Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Succumbing to the Self Righteously Hip Chicago Dog
Gene and Jude’s
2720 River Rd.
River Grove, IL
Chicago is famous for many things.
The world’s busiest airport. The country’s tallest building.
America’s first Marxist president.
And the Chicago hot dog. Of course.
Gene & Jude’s out here in the suburbs just south of O’Hare Airport was one of the earliest purveyors of Chicago’s topping-laden meat tube.
In Chicago, it’s become a hipster cliché to shun ketchup on hot dogs.
To a Chicagoan, someone who puts ketchup on hot dogs is like that drinker who prefers White Zinfandel. Or that tourist who won’t turn off his cell phone ringer on the “el”.
Or that Wrigley Field bleacher bum who refuses to throw back an opposing team home run ball. Despite the torrent of drunken boos and profanity.
In other words, ketchup is for the uncouth, unhip and unsophisticated.
Nobody wants to be THAT guy.
As a hot dog connoisseur who has been known to enjoy a bit of ketchup from time to time, I find this “holier than thou” hot dog ideology to be a bit tiresome.
It’s a freaking hot dog, for cripe’s sake.
It’s not high society cuisine.
I’m a firm believer that folks should be free to put whatever they want on their processed meat without fear of being damned to hell for an eternity of living off nothing but McDonalds Happy Meals.
That being said, I’m still a firm believer in “When in Rome” dining.
When in Chicago, go ahead and eat your hot dog as Chicagoans do.
Most of the famous Chicago hot dog joints serve them “dragged through the garden”, stacking peppers, onions, tomatoes, pickles, cucumbers, celery salt and other assorted condiments into an unwieldy pile of produce -- completely overshadowing the meat.
Gene and Jude’s sticks to a simpler -- and I believe better -- formula.
The condiments here are freshly chopped onion, relish, sport peppers and mustard.
Oh, and French fries too.
Yeah, the fries are piled on top of the dog just like all the other condiments.
But, no. You can NOT have ketchup.
Not even for your fries.
Legend has it that a Gene and Jude’s employee once smuggled a few packets of ketchup into the kitchen, probably because he was tired of saying no to all those uncouth out-of-towners asking for it.
Once the owner discovered the contraband ketchup packets, he tossed them all into the dumpster out back.
Okay. I won’t make that mistake.
Definitely don’t want to be THAT guy.
The fries are fresh cut every day and top notch -- even without any ketchup.
I’m still not sure if the fries are meant to be eaten separate or as a hot dog topping, like a Primanti Brothers Pittsburgh sandwich.
When you first unwrap your hot dog, you can’t even see it under the mountain of fries.
Eventually, I put enough of a dent in my French fried mountain that I could find my hot dog and lift it to my mouth for my first bite.
The relish and onion add a nice tangy crunch while the mustard compliments the meaty snap of the freshly steamed dog.
Then every few bites you get an eye opening jolt of crunchy spice when you bite into one of those famous green “sport” peppers.
It’s a lot of simultaneous flavor action, no doubt. But the star of the show – the famous Vienna Beef Chicago hot dog -- never gets lost in all the commotion.
Here at Gene and Jude’s, you can order a single or a double dog.
I got both. Of course.
The double is a bit cumbersome, but it does, if you can manage it, provide a nicer meat-to-condiment-and-fry ratio.
Inexplicably, Gene and Jude’s also sells processed industrial corn tamales.
Even more inexplicably, I ordered one. On top of my orgy of hot dogs, fries and Chicago condiments.
Produced by the Supreme Tamale Company, Inc. here in Chicago and served in a mass-produced plastic wrapper, the tamale was barely edible.
Slimy on the outside but dry as corn meal on the inside, it tasted like an oddly meat-flavored hunk of dough.
After a few bites, I tossed it in the trash. Definitely not the house specialty.
Ninety percent of the business here is take out.
If fact, there is no place to sit. Just a ledge along the window facing the expansive parking lot.
I’ll be doing enough sitting the rest of the evening while crammed into seat 14A on a United Express regional jet.
After polishing off my last bite of dog and fries, I felt pretty good about myself. I just consumed several genuine Chicago hot dogs. Didn’t deviate on a single condiment.
Now I see why Chicagoans get so smug about their hot dogs. They are pretty darn good done the Chicago way.
Particularly the Gene and Jude’s way.
I walked out into the parking lot feeling hip. In the know. An insider.
The thought of that sweet tomatoey paste never even crossed my mind.
Nope. I felt darn near self-righteous. No ketchup for me.
Suit757 will never be THAT guy again.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.