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Lunch Doggy-style 

The hot dog is to Chicago, what pizza is to New York, though New Yorkers often try to claim hot dog superiority as well. But it just ain't so. I hate to say it, but their dogs don't even come close.

Perhaps my sentiments stem from having spent my formative years (childhood) in the fine state of Illinois, in the fine city of Chicago, where the hot dog is a food group. And this food group was, (still is) near and dear to my heart, not to mention a staple meal of childhood. There was no such thing as a pre-packaged Oscar Mayer wiener in my house. No plain wieners. Hot dogs were something you got from the guy with the pushcart outside of Wrigley Field, or from the Wiener Circle, or down on Maxwell Street. Hot dogs were done professionally. In my family, a trip to the Wiener Circle generated almost as much excitement as a trip to Disney World.

While I can now delineate between a trip to Disney and a great hot dog experience, the excitement of finding and building a great dog remains the same. Which perhaps explains the fondness in my heart and stomach for Margo's Vienna Station. Among the many great varieties of dogs offered at Margo's is the almighty Chicago-style dog.

So what makes the dogs at Margo's Vienna Station so special? Obviously the hot dog itself. Nothing beats a pure beef frank, preferably skinless. Even with the proper dog, however, there are two other components which can really make or break a dog: the fixins and the buns.

As fixins go, Margo's is over the top. Good thing too, because it's the fixins that make a good Chicago dog, a fact few other vendors seem to recognize. You've got mustard, relish, chopped onions, pickles, hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers sliced the long way and the key, must-have ingredient -- celery salt. Just a dash. With the bun hollowed out ever so slightly to accommodate these ingredients, Margo's provides a feast and a dog that's darn near perfection. It's a mouthful for sure, and a multi-napkin meal, but that's the sign of an authentic Chicago-style dog.

Margo's has good buns too. Though grilled buns are fun for those summer cookouts, nothing compares to perfectly steamed buns. It's an art. Not steamed long enough and you risk dry buns. Steam a bun too long and things come out soggy. Soft and buttery, Margo's poppyseed buns are perfection.

It doesn't get much better than warm, steamy buns, except when it comes to crispy fries. To accompany your choice of dog (oh yeah, they offer nine other varieties -- ten if you count the corn dog -- including a kraut dog, green chili dog, Texas dog, Reuben dog and a Tiajuana dog) are an assortment of hot, crispy fries: french, curly, spicy or chili. The curly fries are definitely my favorite, but on occasion nothing beats fries smothered in a sweet red chili, topped with cheese and chopped onions. It's the ultimate junk food splurge and well worth it, but I recommend it only if the digestive track is in good working order, if you know what I mean.

There are three Margo's Vienna Stations around town, though none claim to be related. Despite this claim, all three have similar menus and are consistently good. My Vienna Station of choice happens to be the one on West Colorado Ave., just before Manitou. It's surprisingly similar to my old friend, the Wiener Circle, providing the same high energy atmosphere of frenzied but competent food preparation, with occasional yelling behind the counter. There is no seating, just enough room to line up and order. Or you can use the street-side walk-up window, which is handy when things get cranking inside, or for those who are claustrophobic.

Related or not, all three Vienna Stations provide a doggone good dining experience. Fresh, fast, efficient and all for under $7. And just like home.

-- Suzanne Becker

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