Friday marked the beginning of the Chicago Hot Dog Fest. And though some clouds threatened when the festival first kicked off at Stockton and LaSalle near the Chicago History Museum, they quickly vanished. It was the perfect weather to be outside and celebrate the weekend and one of Chicago’s favorite foods: the hot dog. This year’s festival featured 14 different purveyors of Chicago Style tube steaks, as well as speakers, musicians and vendors selling everything from hot dog related clothing and ornaments to hot sauces, art prints and car services.
If you purchased tickets to this year’s hot dog fest in advance, you received 5 bonus dog dollars. This proved to be a good deal, and with a set budget of $30, the recommended spending amount for one person, we set out to stuff ourself with enough neon relish and celery salt laden franks as possible. For science! Prices for the dogs ranged from $4 to $8 in general between the different stands, though a $12 alligator sausage could be found at Chicago DogHouse’s stand. Almost everyone offered up a classic Chicago Style dog with all the trimmings, as well as char-dogs and unique creations like the Boricua dog, a specialty at Cela’s topped with Puerto Rican chili, shoestring potatoes, sauerkraut and a fiery orange sauce, and the Depression dog, which features pickles, giardiniera, sport peppers and mustard.
We were able to snag dogs (and half dogs, which saved us from death by hot dog) from five different stands: Chicago’s Doghouse, Edzo’s, Byron’s, Downtown Dogs and Boricua Dog. We were surprised at the variance among Chicago dogs despite the fact that they shared common threads, like the standard S. Rosen’s poppyseed bun and, in many cases, Vienna Beef dog. From putting a little char on it like Chicago’s Doghouse did to homemade pickles from Byron’s, each was different enough to merit consideration. We went offbook for one or two dogs and added Edzo’s famous fries to our Depression Dog order, but in the end, though controversial, a clear favorite emerged. Even Edzo’s fantastic fries couldn’t edge out the perfect balance of flavors we found in the Chicago’s Doghouse delicacy. It was our favorite of the night, though we’d happily consume any of the others and encourage others to do the same. In the fight for top dog, Chicago’s the real winner, and we suspect most festival-goers would agree.
A surprise at the festival was the vast array of other vendors. Some, like S. Rosen or the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council were expected, there were some other very interesting appearances. Some of our favorites were LFK Kitchen, which presented a tasty red curry popcorn, Soothsayer Hot Sauce, whose sweet, spicy and smoky Harbinger sauce immediately won us over, and Relish Brand clothing, who had some colorful pop-art designs on display that were full of local pride. It seemed like almost every booth had a giveaway, and we walked away with enough random swag to require a bag (which luckily, could be won at multiple booths.)
The festival also had a full lineup of bands, and while we dined we were treated to two excellent local groups- Yoko and the Oh No’s, and later in the evening, the fantastic, charismatic Sixteen Candles. Kids, meanwhile, could enjoy a vast array of bouncy apparatuses, get their faces painted, or even nestle themselves between the buns of a larger than life Chicago style dog for a photo opp.
On a $30 budget, we had more than enough to eat and drink, and were we not trying to sample from as many places as we did, would have had ample funds for dessert and alcohol. Though not a small fest by any means, the crowd was manageable and it was easy enough to find a place to stretch out on the grass or set down your treats for a moment, and staff was friendly and helpful, overall, save for a few rather incommunicative folks manning the museum store booth. Still, a unique representation of our culinary heritage like the Chicago Style hot dog deserves a good celebration, and this was that. Even better, the funds go to benefit the Chicago History Museum, which is home to a number of interesting exhibits you should be on the lookout for, including Making Mainbocher, the story of America’s first couturier, to Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs, which looks at the American response to nine different incidents of threats within our own borders. Our recommendation now that the fest is done? Do your own research at a hot dog stand near you, and stop by the Chicago History Museum afterward to learn just a little more about our history. Click here for more information on the museum and its events.