grungy enough to freak out my fellow panelists, who would have to trek there for a sampling.
How about Hot Dog Express, 4300 N Milwaukee Avenue? Here’s what I’d tell Catherine or Sarah or Senam or Donny or Ina. “On a recent visit, Hot-C and I happily discovered that for two dogs with everything (with fries!) for $5.45, the lack of poppy seeds on the buns seemed quibbling. At first bite – an explosion of flavors and textures! You get the heat from the sport peppers and the crunch of the dill spear and fresh tomato slices. Critically, you also get the impossibly green relish that is so much a part of the Chicago dog experience. Celery salt is offered in a large pour jar, as if celery salt were an option. Too much could pour out if you’re not vigilant. The fries are fresh cut, with the edges of the peel intact. The dog itself, as Hot-C was quick to point out, was firm and not soggy in the least – showing good turnover miles away from the prolonged bath in tepid water that lesser dogs endure – very satisfying. There is a nice, friendly buzz about the place, with counter-only seating turning over quickly. Another bonus: even though Hot-C and I split the two-dog deal, they were served separately, with ample fries in each basket.” Can you imagine the expression on the host’s face? What witty rejoinders they would offer?
Or how about Snappy Dog, 6682 1/2 N Northwest Highway? "Well, my dear Catherine or Sarah or Senam or Donny or Ina …..,” I’d intone dramatically. “If it’s aesthetics you’re looking for, you may have a preconceived notion of what your ideal hot dog joint should look like. Maybe it’s a tiny storefront in the middle of a city block. Maybe the joint is so small that there’s not even room for a couple of stools, but there’s a standing counter that takes you back to the old days of the men’s bar at the Berghoff, where you’d eat your roast beef and mustard on pumpernickel and order a Berghoff dark to wash it down. And maybe the counter man is an iconoclastic, anti-establishment type who figured out a cool way to live a capitalist’s dream life without selling out, and his smiling presence just makes you feel more positive about things. And maybe in your mind’s eye, the dog that the nice man behind the counter serves you is a classic gem, with all the requisite components: crisp dill spear powdered with a light dusting of celery salt, fresh tomato wedges, sport peppers that bring a nice, eye-watering bite to the dog, onions chopped just so, vibrant, kelly green relish, and a nice lathering of yellow mustard on a steamed poppy seed bun. And maybe the name itself is perfect for the place you dreamed up: Snappy Dog!”
I’d let this sink in for just a moment, fixing a steely gaze at the host and then at my fellow panelists and then continue. “Your preconceived notion is a reality! Snappy Dog offers a simple variation on a theme: the regular sized Chicago dog with hand-cut fries wrapped up with it for $3.00 or the behemoth ¼-lb. dog with perhaps a few more fries rolled up with it for $5.25. My companion Hot-C’s advice? Go with the bigger dog. All other ingredients are identical, so if you want a smaller snack while waiting for a train, the small dog is perfectly serviceable. If it’s a meal or late-night munch you’re looking for, the bigger dog eats like a meal. Fries are nicely browned and crispy, cooked to perfection, with peels on. All in all, this is a classic representation of a very good, un-messed with Chicago style hot dog. Simple is good!”
And I’d await the reaction from the host and the other guest panelists.
It would surely be delicious.
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