Friday, July 24, 2009

The Sausage Superstore

Hot Doug’s
The Sausage Superstore and
Encased Meat Emporium
3324 North California, Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 279-9550
You had me at “Encased Meat Emporium”

So, I was recently in Chicago on a quick trip and I decided to devote it solely to eating. In that, I had two places I would go on my three day adventure where I would eat, no matter the line. The first was Hot Doug’s.

Hot Doug’s is a small building in a commercial/industrial area of north-western Chicago, just north of Bucktown. Being from Philly, I obviously had to see how the sandwiches stacked up, and did they ever. After my first night there (and after consuming copious amounts of alcoholic beverages) I woke up with the incriminating evidence of a 4am torta on my foul smelling hands, and a hankering for some meat. People warned the night before to get there right when they open or right when they close, else the line will be wrapped around the building. “Ha,” I thought. “I am sure people have more important things to do on Friday afternoon than sit around waiting for an over-glorified Hot Do(u)g.”
As usual, I was wrong. At 11:45 the line was literally wrapped around the corner of the building and down the block. We left to get coffee, thinking at least if we are standing in line we might as well be awake, and that the line couldn’t possibly get any longer. Wrong again (well, about the line getting longer, at least).

Upon our return, the line now stretched even further down the block, but I thought to myself, “it should move quickly, I mean, they are just sausages.” Can you guess??? I was WRONG AGAIN! As I had already been made aware through my due diligence, each Friday and Saturday you have the option of French Fries cooked in duck fat. There was no way I was turning around. So we sat, and waited. At least there was plenty to look at while in line, guessing what the hell these people do in life that affords them the ability to sit there, waiting, for so long on a Friday afternoon. Not to mention eavesdropping, reading The Onion and local city paper they provide at the entrance, and briefing myself on the specials of the day through their website on my iPhone. I wanted to be ready; yet I was hardly prepared.

After what seemed like an eternity (in reality, a mere TWO HOURS), we got inside the door and were greeted by non other than Hot Doug himself - working the counter and taking orders. Awesome. He is a super nice guy. I immediately told him how happy I was to be there and that I was from Philly. He was quick to ask if I had brought his “Tony Luke’s chicken cutlet with Sharp Provolone and broccoli rabe?” HA. I loved the attitude, but had failed him this one. He said he was going to be visiting Philadelphia in the fall and I immediately informed him that he needed to forget Tony Luke’s and try the best sandwich in Philly at Pasesano’s. My partner-in-crime made him write it down and we gave him the address. He said we were “now back in his good graces.” Why do you think that line takes two hours? Because when you get to the counter, you are it. There is no rush, you get to shoot the breeze and the service is supreme. You order, take a seat, and they bring your order out to you. The line moves so slowly; you don’t need to fight for a seat when you get in there. You have a choice of seats. Amazing. Doug then hooked us up with some free drinks for our insider information. So what did we order?

The Chicago dog (which is available steamed, fried, or steamed then grilled) with all the trimmings - this was an easy one - and at $1.75, you can’t beat it with a stick. The Duck fat fries($3.50) - well, I wasn’t leaving there without an order - but what to pick for the sausage? It was a VERY tough call, as they have about a dozen “specials of the week.” After much deliberation, mulling about and second guessing, we decided to go for the “game of the week” which was Spicy Smoked Alligator Sausage with Cajun Remoulade and St. Pete's Blue Cheese ($8.50), and the Merguez Lamb Sausage with Spicy Harissa and Goat Cheese ($6.50). Oh brother. It was as though I was eating an encased slice of coronary bliss. The flavor combinations and the generous helpings of ingredients were absolutely incredible. This was the best sausage and fries I have ever eaten in my life. The alligator was the true star, spicy and smoky, with a cooling rich blue cheese top that skated across my taste buds as though I were attending the cholesterol ice-capades. I was in greasy foodie heaven. The fries, while not far from regular fresh-cut expertly-cooked fries, had something about them that made me keep coming back with a ravenous appetite. The lamb sausage was also tantalizing, with the creamy goat cheese conquering the spicy harissa like it was meant to do. But my word, that alligator!

I am afraid I will be unable to eat sausage in the near future (that is highly unlikely to be true), for fear that Hot Doug’s has ruined me for life. When you exit the door (leaving all that succulent beauty behind) and see all those people still standing in line, you get a (false) feeling of superiority. “Look at these suckers,” you think, “waiting in line for hours” as you wipe the duck/alligator/lamb/pork grease off of your chin; but there is a tinge of regret, where you would gladly trade places, just to be able to experience sausage supremacy once more. A lady asked, as we were making our exit,

“Was it really worth this line?”

I looked at her in all sincerity and responded, “Absolutely.”

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