For years I’ve been stopping by the Vienna Beef Factory Store and Cafe to get a genuine Chicago hot dog—the finest dogs in the land. (The store is conveniently located a few blocks from where I buy my wine.) It had been a factory where the all-beef dogs were made, so the dogs were super-fresh and there was a cafeteria for the workers that was also open to visitors.
I took a visitor there yesterday—after all, no visit to Chicago is complete without a real Chicago dog (or a deep-dish pizza or rib tips or an Italian beef sandwich or a good steak). I learned then that the factory had just closed and moved to a new location in Bridgeport (a Chicago neighborhood). The cafe was still there, and they’d opened a pop-up Vienna Beef Hot Dog Museum, which will close in a month. I was able to partake of a good dog and a visit to the museum.
The “Chicago-style hot dog” has its own Wikipedia page, which notes the essentials:
A Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago Dog, or Chicago Red Hot is an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun, originating from the city of Chicago, Illinois. The hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. The complete assembly of a Chicago hot dog is said to be “dragged through the garden” due to the many toppings. The method for cooking the hot dog itself varies depending on the vendor’s preference. Most often they are steamed, water-simmered, or less often grilled over charcoal (in which case they are referred to as “char-dogs”).
The canonical recipe does not include ketchup, and there is a widely shared, strong opinion among many Chicagoans and aficionados that ketchup is unacceptable.
This is pretty true, except that the dog has to be a Vienna Beef dog, and the bun must be an S. Rosen’s poppy seed bun. Also, you can substitute grilled onions for fresh onions without de-Chicagoing the dog. The seven ingredients are essential, and you can say “with everything” rather than “drag it through the garden.” It’s also true that nobody tolerates ketchup on a dog (it’s ok with the obligatory fries), and some hot dog places in Chicago will refuse to put ketchup on a dog if you ask for it.
Here’s the dog at the cafe: It has the requisite ingredients, including chopped raw onions. Note all the vegetables, which makes it healthier (if not healthy):
These are all-beef kosher dogs and come in a natural casing: the intestine of an animal. That gives these luscious dogs a satisfying snap when you bite into them. They’re made from quality ingredients, as this video shows:
An old sign with the requisites:
The original factory on Halsted Street near the packing district. The facility opened in 1893. Below are also company’s first cash register and a delivery truck:
This truck shows the original logo (now a “V” containing a forked dog): a star of David symbolizing the company’s foundation by Jews and the kosherness of its products (that’s why the dogs have no pork).
The company’s board of directors a while ago, and a list of their names below. It reads like a list of Jewish surnames, much like the caption of my father’s all-Jewish fraternity picture at Penn State (Jews weren’t allowed in “regular” fraternities):
A genuine gold-plated hot dog!
And some doginalia, including a post of Da Coach touting his “Monster Dog”. Vienna Beef dogs were and remain the Official Hot Dog of the Chicago Cubs and also the Chicago White Sox, though Major League Baseball has adopted a much inferior dog—Nathan’s—as the Official League Hot Dog.
We Chicagoans are proud of our dogs. And remember: NO KETCHUP!