Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer grilling, sunning and sweating season. Around this time every year my thoughts turn to the fiery, smoky arts. Apparently Kingsford’s been giving some thought to sizzling burgers and steaks as well. The charcoal briquette giant released a campaign that manages to skewer both gas grilling and hyperconnected social media inanity. The very act of grilling—call it a backyard barbecue if you must I know I did growing up—is inherently social. So here’s what I’d like to know: What’s on your grill this summer? I’m kicking off the season on my buddy’s roof later today with some kickass pork neck as well as hot dogs and burgers, of course. How about you? And where do you weigh on the gas vs. charcoal debate? Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.
As a habitué of Japanese eateries I am familiar with the word age, meaning fried, as in kara age, or fried chicken. For about a year I’ve been meaning to try the age ice ($2.99) from Japadog, the Japanese hot dog shop on Saint Marks Place. Thankfully it is not the same thing as the fried ice cream one finds at certain South of the Border restaurant chains. It is instead “ice cream with fried buns,” which resemble hot dog rolls in their shape and size. Three scoops of your choice vanilla, green tea, strawberry or black sesame are cradled in the bread. You could call it a cold dog, but that’s not entirely accurate, so age ice it is.
“Think of it like a donut,” the kid behind the counter said as he made my age ice kurogoma, black sesame ice cream sandwich. After the requisite photo frenzy I dug in. The bun’s glaze had some texture to it thanks to a crunchy coating of sugar. The combination of the cool ice cream and the warm fluffy donut was simply delightful. It was way better than the donut sandwich I had last week. Fueled by a sugar rush I envisioned a warm pretzel bun cradling a savory meat-based frozen confection. Do you feel me OddFellows?
The line for Hot Doug’s, snakes around the corner.
For a long while my thoughts on the Chicago food scene were limited to deep-dish pizza, the SNL sketch about the Billy Goat Tavern, steakhouses, and gussied up hot dogs. When I became more of a gourmand these ideas were supplanted by a strong desire to sample Grant Achatz’s modernist culinary wizardry. In the spring of 2011 I took a weeklong trip to the Windy City with the aim of trying as much of the city’s food as possible. My traveling companion Chef Bruce had chosen quite an itinerary, including everything from Jimmy Bannos’ Cajun spot, Heaven on Seven and his newer joint, The Purple Pig, to a Thai banquet. As much as I wanted to try Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza, my staunch eating buddy forbade it. We did however both agree that we should try to snag same-day cancellations for M. Achatz’s restaurant Next, which had just made its debut with a menu devoted to Paris in 1906. Unfortunately we did not get a seating. For almost a year afterward I continued to receive text alerts on my phone. It was torture to receive alerts about the restaurant’s second iteration, a tribute to Thai cuisine.
Hot Doug’s foie gras and truffle topped duck sausage.
To this day the only traditional Chicago style hot dog I’ve eaten—dragged through the garden with sport peppers, tomatoes, and onions among other things—has been at the original location of the Shake Shack in New York City. Chef Bruce and I were after wieners of a somewhat loftier pedigree, haute dogs. Our first stop Hot Doug’s, offers dozens of decidedly gourmet dogs. I had been reading about Doug’s foie gras topped number for years. The snappy foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage was lashed with truffle sauce and gilded with five slices of rich and creamy foie gras mousse. Stupendously delicious, and a bargain at $10. Lately they have been offering turducken sausage ($8), with pumpkin cream and cranberry-infused Brillat Savarin cheese. I am planning my next trip already.
Dragged through the garden, Asian style at Belly Shack.
Our next stop was Belly Shack, Bill Kim’s Asian street food spot in the hip hood of Wicker Park. There we had the Belly Dog ($9), an Asian spin on the classic Chicago dog. The tubesteak was slathered with chili sauce and curry mayo and topped with papaya salad, crunchy noodles,and fried shallots. With toppings like these who needs sport peppers?