I LIKE THE FINER culinary things in life. I like rich sauces and meats that have been fussed over for hours. I like well-dressed, wispy salads, brought to my table by crisp, professional wait staff. I like dishes with complicated preparations and presentations. Sit me down to an elaborate five-course meal with cocktail pairings and I'm a happy man.
I'm also a fan of lightning hot, orange-ish yellow industrial cheese sauce. I like my french fries smothered in beanless chili. If there are hot dogs, polish sausages, kielbasas, and the like in my vicinity, you can bet I'm planning my condiment combos before the meat even hits the bun.
I don't find it difficult to reconcile these divergent gustatory desires. I'm not an Epicurean; I'm a glutton. Being such means I'll open my maw for anything I find particularly pleasurable, whether it have a Denominazione di Origine Controllata label or comes from the Vienna Beef factory at Damen and Fullerton Avenues on the Chicago River.
Which is all to say there's a big space in my laboriously pumping heart for the Italian beef sandwich at Chicago's Windy City Hot Dogs. This monster is about as long as my forearm and overflows with tender, juicy, Vienna Italian Beef prepared to steaming perfection and topped with the spicy zip of pickled carrots and peppers, better known to Chicagoland residents as giardiniera.
The Italian beef at this odd little SW Canyon Road outpost is tunnel-vision food: You start eating and you stop only to breath and wipe your brow. Thankfully the bun is robust enough to take a good soaking from the juices without falling apart while you work. It's a crude, down-and-dirty comestible, fit to give you the meat sweats. Yes, that's disgusting. It's also delicious. Deal with it.
Truth be told, there is nothing polite or mannered about the menu at Chicago's Windy City Hot Dogs. The most reasonable thing to choose from the big red-and-yellow board would be the authentic Chicago dog. It has everything you could possibly want or need. Vienna all-beef hot dog? Check. Poppy seed bun? Check. Pickle, sport pepper, tomato, onion, neon-green relish, celery salt? Checkity-check-check!
As is true with most Chicago dogs I've eaten (many in Chicago itself), Chicago's Windy City's has your daily allowance of yum. Still, it could be considered an appetizer given how small it is in comparison to other menu options—most of which, happily, can be drowned in cheese or chili at will.
Yeah, a chef whose ego is bigger than his kitchen isn't preparing the food. Sure, the ingredients are far removed from anything remotely resembling a farm. In fact, it might even be downright irresponsible (I'm sure if this food could talk it would tell you to get a haircut and a job, you pantywaist hippie).
Nevertheless, every damn french fry in the chili-cheese fries has both chili and cheese on it. The chili dog is served in a dish for maximum smothering. The Polish has more than a generous serving of grilled onions.
The only real miss I found was a lame pastrami sandwich that was, as advertised, simply a couple layers of pastrami, some light rye that stuck to my teeth, and a smear of mustard. In fact, this was the first thing I ate at Chicago's and I nearly gave up right then. I'm glad I hung in there. Imagine if Cubs fans just gave up after a few bad games. Wrigley Field would be deserted. Thankfully it's not. Neither is Chicago's Windy City. Each time I've visited, the place has been abuzz with work-a-day types looking for real sustenance.
That's a good sign, considering its location is supposedly one of the most doomed out there on Canyon Road. In fact, the restaurant retains remnants of a previous occupant, adding a touch of bamboo to the scattered Chicago memorabilia.
I'm not sure how often Mercury readers get out to Canyon Road (I only found the place after my interest was piqued by some of the city's more adventurous eaters on PDXPlate.com) but if you're passing on the Sunset Highway, and you've got a craving, I'd recommend you stop and give it a shot. Heartburn be damned! Let your gluttony take you for a change. There'll be time for a chef-pampered organic green salad tomorrow. I promise.