As a Chicago ex-pat, I find there are several things missing from my youth growing up in Chicagoland. Lazy afternoons at Wrigley watching the Cubs find yet another way to blow a six-run lead while “dining” on a good hot dog or Polish sausage is one of them. While you can’t really find a substitute for the Loveable Losers Of Wrigleyville (though the Rangers sometimes appear to be close), DFW does offer several places that purport to serve Chicago-style hot dogs and Polish sausage. We recently went to four of them to research the situation. Anything, as they say, for science.
First, we should define our terms for the uninitiated. A Chicago-style hot dog should be a good-quality dog (Vienna Beef is the popular choice) that’s usually steamed or boiled, served on a steamed poppy-seed bun, with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, tomato slices, bright greet relish (sweet), sport peppers (pickled), a dill pickle spear and celery salt. That’s a lot of colors, one might say a virtual garden of toppings, and hence the request to have the dog “dragged through the garden” in local parlance.
There is a notable absence of a certain ingredient in the above list: ketchup. This is by design. Ketchup, on a hot dog, is evil. A dog slathered with ketchup is a blasphemous affront to all decent folk. Any hot dog stand or eatery that claims to offer a Chicago-style hot dog would be smart to not even have ketchup available as a condiment. If you see ketchup, leave. There, I’ve saved everyone a lot of time. You’re welcome.
A Polish sausage, on the other hand, has fewer rules, but one should still expect a grilled Polish sausage that is topped with mustard, grilled or basted onions and served on a quality bun. This particular sausage was popularized in Chicago’s old Maxwell Street Market area. In fact, the association with Maxwell Street is so strong that many places, including some of the ones visited in DFW, call their Polish sausage “Maxwell Street Sausage."
Food Truck (Richardson), 501 S. Plano Road
TJ's Dawg House
T.J. Chelak’s food truck has been a mainstay at Lowe’s in Richardson for several years, though he says he might need to find a new location because of recent changes in fire codes that won’t allow him to set up shop where he has been for over a decade. Follow his Facebook page
for daily locations. He advertises his dogs as Vienna Beef and his Polish sausage as Maxwell Street and has a sign that disses ketchup, so he has properly set the table, at least.
TJ's Dawg House hot dog
You can get the hot dog “dragged through the garden,” but you will have to do the dragging yourself, as he gives you the dog on a bun all empty and alone. All the ingredients were there, at least, including sport peppers, dill spears and even a shaker of celery salt. The one ding I’ll give him, however, is that the dog was served on a sesame seed bun, not on the regulation poppy seed. Perhaps one should not quibble about seeds, but they’re not interchangeable. No one says “Open, poppy,” for example, and it really does have a different mouthfeel. If you’re going for legit “Chicago-style hot dog,” don’t shortchange me on the seed.
TJ's Dawg House Polish sausage
His Polish sausage, on the other hand, was really good and hit all the marks. Perfectly charred link, a substantial bun and just the right amount of perfectly grilled onions. Customers add mustard, which is fine, and although it didn't come with sport peppers, he will likely acquiesce upon request.
1206 E. Main St. Suite #111 (Allen)
Chicago’s Original is primarily a pizza place, and they do pizza really well. They also offer a hot dog and a Polish sausage, and they succeed with these, too. The dog is Vienna Beef, natch, and is dragged properly through the garden; here they do the honors.
Chicago's Original hot dog
The relish was bright neon green, the tomato nice and fresh, and, thankfully, it was served on a properly steamed poppy seed bun. Now we’re talking. Who knew those little crunchy dots could bring such joy? Maybe poppy seed buns are hard to find, so I asked owner Tom Lease if this was the case. He told me that no, you just had to look if such things were important to you as a provider of the complete Chicago dog experience, and these things are important to him, evidently.
Chicago's Original Polish sausage
The Polish sausage was also good. It also was advertised as a Maxwell Street Polish sausage, and it had a nice snap when bitten into, a nice amount of caramelized char, and tender grilled onions, all served on just the right-sized bun.
Food Truck, check website for weekly schedule
Chicago Taste and More
Next up was Chicago’s Taste & More, a food truck that moves around (as food trucks do). It was at the The Truck Yard on Lower Greenville the day we visited, which is a great location with a vibrant atmosphere that’s perfect on a fine day. Their offerings were good but a bit pricey for simple links of meat on a bun. Call me old-fashioned, call me a purist, (call me cheap), but a hot dog should be closer to five dollars than 10. This is simple food for simple pocketbooks, after all.
There’s no Gruyere or heirloom tomatoes or “farm-to-market artisanal meats” involved (thankfully), and the price should reflect this. Sure, the hot dog was fine. It was fine. Dragged through the garden by the staff, who asked if we wanted celery salt, so they know what’s up.
The bun, while being of the proper poppy variety, was pretty stingily poppied. I feel if there’s only going to be half a dozen poppy seeds on the bun, why bother? However, they tried, and at least they weren’t sesame seed buns.
Chicago Taste and More Polish sausage
Polish sausage was also Maxwell Street, but it had split because of excessive grilling (or a weak casing), which didn't ruin the taste but hurts the “eye feel." There were plenty of nicely caramelized onions as well.
15922 Eldorado Parkway #700 (Frisco)
This place just opened in April and appears to be undergoing some growing pains, as the Italian ice machine was broken the day we visited, and they were out of Maxwell Street Polish sausage, and this doesn’t seem to be an uncommon situation based on several Yelp reviews. It is a heck of a drive, too, even starting out in farthest North Dallas.
Chicago Avenue's hot dog
The Chicago hot dog, however, was one of the cheapest on this list at $3.89 and was pretty good. It had the requisite poppy seed bun, neon green relish, tomato, sport peppers, pickle and chopped onion. There was one glaring omission, however, and that was mustard. Luckily, we’d swiped some packets from the counter, but this is a ding against them. The hot dog itself, moreover, had the strongest snap of the bunch. It’s too bad that we weren’t able to see how their Maxwell Polish fared against the competition.
So these are just a few of the many options out there in DFW for one in the mood for a good link in a bun of the Chicago variety while we all await the arrival of Portillo’s. You don’t have to be sitting in the bleachers in Wrigley, hot dog in one hand, Old Style in the other, arguing with the obnoxious person behind you who had the audacity to wear a St. Louis Cardinals hat to the park. No ... while that is fun, why not take a trip to Lowe’s in Richardson, or Allen or Lower Greenville? Less of a drive, a better variety of beer, and, hopefully, no Cards fans.