2015 proved a challenging year in the hot dog wars, which is a war that is so much more fun to do battle in than other wars, and a winner has emerged. The Best Chicago Style Hot Dog of 2015 is a place that has stood its ground and held its position for 61 years: Jimmy’s Red Hots at the corner of Pulaski and Grand Avenue. Jimmy's gets the Golden Weenie!
It’s a third-generation, family owned business started by Jimmy himself, taken of over by his son Frank, and now his daughter Rose Ferrugia and her siblings are co-owners. Part of what makes Jimmy’s such a great place for a hot dog and fries is the fact that the stand swims into view as an urban oasis that time forgot – you get the basics here, and not a lot of poofy, sissified other menu items. You wanna dog made out of duck sausage with gruyere? Get outta here! You want ketchup? Get outta here!
Here’s the menu: hot dogs and polish sausages. And hand cut fries with the peelings on, wrapped up with the dog for $2.75. You can’t beat that. Okay, you can get a tamale – and you can even get one served on a hot dog bun. Plus, here’s Jimmy’s idea of a veggie dog: fries on a bun, with hot dog condiments added. Yeah, you can get a soft drink or lemonade too – and that’s it.
There was a time when your hot dog was always wrapped up with your fries. And then, places discovered they could charge the same for the dog and make the fries a separate charge. What kind of thing is that to do to people? As Jimmy might have said in 1954, when he opened the doors here: “Ayyyy -- no dice!”
I may seem a little sentimental. But is this strictly a greaser-style nostalgia pick, harkening back to a purer, unencumbered time of hot rods and red hots? Certainly not. Although there are plenty of fancy dogs vying for attention in the Chicago landscape like so many French show poodles, there is something comforting about this venerable Chicago stand.
The mighty Superdawg might have its leopard-skin tunic-clad muscleman lording it over Devon Avenue, but Jimmy’s is more Bauhaus, putting function over form. The building is a tough, no-nonsense rectangle. In a world where things are not what they seem, Jimmy’s truly is what it is.
The hot dog is Vienna Beef – which needs no explanation, really, if you’re a fan of Chicago hot dogs – and it can be ordered steamed, boiled, or charred. Call me atavistic, but the flame does wonders for the meat. The relish is not bright neon green. It looks more like real relish. The chopped onions are plentiful, and the sport pepper is a bruiser.
And those fries, which seem almost free because they’re wrapped with the dog, are nicely browned and crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. The peelings add an earthiness – a real “pomme de terre” earth-apple aspect, which is something I didn’t share with Miguel when he hoisted the bag to me.
Chicago is a tough, hard-boiled place. But its best dog is snappy and boiled just right.
Anthony Bourdain, no stranger to fancy food, said after visiting Jimmy’s Red Hots, “By my way of thinking, the Chicago red hot is the finest example of hot dog on the planet."
Congratulations to Jimmy’s: an authentic, time-tested local treasure, and the Hot Dog Diaries pick as the Best Chicago Style Hot Dog of the year.
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