Immortalized in story and song as the West's first metropolis, Chicago holds a mythical place in our history and imagination. Long before the Chairman's dulcet tones etched "My Kind of Town" onto vinyl, the Windy City represented the modern United States gone global, hosting a World's Fair and revolutionizing commerce, commodity trading and the meatpacking business.
From this swirl of immigration and innovation emerged its most edible icon: the Chicago-style hot dog. Invented by newcomers from Austria-Hungary, the Chicago dog debuted to rave reviews at the 1893 World's Fair. Shortly thereafter, its creators founded the Vienna Beef Co., which has come to dominate the frankfurter business much as Chicago's meatpackers monopolized their industry at the turn of the 20th century.
Little has changed since 1893; a Chicago dog must conform to rigid standards. It starts with an all-beef frank, steamed or boiled, bedded down in a steamed sesame-seed bun. Cucumber slices, tomato wedges, pickles and yellow mustard join the fray, with sport peppers (pickled serranos), a healthy dose of some alarmingly bright green relish, and a dash of celery salt finishing the assembly.
When I set out to tour Colorado Springs' Chicago hot dog vendors, I conscripted my friend John, a real Chicagoan, as my guide. Believing strongly that any link on a bun should receive the blessing of sauerkraut, I'd never scarfed a proper Chicago dog before this, but I've sure come to like them.
Spud Melvin's on the east side puts together a delightful dog, judiciously topped and achieving excellent balance. Each bite offers an amazing trifecta of contrasts, at once sweet, spicy and tangy; hot and cool; soft, chewy and crispy.
Mr. C's dog, north of downtown, wins the beauty contest: It sports plentiful relish, healthy peppers and a checkerboard of cucumber and pickle slices, thoughtfully designed to ensure you get some of each with every bite.
Margo's, an outpost on the border between Old Colorado City and Manitou since 1983, by far has the most character. It's a bona fide stand, with counters inside and out, and a nice little patio across the parking lot. It also makes the biggest dog, loaded down with thick slices of cucumber, fat tomato chunks and a full pickle spear. The girth makes a mission out of getting to the meat, but one that yields ample rewards.
Other treats can be found at each stop. Margo's has dynamite curly fries; Mr. C's a nearly lethal combination of hot roast beef, Italian sausage, au jus, peppers and onions stuffed into a giant roll; and Spud Melvin's excellent locally made tamales. Other links, like brats and Polish sausage, topped to your liking, are available at every stop, as well.
All three vendors are doing a great job. If it's hard on the gut, at least it's easy on the wallet, with Spud Melvin's taking the Most Affordable prize at just $1.75.
With winter coming on, grab your Sinatra CD and head to the nearest stand. (There are locations in Woodland Park and on Astrozon Boulevard, as well.) Eat your Chicago dog standing in the snow and wind to fully appreciate this treat for its birthplace. You might get mustard on your shirt, but you won't be disappointed.
-- David Torres-Rouff
Margo's Vienna Station
3442 W. Colorado Ave., 630-7453
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Mr. C's Vienna Station
2907 N. Nevada Ave., 473-2502
Hours: Monday, Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Spud Melvin's Vienna Station
2801 E. Palmer Park Blvd., 475-8350
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.