The National Hog Dog and Sausage Council says Americans eat 20 billion hot dogs a year, with 8 billion of those (about 26 for every man, woman and child) consumed during the three-month period beginning on Memorial Day. That means the 2009 hot dog season is gearing up around here. And that means my fancy is turning to the Chicago dog, the nation's flagship hot dog dish and, to my mind, the standard for the rest of the universe (except for Chicago, of course, which invented the standard).
Somebody besides me understands the significance of this fare, because he went right ahead and named his restaurant Chicago on a Bun. That handle isn't fooling anybody, either—this place's Chicago dogs are a state of mind, right down to the celery salt and the giardiniera (pickled relish made of sport peppers and stuff like olives, pimentos and carrots). Ketchup freaks are out of luck if they opt for the real thing (no self-respecting Chicago dog would go near the junk)—but the dill pickle, mustard, onion, tomato and 712 other condiments more than make up, especially if you get the half-pound Superdog. If you want everything on it, tell 'em to “drag it through the garden”—you'll get not only a typical Chicago dog but a slice of Americana. The Chicago dog used to be called a Depression sandwich—the era's struggling restaurateurs would think up different toppings and pile 'em as high as they could to pull the dollars off the streets.
Barbecue ribs, chicken sandwiches, Chicago-style pizza and sides like homemade potato chips are available, too. Prices vary wildly depending on your choice of toppings and stuff (two people could spend $20 without much problem)—in any case, get to 2872 Fletcher Parkway in El Cajon (the Town & Country Shopping Center) between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days a week and hip yourself to the real deal (there are also locations in Rancho Bernardo and University City). You can call ahead at 619-465-2333 or visit www.chicagoonabun.com, but that's only half the battle. Eight billion hot dogs, after all, beckon this summer—and it's a cinch that the one at Chicago on a Bun has your name on it.