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COMMENTARY

You ain’t nuthin but a hot dog?

Gary W Moore

Those are fighting words in ChiTown!

For the love of the dog …

My parents were both small town kids. My mom from Sand Springs, Oklahoma and dad from Sesser, Illinois. Their move to the far south suburbs of Chicago in 1953 to find work must have been a culture shock of great magnitude.

So, I was born and raised within the gravitational pull of the Windy City on beautiful Lake Michigan. To my brother, sisters, and I, our many trips into what was at the time, the second largest city in America, seeing the Chicago skyline as it appeared and grew on the horizon was like driving to the magical city of OZ. Breathtaking.

I’ve written of my love of Chicago pizza and the Chicago Cubs. Somehow, I’ve skipped over my passion for the best hot dogs in the universe … Vienna Beef, served Chicago Style.

I can hear the collective gasps of my friends and neighbors on the East coast. “Vienna what?” They’ll ask, then claim, “Nathan’s is the best dog around.” And rest assured, I love Nathan’s. But there is just something special … familiar … a Chicago Style Vienna Beef dog is my comfort food.

What is “Chicago Style” and where did it begin?

The Vienna Beef website offers this historical beginning …

“The Chicago Style hot dog got its start from street cart hot dog vendors during the hard times of the Great Depression. Money was scarce, but business was booming for these entrepreneurs who offered a delicious hot meal on a bun for only a nickel. The famous Chicago Style Hot Dog was born!”

The style itself is extremely specific and no deviation is allowed. Make a small addition, omission, or change of any kind and you have committed sacrilege. It’s Chicago way or the highway. I’ll try to describe it for you without drooling all over my keyboard.

This delicacy begins with a Vienna all beef hot dog mounted upon a poppy seed bun. Then add bright yellow mustard (yes, the color and shade do matter). Chopped onions, Vienna brand bright green relish (same color as the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day), two Italian pickled sport peppers (hot Serrano), two wedges (not chopped) of tomato, a long slice or wedge (no fancy wavy or crinkle cut) of kosher/deli dill pickle, topped off by celery salt sprinkled the length of the bun. The most important admonishment is no ketchup! You can have ketchup with your fries, but you are required to keep it at least twelve inches from the sacred dog. There’s no room for deviation here.

I see dogs as I travel claiming to be Chicago, but the slightest modification disqualifies it’s claim. I was in St Louis and a dog stand advertised Chicago Style but made two critical errors. Chopped tomato and jalapeño slices instead of sport peppers. The dog was destroyed … dead to me. I mean really … is it the Mona Lisa with a different smile? Is it the Magnificent Mile without Big John standing at the end? Some things in life require a purity about them … a tradition … knowing my dad was the first in our family to taste one and I was next. I introduced the exact same dog to my Iowa wife (she’s still struggling with the idea of eating a hot dog at all). I introduced them to my kids and now to Caleb and Noah. I find satisfaction in the fact every dog, regardless of generation had the same aroma, look, texture and taste. I find joy and comfort in the consistent continuation of this Chicago tradition. It’s food, it’s a delicacy, it’s tradition and it’s artful beauty on a bun.

There are some things in life so perfect they should never change. To do so could roll our very planet off its access and destroy life on earth as we know it. If you’ve tasted the delicacy that is Chicago Style, no explanation is needed. If not, no explanation is possible. For those in this group, you have the recipe. Give it a try. Your taste buds will be forever changed. The integrity of the construction of a Chicago Style Hot Dog is one of the few food items with this power.

As for me, I’ll take two dogs, “Chicago Style!”

(I awoke this morning after a dream of being outside of Wrigley waiting to get in with Caleb and Noah. We were all eating Chicago Style Hot Dogs.  I got out of bed and what popped out of my head? A Chicago Style column!)

Submitted by Gary W. Moore. Gary is a freelance columnist, speaker, and author of three books including the award-winning, critically acclaimed, “Playing with the Enemy.” Follow Gary on Twitter @GaryWMoore721 and at www.garywmoore.com

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