"Make no little hot dogs. They have no magic to stir men’s appetites and probably will not themselves be eaten." - Daniel Burnham
…or something to that effect. All week long Conan O’Brien has been doing his show from the Chicago Theater. I’m a huge fan of Conan and I’ve watched his show in all of its incarnations. Naturally most of the monologue jokes and segments this week were heavy on the Chicago references, particularly our food, with the underlying theme being that we’re all obese. East Coasters, particularly New Yorkers, love to politely knock our food. They usually won’t say it’s awful, they’ll just say it’s too much. Our pizzas are a casserole, theirs are thin. Our hot dogs have 7 toppings, theirs have a few. We have the Italian beef, they don’t really have anything like that. Wednesday night’s guest Johnny Galecki-who at some point decided he was cooler than everyone else-said our food is made for people who work the land, not sit at desks. Although he’s from Chicago, his theory couldn’t be any more condescending and it’s exactly the kind of thing people on both coasts think about the flyover states.
So what does this have to do with my hot dog odyssey? Mainly I’m just trying to shove a rant about New Yorkers diminishing our food-along with my dislike of Johnny Galecki-into a post about my trip to the Red Hot Ranch but I promise there is a tenuous connection. Red Hot Ranch features the Depression Dog, a sub-style of Chicago hot dog that I was aware of but never had a name for until recently. The Depression Dog consists of mustard, relish, onion and sport pepper. Pickles, tomatoes and celery salt were probably an unaffordable luxury during the Great Depression. Although you’d think in the 1930s people would have been doing a lot of home pickling right? Maybe this subdued style of hot dog would meet the approval of people on both coasts? Fingers crossed!
Red Hot Ranch is one of many great Depression Dog stands in the Chicago area. Demon Dogs was one (pause for mourning), Jimmy’s is another and Gene & Jude’s is probably the most well-known. Red Hot Ranch, on Western near Armitage, is a newer Chicago hot dog stand and sadly one that was not there when I lived in the neighborhood. Without a doubt this was the skinniest, snappiest dog I’ve had on my short journey so far. My favorite thing about Depression Dog stands is the way they wrap their fresh-cut fries up with the dog so tightly so that when you open it there are invariably fries embedded in the soft, steamed bun.
The fries were crispier than most fresh-cut fries I’ve had and they seemed to have a slight sweetness to them. They definitely weren’t sweet potato fries but looked like them from the outside. Maybe it’s because they are frying them in the same place they are frying their homemade fried shrimp? I was not prepared to have the option of homemade shrimp at a postage stamp-sized hot dog stand, nor did I want a half-pound of shrimp. But the shrimp smelled amazing and I’ll be going back there for some. In fact the shrimp seemed almost as popular as the hot dogs.
So far Red Hot Ranch is the closest I’ve come to a Demon Dogs heir apparent. The fries are different but the prices are low ($5 for dog, fries and drink), there isn’t much to the place other than a counter to stand at, they’re cash-only and they have Pepsi. I don’t like Pepsi, but I loved it at Demon Dog’s with some crushed ice.