How do you like your dog? That's the question posed to us at the First Annual Hot Dog Fest held this year at the Chicago History Museum. A celebration of an American icon, the hot dog is the ultimate American fast food and Chicagoan's, more than most, are picky about how it should be served.
Before we get to that, we should also observe that it wasn't all about stuffing your face with a cornucopia of toppings and arguing about whether ketchup should be used or sent to the outer reaches of hell. The organizers also wanted to stress the history of the hot dog, the art of the design of hot dog stalls and restaurants with a pretty nifty slide show of crazy hot dog vending Americana. If one had the time and wanted to, then a tour of classic and modern hot dog stands across the country might well be an entertaining exercise.
Coupling that with a series of talks about the dawg's place in American culture given by Bruce Kraig and Patty Carrol (authors of Man Bites Dog), a live musical performance by Rusty and the Artifacts Band and access to beer, the organizers probably thought they had it all covered, but like all new ventures there were a few teething problems.
Yes, certainly the tasting of the donated Ball Park franks and dogs were obviously the selling point for many people and many people were there. The festival staff were expecting 600 visitors, unfortunately within the first two hours 1200 had crammed the gardens at the back of the museum forcing staff to finish selling tickets early causing a bit of concern for all involved. Also, I found it odd that people had to queue up to get tickets with cash and then wait in line again to actually get the hot dogs. Considering it was a cash only enterprise, wouldn't it have been a little easier to just wait in one line at the vending stalls to get their dogs on offer? It seems a bit convoluted to expect people to spend twice the time doing something that could have been far more efficient. This being the first time that this was put on, I suspect it is a minor quibble but something that perhaps could be addressed in the future.
Back to the dogs. There were eight different kinds to choose from. Chicago style, a veggie dog with Chicago-style toppings, Hawaii dog, California Club, Nacho, Cheesy Cony, a Corn Dog and a Ball Park dog.
The iconic Chicago-style hot dog is an all beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, neon green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato, pickled spicy peppers, and a dash of celery salt, aka the 'dragged through the garden' style. Don't even think about putting ketchup on it. And, depending on who you talk to, Vienna beef hots dogs are the true Chicago-style dog, however those were not available at this Hot Dog Fest.
We managed to try a few other kinds before they all ran out. The Ball Park dog with carmalized onions was a hit, along with the California Club dog with bacon and avocado...quite tasty!
All in all it was a pleasant event and we left with our bellies full and a newfound knowledge of hot dog culture in America. The jury is still out on whether ketchup on a hot dog is acceptable or not!