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Archive for the ‘hot dogs’ Category

Two Hour ATL Gourmand: The Varsity Dine and Dash

Posted by CMH Gourmand on December 5, 2010

I was in Honduras for 96 hours. There will be no TGU Gourmand stories. What went down there will only be in my memoirs as a very long chapter with many Tarantino style plots lines and twists. On my way home Saturday, I found myself at the Atlanta airport with two hours and five minutes to kill.

On my top ten list of 10,000 restaurants I have not yet eaten at but must before I die is a place called the Varsity in downtown Atlanta. The Varsity opened in 1928. It is the world’s largest drive in. The restaurant goes through two miles of hot dogs, 2,500 pounds of potatoes, 5000 fried pies, 300 gallons of chili per day and is the largest single site consumer of Coca-Cola anywhere. The building sits on two acres with room for 600 cars outside. This hit my radar about ten years ago when I saw it in the Rick Sebak documentary A Hot Dog Show. I wanted a chili dog and longed to hear: “What’ll ya have….What’ll ya have” the continuous chorus coming from folks at the counter.

Google maps said I could get there in about 30 minutes using the Marta (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Tranist Authority) train and it would be a three minute walk from the station to the front door of the Varisty. I did some quick calculating. If I could get through customs by 6:50 pm this was a definite possibility. With no luggage and a flight of only 30 people I made it through the queues with a few minutes to spare. In the course of eight minutes I traveled from Terminal E to the main terminal, bought a Marta card, double checked my mission plan and found myself on the train platform. I missed my first train by 30 seconds. I recalculated my timetable and bail-out points. If I could get to The Varsity by 7:45 pm, I would still be able to pull this off. Game on!

So why not a cab you ask? I only had twenty seven dollars to my name and in theory with traffic Marta is much faster than cab or car. I popped on the train, checked the map and determined I was ten stations away from hot dog heaven. I spied a (lucky?) penny on the floor, picked it up and at that very second the train came to a sudden halt. The homeless folk who know the train looked a bit uncomfortable at this situation. So did the Marta conductor that came running through the cars. The other downside – if the train is not at a station – you can’t open the door. I was not going anywhere until this train was. I checked the clock it was 7:26 pm, my time cushion was deflating. The employee ran through the car a few more times saying nothing. At this point, I was thinking that it would suck to miss my flight. The train did finally restart with no explanation. At the next station I looked out the windows to see thousand of people trying the swarm onto the train. The Auburn vs. South Carolina game had just ended and drunken fans were fleeing the scene of the crime. It takes a long time to squeeze hundreds of college football enthusiasts onto cars that are meant to hold fifty. I checked the clock, 7:43 pm, four more stations to go.

I made it to the North Station at 7:51 pm. I ran to the Varisty dodging drunken football fan drivers and slid up to the counter to hear those magic words….”What’ll ya have”? My reply (after a decade of preparing for this moment): Two chili dogs, a small fry and a coke. The meal was so absolutely perfect. The fries were among the best I have had. The hots dogs were tasty. The chili sauce was exceptional. This was everything I wanted and more importantly it worked. I inhaled my hot dogs while walking around soaking in the atmosphere of The Varsity. I had about one minute to look at the downtown skyline then ran back to the station and hopped on the next train to the airport.

Heading back to the airport, once again at Five Points station, thousands of football nuts swarmed onto the train. I enjoyed the banter going back and forth between the winning and losing fans. There is a certain charm only a drunken southerner can pull off when trash talking someone so that an insult sounds like the sweetest bit of flattery one has ever heard. I do declare.

I made it back to the airport with fifteen minutes to spare. Would I do this scramble again? Absolutely. I was able to get a quick taste of a city I have never visited and checked off Georgia as a state I have officially visited (only seven left). The Varsity was worth the effort as well as worth the risk and associated slightly elevated stress levels.

I did have a several things going for me. Saturday nights are light travel periods – I was able to breeze through security and customs incredibly fast. I was able to OJ through the airport when I needed since I had no luggage. The Varsity is normally packed but since hordes of fans were still escaping the football game I was able to go straight to the counter. Everything worked out (any other day of the week or year, this could have been a big fail) and in the process I got my groove back via a little culinary adventure travel.

The Varsity
61 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted in hot dogs, Road Trip | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Phillip’s Original Coney Island – Columbus Hot Dog Heritage

Posted by CMH Gourmand on February 3, 2010

I was on my way to Columbus Police Headquarters to complete a parade application for BeerCamp….really. That is not a punchline it really happened. I took a wrong turn and almost drove by Phillip’s. I am not normally downtown at lunchtime and when I am on Broad Street I am programmed to go to Tommy’s Diner since Tommy is a family friend. However, it was late in the afternoon and I needed a fast meal so I turned into the Phillip’s driveway at the last second.

As I walked through the door I instantly knew I made the right choice and I was mad at myself for allowing a decade or more to pass since my last visit. Phillip’s is the quintessential old school hot dog shop and lunch stop. There is a sense of home when you seat yourself that is rare in most restaurants. The servers are fast, friendly and efficient while in constant motion, often working as a team with each table and booth. The terms honey and sweetie are loosely and frequently applied to everyone. Many of the customers are regulars known by name, order or both. In the course of my meal, I was greeted by three servers and the owner so it was very clear that this place cares about their customers and they want you to come back.

There have been several Phillip’s Coney Island restaurants in Columbus since the first location opened in 1912. It can get a little confusing figuring out which is which (two remain but only one is the “Original” and owned by the same family that started the business so long ago). There is a history and family tree on the back of each menu to help you get your bearings on who owned what when. The great grandson, Nick Manus, is the current owner. He is clearly connected to his business; in the entrance there is a photo of Nick, his bride and their wedding party in front of the restaurant.

The coney’s are done right. The buns are steamed. The hot dogs are lightly grilled. The whole package is served with homemade coney sauce (sold by the pint), mustard, onions and cheese on request. That is a classic coney. Other items on the menu fall into the realm of Ohio lunchtime diner fare – bologna sandwich, hamburgers, chili, bean soup and more. A stand out is the Phillips Combination sandwich: fried ham with a fried egg. In the old country that is known as doyenne style. Another item of significant note, they serve Der Dutchman pies.

Ohio Hot Dog historians can appreciate that the family roots are from Greece. Greek immigrants have a long and proud history of establishing renown hot doggeries (especially in Cincinnati) as well as distinctive coney sauces. Phillip’s is the oldest food purveying family in town and in honor of that, Phillips was the first restaurant to be inspected using the new Columbus Health Department guidelines. There is a photo with Mayor Coleman to mark that occasion. If you check out the web site, there is a countdown to 100 years of Phillips which will be in January 2012.

There is a lot to appreciate about Phillip’s. The food is secondary to the experience. The history and the connection the owners and staff have with their community is a slice of life that can not be created by a committee, focus group or consultant, it either happens or it does not. If four generations of a family can maintain a business – they get it.

Phillips Original Coney Island
450 West Broad Street
Franklinton (Sweeneytown to some of us)
Phillip’s web site

Posted in Columbus, hot dogs, kid friendly dining, restaurants | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Oh My…3-D Jesus at O’Betty’s

Posted by CMH Gourmand on December 30, 2009

Readers of CMH Gourmand know one central truth, O’Betty’s is the greatest Hot Dog shop in Ohio. As part of my holiday tradition this year I went to the Los Potosinos Taco Truck for Christmas Eve lunch, Little Dragons Chinese restaurant for Christmas Eve Dinner with CMH Mom and O’Betty’s for a bacon and slaw hot dog surrounded by the ambiance of the 3D Jesus Display.

Athens is a special place where different worlds live in harmony. Students and academics live in proximity to locals that have been in the area for generations. Deer Hunters and Vegans pass each other on Court Street without a blink of the eye. There is a mix of conservatives and liberals, right wingers and hippies but the end result is a tight community. In December, there is a shift the the town. College kids leave at Thanksgiving and don’t come back until the near year. The seasons change and things slow down. At O’Betty’s the gang goes all out the make the downtime a good time.

This year customers could get two quarters for the meter if they needed it. Back by popular demand for the third year in a row was “The Life of Jesus in 3D”. The hot dog museum in the back of O’Betty’s is transformed into the Gallery of Fine Contemporary Culture. The portraits of Blaze Starr and Betty Page come down (well most of them) to be replaced by thirty vintage lenticular photographs and images of Jesus from the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s from across the world. A tri-fold pamphlet full of information about the images and the history of the technology that created it is provided for visitors. The development of 3D images from the 1930’s to the present is described in detail. Leticular images were ubiquitous in the mid 20th century. The technology was used in campaign buttons, ads and record albums. Many of these examples have disappeared however this collection serves as an education and was preserved because, well, you can’t throw Jesus away.

The images are amazing whether you look at them from a religious, pop culture or technological perspective. So like I said, in Athens, different viewpoints come together and survive the convergence. I’ll go for a hot dog, fries and a side of culture any day. However in this case, you are out of luck. The exhibit is around for December only. Maybe you can make a journey to Athens next year to make this part of your own holiday tradition.

Posted in Athens, hot dogs, Road Trip | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

O’Betty’s Red Hot Dogs and Sausages, Athens

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 11, 2009

Brat, Dog and Fries

O’Betty’s Red Hot Dogs and Sausages
15 West State Street
Athens, OH
740 589 6111

O’Betty’s Red Hot Web Site

This is somewhat recycled content but I just returned from two days in the Athens area and I wanted to make sure I gave O’Betty’s its due. So here we go. Of the many things that connect my soul to Athens county, the strongest is a hot dog shop. Well, not just any hot dog shop – the best ever, anywhere. O’Betty’s won the dining hearts of Athens since it opened in 2003. It has been voted best Hot Dog most years since 2004. The hots dogs names, decor and vibe are inspired by burlesque babes from the first half of the 20th century.

The hot dogs are 5 Star all beef dogs with a natural casing (one of the best commercially available hot dogs in the country). There are twelve “varietease” of dogs including a create your own style and tofu dog for vegetarians. If you want a Chicago style dog – go with the Salome – “Dance of the 7 Veils” – sport peppers, sweet relish, pickle spear, diced tomatoes, diced onion, Stadium Mustard, and celery seed. Many kinds of toppings are available as well as salsas from Casa Nueva, baked beans, mushrooms, and on occasion, homemade corn relish and pepperjack cheese. When possible all topping are locally produced and sourced.


The dine in area accommodates about 16 people. On a Friday or Saturday night expect long lines of college students outside O’Betty’s waiting for their chance to get the perfect hangover food.

Another bonus of O’Betty’s – the in-house Hot Dog History Museum / Weiner Hall of Fame. The items in the collection were amassed by Bob Satmary and are continually added to by customers.

Owners Bob Satmary and Ryan Stolz enjoy what they do and clearly put service and fun first for the business. They are always chatting it up with their friends/customers. And they like to mix things up as well. In the winter – expect some tasty soups to keep warm and all year long expect special hot dog combos to keep things hopping (last one I experienced was a Mango BBQ sauce dog with bacon – yum!). And in August of each year, Bob and Ryan celebrate all things hot dog culminating in a hot dog eating contest which I wrote about earlier this year. If you are very lucky, during Christmas week, you may have an opportunity to see the display of 3D Jesus items from the 50’s in the back room.

O'Betty's Red Hot on Urbanspoon

Posted in Athens, hot dogs, restaurants, Road Trip | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Nelsonville: The Flying Dog with a side of Snowfork Cafe

Posted by CMH Gourmand on September 7, 2009

(Sorry both of these places are closed)

Flying Dog
99 Watkins Street
(on SR 33)
Nelsonville, OH
740.753.3647 (DOGS)

I have driven by the Flying Dog for at least two years on my various trips to Athens for fun and for work. I figured it was a just a local bar in a spot that has been a string of short lived restaurants. While Nelsonville is small, it is prone to traffic jams at certain points in the day such as evening rush hour heading north out of Athens or when an old junker with a maximum speed of 36 miles per hour decides to lurch along on SR 33. On one of these days I decided to pop in to the Flying Dog to use their restroom. I spied Elevator Beer on tap as I walked in which inspired me to sit myself down on a stool and sniff around to see what this place was about.

I noticed friendly staff that seemed to know their customers well. I also noticed an assortment of hot dogs on the menu including a fried dog, Boston (BBQ sauce and baked beans), Texas (BBQ sauce, Cole Slaw and pickle), West Virginia (chili sauce, cole slaw, mustard and onions) and a Chicago dog.

The fare also includes wings, chicken, sandwiches and an assortment of sides. The eclectic menu borders on the exotic with items including Poutine and a Caprese Panini.

Sitting at the bar I struck up a conversation with a loquacious gentleman. We talked food, travel, traveling for food and the food scene in Nelsonville. As it turned out I was speaking with the owner Steve Holtel (whose business card lists him as an “economic slave”).

I asked him about the menu and the restaurant since both had turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me. Steve has owned the site for years and watched several restaurants fail. He finally decided that he would own and operate the restaurant and offer the things that he liked to eat and hope that others did to. So far his choices are paying off. He is active in his community and the dollar dog days/daze on Tuesdays help build a following for the rest of the week.

It is hard to pull myself away from my Athens choices but the Flying Dog is with a drop in instead of a drive by.

Snowfork Cafe
161 East Canal Street
Nelsonville, OH

Just a block down on SR 33 a new restaurant opened in August at a site that had been empty for years. The place serves up typical Midwestern diner fare such as Country Fried Steak, a Fishtail sandwich, and Open Faced Roast Beef. What caught my eye was the pie. Some beautiful pies are on display in the pie case. I was told the three generations of women that work in the cafe make pie using old family recipes passed down for years. They make good pie.

Even on the way to my culinary heaven of Athens, I still have to stop and look around..... I never know what I might find.

Even on the way to my culinary heaven of Athens, I still have to stop and look around..... I never know what I might find.

Posted in CLOSED, hot dogs, restaurants, Road Trip | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Hot Dog Derby No. 6 (O’Betty’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Jackie O’s)

Posted by CMH Gourmand on August 24, 2009

A few of my favorite things include: Athens, O’Betty’s Hot Dogs, Jackie O’s Micro-brewed Beer and women in red dresses with devil horns. By a great stroke all of these were at the same place so I took a day off work to get my fair share of the excitement.

Plenty of empty parking spaces but few empty meters.  There were 3-4 bikes were locked to each parking meter.

Plenty of empty parking spaces but few empty meters. There were 3-4 bikes locked to each parking meter.

People walked, biked, skateboarded and drove (from Columbus in one case) to the Hot Dog Derby. This year the event was held at Jackie O’s. Hmm, Hot Dogs and beer. Oh Boy! Jackie O’s + O’Betty’s = Outstanding.

What is the recipe for a good hot dog derby? Start with a Boxcar Burlesque show, add a Hot Dog Trivia Jeopardy contest for valuable hot dog themed prizes, mix in some really good beer, pay homage to the Hot Dog King and Queen, then surround yourself with a lot burlesque dancers in training wearing devils horns.

Subdued hot dog fans....prior to the event

Subdued hot dog fans....prior to the event

The contest started at 3:00 PM. Bob Satmary, co-owner of O’Betty’s and the reigning Hot Dog King served as master of ceremonies. The contestants included a retired champion from the original contest in 2003 along with newcomers with nicknames such as “The Dark Horse” and “Chuggs the Dog Man”.

A capacity crowd of hot dog lovers gets ready for the contest.  Notice the large number of horned heads.

A capacity crowd of hot dog lovers gets ready for the contest. Notice the large number of horned heads.

As the hot dog queen looks on, Bob Satmary reads the rules of the days contest.

As the hot dog queen looks on, Bob Satmary reads the rules of the days contest.

The rules are shown below. Here is what one needs to do, eat as many hot dogs as you can in 10 minutes while music blares and the crowd of 100 plus people cheer you on. Hope that you do not puke – not for the shame of it but because you lose out on your chance for some really good prizes. Hot dogs and buns are steamed with no toppings and piled in front of the contestants just prior to the start.

The Rules..... to Roman means to barf, puke, spew, etc.  (It happened).

The Rules..... to Roman means to barf, puke, spew, etc. (It happened).

I can think of no better way to spend 10 minutes than to stand in a crowded bar, drink a micro brewed beer and watch people shove, push, mangle and slide hot dogs down their throats. There is a magic about Athens in the summertime. Most of the people at Jackie O’s knew each other or at least knew of each other. The sense of community and fun permeated the place and people. I felt like I was a character in or at least a visitor to a “Northern Exposure” episode. The winner won with 13 dogs consumed. Most of the others ate 8 -11 hot dogs and one contestant vomited. This was not unexpected which is why each contestant had their own bucket.

The hot dog cake (not made of hot dogs)

The hot dog cake (not made of hot dogs)

To make the event complete there was a hot dog cake for all the share and plenty of left over hot dogs served gratis to the guests.

Cutting of the cake by a lady (one of many) in red

Cutting of the cake by a lady (one of many) in red

After the festivities, people strolled or rolled over to the Athens County Fair to watch the demolition derby and to see how this years O’Bettys car fared in the Mad Max like competition. It was a perfect summer afternoon in Athens.

Posted in Athens, hot dogs, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Back To O’Betty’s!

Posted by CMH Gourmand on August 23, 2009

In a previous installment, our heroes Hungry Woolf, Taco Drew and CMH Gourmand were heading to Athens after The Inn at Cedar Falls, Ash Cave and Etta’s Lunchbox. Our mission: to consume a late lunch at Casa Nueva. Casa was closed for the week. While we weighed our options we walked across Court Street to O’Betty’s. I was hoping to catch co-owner Bob Satmary at the establishment to fill him in on Dirty Franks and the other events of the summer.

In case you did not know, O’Betty’s is the best Hot Dog place in Ohio and probably the best hot dog purveyor in the history of hot dogs. I had only intended to drop in for a few minutes but the aroma of hot dogs searing and fries frying was enough for us to defer our plans for a quick snack.

Life is Athens is usually slow in the summer. This summer was not slow for O’Bettys, they have been super busy the entire season and had their busiest day ever in July (just wait until the students get back).

O’Bettys also added a website this summer

Equally exciting, as I was walking out the door I saw the sign for the annual Hot Dog Derby! This includes a hot dog eating contest. Yep – the light went off in my head and I made plans to be there. Details in the next post.

Posted in Athens, hot dogs, Road Trip | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Dirty Franks is Open

Posted by CMH Gourmand on July 1, 2009

Hot Dog Month press release and new website

July 1st marks the beginning of National Hot Dog Month. The first of July also marked day one of Dirty Franks. There was a sneak peak at 2 PM with doors opening to the public at 4 PM. Hours are expected to be 11 AM to 2 AM in the future. As a rare late night dining destination, there is hope Dirty Franks will be the gateway restaurant to grow more spots for those that opine there is no place to dine downtown.

The first item sampled was a Carribean Queen Slush:
(Cherry Slush, Lime Slush, pineapple juice, & orange juice)…no slouch here and the perfect drink for the summer. One can get a scoop of Jeni’s ice cream in the slush. Or maybe I should say – one should get a scoop of Jeni’s ice cream in a slush.

The full taco truck team teamed up to sample each of the side dishes. Honorable mention goes to the Mac and Cheese (which Chef Tanya has been tweaking) and the fries. Our favorite was a very non traditional hot dog side – Fried Leeks.

In the future, I plan to take a crack crew to help me critique and consume all 20 hot dog styles at the same time (I feel bad for the server on day I say “one of everything please”). Today, the hot hot dog was the Ohioana – topped with spicy corn relish (sweet corn, pickle relish & diced jalapenos), & a dash of celery salt. The relish was very good – I was able to get a small morsel from a very hungry Hungry Woolf.

The place was packed. Mayor Coleman dropped in for a hot dog – it was one thumbs up walking in and two going out.

Congratulations to Liz Lessner, Harold LaRue and the rest of the Dirty Franks crew – it has been a long wait. I hope after a few weeks Liz and Harold can take a break so they can start planning their next culinary venture.

Note for July diners from Harold LaRue at Dirty Franks, July 3rd:

We’re happy to be open and are contining to work-out the bugs and implement the knowledge gained in the first few days; to do so, we’re keeping hours of 4pm to 1am for the first week or two (still waiting for some menu items to arrive, like Jeni’s ice cream.)

We’re also taking an uncharacteristic, though much needed, day off to regroup, recharge, and plan for Phase Two of our operation which, as of tonight, includes a fully-operational draught beer system…yay!

We’ve stocked-up on Frost Top Root Beer (you cleaned us out the first day!), added a second steam well dedicated to those warm, delicious, poppyseed buns, set-up a second server station to process orders and payments far faster, and…a hundred other things I’ve already forgotten.

Soooo, we’ll use this Saturday to dream up some more and better ways to feed you, Columbus, and be back at it on Sunday, July 5th, at 4pm.

Harold LaRue
GM, Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace

More DF info here at Nothing Better to Do (Good photos to be seen here)

Columbus Underground on Dirty Franks Opening night with some great photos by Jen Killius

A couple Post Script Post notes:

There is a myth that there is no parking near Dirty Franks – not true, there are a multitude of meters within easy walking distance and several side street meters as well.

On day One – the place was packed from open to close. This will continue to be a busy place, but service is fast so don’t let a small line discourage you – just get a drink at the bar.

Posted in bar, Gastronomic Stimulus, hot dogs, restaurants | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

Hot Dog Daze: A Dirty Franks Field Trip

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 17, 2008

Coming Soon

Several times per week people will ask or e-mail me – “When is Dirty Franks going to open?” My answer is: not soon enough. However, like a fine red wine, a fine red hot hot dog place needs time to age. Progress has been slow but sure, however the wait will be worth it.

Take the site of the former Queen Bee Diner. Then mix in the power of Liz Lessner and Harold LaRue as well as many others and you get Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace.

Columbus has been waiting for a dining destination in the Red Brick District (south part of downtown). Dirty Franks aims to deliver in the form of hip hot dogs and comfort food at comforting prices.

The Palace is inspired by Liz’s love of Chicago style hot dogs. Liz and Tim Lessner spent their formative years in Chicago. Dirty Franks aims to bring the authentic tastes of Chicago hot dog and beef stands to our fair city. You will see elements of the other Liz Lessner Restaurants – Betty’s, Surly Girl, and Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails but Dirty Franks will stand apart with a Chicago focused menu and some new twists on old favorites.

You will find this hot dog hot spot at:

248 South 4th Street
Downtown / Red Brick District

Dirty Franks on MySpace

While we are waiting, Liz, Harold and company are building the palace. In the pursuit of the perfect hot dog, Liz arranged a tour of the Vienna Beef plant in Chicago as well as a few days to research as many places as possible. The key to having an authentic Chicago style sandwich making Mecca is to get immersed in all things Chicago. And the only way to do that is to go there and “get it”.

By getting it, I mean learning every little thing that is needed to do a Chicago Dog outside the Windy City. The ingredients are the easy part. The hard part is getting a million other little things right. What temperature is the best for cooking a hot dog? Where do you find the best equipment? Who has the best bun?

When Liz mentioned she was making a run to Chicago – I volunteered to go as a one-man focus group. Liz was gracious enough to let me join her crew for a day so I put my money where my mouth was and flew up for a thirteen hours of relentless research. The night before I had dreams of hot dogs dancing in my head.

 Chicago Hot Dog land

The tour started at 9:00. I arrived at Midway just after 6:00 AM. So what does one do to get ready for a day of heavy eating? If you are me, you head to the original Billy Goat Tavern for a Cheeseburger and a coke. This is one of my favorite places in Chicago, I always feel at home the second I walk in the door.

 Billy Goat

Vienna Beef Factory Store & Deli

2501 North Damen Ave
773 435 2277
Vienna Beef

 Vienna Beef Sign

Hot Dog Truck

Our Crew (from left to right) consisted of: Tonya Harris – chef for all Liz Lessner restaurants and a key fixture at Betty’s, Harold LaRue, Dirty Franks visionary, Liz Lessner (of Bettys, Surly Girl, Tip Top and Dirty Franks), (brother) Tim Lessner, (Tip Top) and CMH Gourmand – self appointed taste tester, focus group, and comic relief.

 The Crew - before

By stroke of luck, we were joined by Mark Reitman, (PhD, Professor of Hot Dogs) who operates Hot Dog U. Mark helps people start their own hot dog cart business and he was in town to give one of his students a tour. Mark knows all things hot dog. He was an incredible resource to have before, during, and after the tour.


Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
taking notes

Our tour was led by Bob Schwartz, Vice President at Vienna Beef. Bob is one of the nicest and most knowledgeable people I have met in the food business. He knows his meats – hot dogs, Italian Beef, Pastrami, Corned Beef, Brisket and more. He is the author of an excellent book of Chicago Hot Dog lore – Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog. Bob is in the middle of the photo below.

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
 Bob in the Middle

It is a fair assumption that meat permeates his work day.


Chicago takes hot dogs seriously. There is a true culture to the Chicago hot dog with an unwritten code, mores, rituals and the like. The prime directive of a Chicago Dog – no ketchup!

 NK 17 sign

Vienna Beef signs can be found throughout the Chicago metro area. There are hundreds of restaurants, hot dog stands and the like that serve Vienna Beef products 24/7.

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
 into the plant

Our tour lasted well over three hours and we saw everything. Bob led us throughout the plant. Vienna Beef produces multiple types of hot dogs and sausages. Hot dogs make up a faction of the business. Vienna Beef also cooks up pastrami, brisket, corned beef, soup, and beef for Italian beef sandwiches.

Hot Dogs

 HD Tour

 HD tour

The meat of the matter is the meat. We started with meat processing. We followed the meat as it was cut, sliced, and cooked into final forms. The process uses minimal automation. We saw workers hand slicing cuts of meat, individually seasoning pastrami, and everything else that transforms meat into what we eat. The plant is cleaned three times per day and has USDA inspectors on site. Going behind the scenes was really amazing. We were all impressed with the quality of the products and the pride that everyone takes in their work. It was like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in some ways. I have toured all types of factories: chocolate (Cadbury in New Zealand among them), ice cream (countlress places), beer (several in Australia and the West Coast), and many others. I would pick the Vienna Beef tour as the best.

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
me at the plant

At the end of the tour we went to the test kitchen to “assist” with quality control. Bob tasted one type of hot dog that did not quite met muster so that entire batch was scrapped. Vienna Beef takes quality and consistency seriously. We we also able to sample several of the soups which were the best pre-made soups I have encountered anywhere.

 Test Kitchen

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
 test kitchen 2

We wrapped up our tour in the company cafeteria. Bob brought Vienna Beef products in their final form for us to sample the final cut. We consumed hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, Polish sausage, pastrami and corned beef. I liked all of them. Their corned beef was the best I have tasted.

Bob asked what we had in mind for the rest of the day. Liz let him know the plan was to sample from as many places as possible so that Dirty Franks can create the true Chicago experience. Bob put together a list of places to hit and we were off.

Before I get started on the hot dog road show, there will be an intermission to explain what we were eating.

A Chicago Style Hot Dog:

pure beef frankfurter
steamed poppy seed bun
yellow mustard
relish (often of the neon variety)
two serrano “sport” peppers
kosher pickle
dash of celery salt

An Italian Beef:
thin slices of seasoned roast beef
long Italian-style roll (dense and chewy to hold in the meat and juices)
Chicago-style giardiniera (called “hot”)
– a mix of jalepeno peppers, carrots, celery, olives, vinegar, spices and a few other ingredients
sauteed, green Italian sweet peppers (called “sweet”)
au ju – aka: “gravy”

There are several ways to order a beef, here are a few:

Hot, wet: Italian beef on gravy-soaked bread and giardiniera
Combo, hot: Italian beef and polish sausage with giardiniera
Sweet, dry: Italian beef piled into dry bread, topped with sweet peppers

Cheesy beef or “cheef”: Italian beef with cheese (provolone, mozzarella or, rarely, cheddar). There is some controvesy on this one. Hard core beef eaters, including Bob, will tell you – NO cheese on a Beef.

If you want to learn more about Chicago food, take a look at my Sidedish Sidetrip – Chicago at the top of the blog.

Johnnie’s Beef
7500 W. North Ave
Elmwood Park
708 452 6000


Our first stop was at one of my favorites. Johnnies has been one of my preferred beef stands for several years. This place often has long lines but the wait is minimal because they move customers quickly. It is easy to panic when ordering so you really need to know what you want before you go through the door.

To help you out, this is what you want to say:

“Beef – Hot, Wet, Fries, Large Ice, Hot Dog – Everything”.

Johnnies does not take American Express, or Visa but a beef and an ice are priceless. Take cash. And for goodness sake if you are in line keep the door closed – trust me. They serve one type of Italian Ice – lemon. This is one of the finest Italian ices I have had in my life. Just get a large and don’t plan on sharing.

 Johnnies Spread

 Gene and Judes

Gene & Jude’s Red Hot Stand
2720 River Rd
River Grove
708 452 7634

Johnnies is fast. Gene and Jude’s is faster. Strangely, the guy that served me looked like Donnie Wahlberg plus he had a New Jersey style accent and attitude. He crisply let me know “no photos”. Below you are not seeing a photo of a Gene and Jude’s hot dog with fries. The fries are served on top of the dog and the whole package is wrapped in wax paper to move the line along at breakneck speed.

 G J Dog with Fries

Frannies Beef and Catering
4304 N. River Rd
Schiller Park
847 678 7771

The award winner here is the combo. Italian beef and Polish sausage are sandwiched into the same roll. It is the perfect thing to order if you are undecided or if you have a good HDL count and health insurance. The combo is topped with their homemade giardinera. It was at this point that I started to wonder which Chicago Hospital has the Vienna Beef Heart wing. A word for the wise, Frannies has Italian ice in several flavors. If you are just going to have one ice in Chicago go to Johnnies. When you decide to have two, go to Marios Lemonade in Little Italy. I’m just sayin’.



3832 Dempster St.
847 673 0100


 Poochies Spread

Poochies has the look of a classic Chicago Hot Dog shop. It is a cool and friendly place to hang out. Two things that stood out to me were the Char Dog and their fries. Their Char dog is steamed in water and then char grilled to give it just a bit of extra snap when you bite in to it and some searing for extra flavor. I can not describe why the the fries struck a cord with me, but after a day of eating french fried potatoes, these stood out. Another item of note is their grilled salami sandwich – served simply on a bun with mustard.

 Group at Poochies

Herm’s Hot Dog Palace
3406 Dempster St
847 673 9757

 Herms Palace

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
 Herms Food

By the time we arrived at Herm’s we were started to wear down and bloat up a bit. Herm’s had the largest menu we encountered all day. They seem to offer just about everything. The Herm’s crew were also the most friendly behind the counter people I have met in a long time. The family takes a lot of pride in their place and their products. Marla Shane runs Herm’s with her sons Scott and Craig. She fell into the business as a fluke. The location was in the neighborhood. She started out helping out and eventually her family bought it. The family is a fixture at Herm’s and in the community. Tim and I walked in first. I ordered an Italian Beef cut into four pieces and a hot dog the same way for sampling. Then I started asking a lot of questions as I am prone to do. The family figured out what we were up to when the rest of out team arrived. More food starting flowing out of the kitchen. Even though we were stuffed, we ate it all since it was so good. We did defer on their hamburgers even though it is one of their signature items. Herm’s made the best steamed hot dog I had all day – the crunch and the temperature were perfect. The presentation of their hot dogs were really impressive as well. Thanks Herms – I’ll be back.

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
 Herms Chicago Dog

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
 Group Photo herms

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
4802 N. Broadway St
773 878 5552

 Green Mill

Many people would have stopped after the first couple places. But when the mission is to create the finest hot dog palace on the planet the only option is to press on. However, after Herm’s, we needed a break to recharge, regroup, refresh, and try not to regurgitate. We all needed a drink as well. Tim led us to the Green Mill, which used to be Al Capone’s hang out. This place has 110% character. I felt like I was in the 1930’s. The Juke Box still has 78’s from that era and we filled it up with every quarter we had.

Green Mill’s History

1211 W. Belmont Ave
773 935 2882

Murphys outside

Murphy’s was our last stop, it was about 6:00 PM and I needed to slow down so I could fit into my plane seat in a few hours. There are a lot of interesting things about Murphy’s. The most intriguing is that there is a second location in Hiroshima, Japan. Everything was good here. However I was beefed out and dog tired when I finished up here so my memory was a little nitrate hazy and my notes are unintelligable.

Murphy Dog

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew
 Tim with Tray

Harold LaRue is also known as the Michael Moore of Chicago Hot Dogs. However, when Tim brought a tray of eats to the table, I think Harold was mildly shocked.

Photo Courtesy of the Dirty Franks Crew

This was easily the best 13 hours of eating I have ever engaged in. I could not have been with a better group of people to fine tune my Chicago cuisine knowledge. This trip is a sample of the passion that is going into the creation of Dirty Franks. It is worth the wait but the waiting is the hardest part.

If you want to add to the tour on your own, take a look at the site below to build your own hot dog hit list.

Chicago Hot Dog Style

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