Saturday, November 7, 2009

Encased Meat Emporium

After two unsuccessful attempts at eating at Hot Doug's, I finally made it there on Friday.  Hot Doug's is located at 3324 N. California, and their website is  I got there around 3:30, and the line stretched down the block.  Since it was a lovely fall day, I was undeterred by the length of the line.  I parked right across the street from the line, but soon realized that it was a tow zone during the week for some reason.  I got in my car, and moved it to the other side of the street.  Once I got out of the car, I found out that this side too was a tow zone.  Slightly embarassed after my parking troubles in front of a long line of people, I considered leaving.  Fortunately, I saw a spot on California out of view of the line that I could park at, so I jumped all over that opportunity.

Eventually I got into line.  I started waiting, and waiting, and just when I thought the line was moving, I waited some more.  About forty-five minutes later, I began questioning whether waiting this long for some sausage was a good or even sane idea.  That question was answered as soon as I stepped inside the actual restaurant and the wonderful wafting aromas of grilling sausage and rendered duck fat filled the air. 

I began reviewing the large variety of sausages and sausage specials on the menu.  I gave passing consideration to the notorious Hot Doug's foie gras hot dog, which holds the distinction as the only dish that ever earned a fine under Chicago's now repealed and completely asinine ban on foie gras.  I thought to myself that I should probably try a basic style sausage to see how well they can prepare a regular dish.  No sooner had I decided to get two bratwursts than my eyes stumbled upon the Buffalo sausage with bacon mayonnaise and maple smoked cheddar.  I was completely sold since bacon makes everything better.  I was three people from the counter, and I was ready to go with my order when I overheard the counter guy say that the last buffalo sausage was ordered.  Quickly a woman appeared to take the buffalo sausage entry off of the specials menu.  Slightly distraught, I fell back on my default position of two brats.  Here is the menu.

You have several options as to how they prepare your sausage: steamed, char-grilled, deep fried, or char-grilled and deep fried.  I chose to get both of my brats char-grilled, both with mustard.  To get a little differentiation, I got one with sauerkraut and one with grilled onions.  I also got an order of their duck fat fries because a) how delicious do fries cooked in duck fat sound? and b) I didn't wait in line for almost an hour not to get the most popular thing on the menu.  Just a note, duck fat fries are only served on Fridays and Saturdays, so don't try to sneak in mid-week expecting to get these delicacies. 

I went and sat at a table to wait for my food.  It arrived in paper baskets shortly thereafter.  The fries, though pricey for fries at $3.50, are easily enough for two people.  The brats are obviously butterflied before cooking, and then grilled on a charcoal grill.  I'm envious of their cooking skill.  I've cooked very many brats on a charcoal grill, but I have never attained the pure delicious smokiness that acompanied the Hot Doug's brats.  Perhaps it has something to do with the butterflyification (go ahead, look it up).  I'll give that a shot next time.  Of the two brats, I preferred the one with saurkraut, though the one with onions was nothing to sneeze at.  The kraut was tart, but in a subtle manner.  The clear star of the dish was the sausage, and the kraut was merely a complement, even if it was a very good complement.  The only problem I had with the sausage was the buns.  They got soggy and fell apart quickly, though at the speeds you will wolf down these delicious brats, that probably won't be too much of an issue.

The sole reason I wanted to come to Hot Doug's was for the duck fat fries.  After driving twenty minutes to the restaurant, then waiting another hour in line, you would guess correctly that my expectations for these fries were through the roof.  As crazy and improbable as the next thing I say will sound, just trust me.  The hour and twenty minutes journey for fries was worth it, and maybe even a little more.  The hand-cut fries are deep fried in rendered duck fat.  The result is an incomparable blend of crunchy, meat flavored exterior and creamy, custard-like interior.  I will go ahead and say that these are the best fries that I have ever had.  As a tip for those of you who do not want to wait in line for an hour or more, try going after 4:30.  I noticed that there was nearly no line at this point, so that might be an idea if you have less time or the weather is terrible.  Anyway, Hot Doug's is amazing, perhaps the next time I will indulge in the the pinnacle of sausage achievement, the foie gras hot dog...

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