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THE CHICAGO DOG RESTAURANT

Most of us easily associate stockyards, Al Capone and shady politics with America's third-largest city - Chicago. In reality the Windy City is considerably more complex and cosmopolitan than perceptions of its tarnished past.

But some of Chicago's reputation still retains a flair and flavor of the "tough guy," where quiche has yet to replace one of America's great gastronomic passions - the hot dog.The Chicago Dog on State Street in Murray comes awfully close to replicating some of the its namesake's favorite concoctions, in addition to hot dogs, including "sliders" (39 cents each), a mini burger we Midwesterners used to get at all-night joints ironically called White Castle.

We were drawn to the kosher-style all-beef Vienna hot dogs on the modest bill of fare, especially the jumbo with the works - mounds of chopped onion, relish as green as the outfield at Wrigley Field, dill pickle spears, tiny bite-sized peppers, wedges of fresh tomato, mustard and a steaming hot dog, served in a soft poppy seed bun. Complete with fries for $3.50, it was almost as good as a trip to one of Chicago's blue collar hangouts.

A 1/3-pound Chicago burger on an onion roll with mayo, fresh onion slices, tomato and crisp lettuce was almost too much to handle. But we did and topped it off with the Windy City shake ($1.89), two scoops of hand-dipped ice cream blended with milk and a choice of syrups. We took the chocolate. The Polish dog, a spicier sausage with Dijon mustard and freshly chopped onion ($3.95 with fries), was also a robust treat.

Other items include Italian sausage sandwich ($2.95), meatball sandwich ($3.95), kraut and chili dogs (each $2.95), chili and chili tamale , fries and fountain drinks including sparkling Canadian soda.

Our courteous and informative counter help told us that the Italian beef, 4 ounces of marinated sliced beef on a hoagie roll, is flown in from Chicago, as is the very good Chicago-style cheesecake ($1.25). Along with the other imported specialties it may seem like a lot of trouble for some of the simple pleasures of American gastronomy. But we thought it was worth every bite and mile traveled.

Rating: * * * 1/2

The Chicago Dog, 5200 S. State, Murray. 262-9220. Open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.; until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours, 12 noon until 7 p.m. Accepts checks with guarantee cards; no credit cards.