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Two Dog Night

I love hot dogs. Gail doesn’t. Maybe that’s too simple. I love Hebrew National kosher hot dogs. Gail tolerates hot dogs. I believe she enjoys eating them. She just doesn’t much like thinking about what’s in them. My father loves Hebrew National kosher hot dogs too, especially the quarter pound beef franks. He knows a thing or two about good food, has eaten in the best restaurants New York has to offer, but he’s just as happy with the occasional quarter pound dog at home.

A couple of weeks ago, with Father’s Day approaching, I had the idea to send hot dogs as my father’s day present. Not much point sending Hebrew National. I avoid carrying coals to Newcastle whenever I can. (Not that I saw a whole lot of coal around Newcastle when I was there. Maybe I got there too late.) Then I remembered Vienna Beef, Chicago’s great contribution to hot dog culture. (See here for their history.) I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten a Vienna Beef hot dog, but I thought it might be fun to let my father give them a try. Off went the shipment.

Before I say more, I’ll quote Vienna Beef’s description of a Chicago Style hot dog:

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! They’d start with a Vienna Beef hot dog, nestle it in a steamed poppyseed bun and cover it with a wonderful combination of toppings: yellow mustard, bright green relish, fresh chopped onions, juicy red tomato wedges, a kosher-style pickle spear, a couple of spicy sport peppers and finally, a dash of celery salt. This unique hot dog creation with a “salad on top” and its memorable interplay of hot and cold, crisp and soft, sharp and smooth, became America’s original fast food and a true Chicago institution.

When one orders a Chicago Style Hot Dog Kit from Vienna Beef, here’s what one gets (though actually, I sent my parents a smaller version of this, through the on-line store of fellow Chicago institution Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria):

16 Poppy Seed Buns
1 Celery Salt (1.2 oz)
1 Plochman’s Yellow Mustard (10.5 oz. Jar)
1 Sport Peppers (12 oz. Jar)
1 Bright Green Relish (12 oz. Jar)
16 Skinless Hot Dogs

The kit is almost self-contained, missing just the chopped onions, tomato wedges, and pickle spear.

The gift was a great success. I suspect the fun lay more in the receiving, opening, and imagining than in the eating two days later. But the story doesn’t end there. On hearing of what I had ordered, Joel decided that what’s good for the grand-gander is good for the gander. He went on-line and ordered the full Vienna Beef hot dog kit, too late for Father’s Day at that point, but no matter. It arrived a week ago while Gail and I were on our anniversary overnight outing. And last night we had our Vienna Beef dinner.

We made five dogs — two each for Joel and me, one for hot dog skeptic Gail. Gail and Joel prepared the onions, tomatoes, and pickles while I grilled the hot dogs and buns. Then we sat outside on what was rapidly becoming a chilly evening and constructed our meal, following the directions provided on the side of the pepper and relish jars:

Heat a Vienna Beef Hot Dog in water, steam, or on the grill. Nestle it in a steamed (oops — I grilled them!) poppy seed bun and “drag it through the garden” by adding toppings in the following order:

1. Vienna Yellow Mustard
2. Vienna Chicago Style Relish
3. Fresh Chopped Onion
4. Two Tomato Wedges
5. A Vienna Kosher Dill, Sliced
6. Two Vienna Sport Peppers
7. A Dash of Celery Salt

The buns are small, seemingly not well designed to be dragged through the garden. We did the best we could. And then we ate.

Mmm! We loved them. After we each ate one, Gail confessed that she was wrong to have doubts about the meal. All the more, she admitted that she was wrong to say one would be enough. I took the hint. I split my second with her. We dragged through the garden a second time, ate a second time, and all wished for more.

Gail thinks the peppers are the key. Maybe. It would be an interesting experiment to replace the Vienna Beefs with Hebrew Nationals. Would we even notice the difference? I’ll have to get back to you on that. Meanwhile, if you were thinking of hot dogs on July 4th, get your order in quickly.

Categories: Family, Food
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