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That is What I’d Truly Love to Be: Chicago’s Iconic Hot Dog

There are two things I always have to do when visiting Chicago.  No, not the marvelous architectural tour on the water, or the Art Institute of Chicago, and I never get to take in a game at Wrigley Field.  As the mother of a daughter and the aunt to two nieces, all my spare time is usually taken up visiting the American Girl Doll’s flagship store.  And by the time I stagger out of there with the other determined, guided-missile moms and the exhausted, baffled dads, there is never much time (or inclination) for anything else.

Except a Chicago hot dog.  I’m not normally a hot dog eater but after a morning in the American Girl Doll flagship store I need something to restore my equilibrium.

To the uninitiated (or a New Yorker) a Chicago hot dog seems an odd sort of arrangement.  The frankfurters themselves are boiled and beef, the buns have poppy seeds on them, but these aren’t something you immediately spot. How can you? A Chicago hot dog is what they call “dragged through the garden,” smothered in sweet pickle relish, chopped onions, fresh tomatoes, mustard, sport peppers, and the crucial ingredient: celery salt.  Never any ketchup.  Never, ever do you put ketchup on a Chicago hot dog.

The Chicago hot dog was born in the melting pot meat packing districts in the mid nineteenth century, where German immigrants ran efficient processing plants, using up, “everything but the squeal” of each pig slaughtered.  Austrian Jews introduced the idea of beef dogs to keep things kosher, dubbing them “wieners” after “wienerwurst” or Vienna sausage. The Viennese incorporated something else they knew from home:  the poppy seed roll. Jake Drexler, an enterprising greengrocer put his son Abe “Flunky” Drexler to work peddling hot dogs in the middle of the Depression with an affordable price of five cents, making them wildly popular, but it was arguably Chicago’s Oscar Mayer who made the wiener an American classic when he introduced his “Wienermobile” in 1936.  Mayer had all of American singing along with his catchy advertising tunes, played on Weiner whistles.  “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener” holds the world’s record for the longest continuously-used commercial jingle.

For an authentic Chicago dog served up with some authentic Chicago verbal abuse, head over to Weiner’s Circle in Lincoln Park, or try Downtown Dogs close to famous Michigan Avenue.

Alexander+Roberts offer unforgettable river and Great Lakes cruises, which begin or end in Chicago.

Posted: 6/10/2015 10:46:29 AM by Alexander + Roberts