Yes, that relish is full of bright green food colouring but if you're worried about carcinogens in the relish you probably don't want to know what's in the hot dog.
Eventually, the boys tired of delicatessen cold cuts and wanted an "Authentic" Chicago hot dog experience. They'd already had an over-priced one at the ballpark (Though still less expensive than a place around here that has the nerve to charge something like nine bucks) which Danny doused in ketchup just to be contrarian. Chicagoans don't put ketchup on their hot dogs and you'll get a bit of teasing if you do. Still, there's nothing like a proper hot dog stand to really get the immersive experience, so I took them to Poochies in Skokie.
I hadn't been in Poochies since the late 70's because my dad had a falling out with the owner. Dad was a food distributor, so I'm pretty certain it was about money, but I'm also certain he was probably being a jerk. It was a shame because they'd been friends-he was at my sister's wedding for god's sake, but knowing my dad, it was probably made all the worse by his character flaws, i.e. being a jerk. After that we didn't go to Poochies, and had to make due with Fluky's or Woolfy's which really weren't the same.
One of the best memories I have from going with the old man to make deliveries was getting to Poochies because I'd leave with a giant handful of hot dog shaped bubble gum. Dad's customers were always nice to me because they knew how bat-shit crazy my parents were. I'd have to chew the gum before getting home or my mother would have killed me for eating sugar, so I'd pop three or four of those into my mouth at a time and chew like mad to extract as much sugar as possible before getting back. I'd have to keep my mouth closed until the dye faded or it would give it away. I'm not kidding about the sugar policing-she was the diabetic, but that didn't stop her forcing saccharine tablets on the rest of us.
Like many of the still operating businesses from my childhood, Poochies had a bit of a makeover. Instead of the cramped space where you had to stand at a counter in the window to eat, they now have ample space to sit down. Mostly, I remember standing in the hallway by the back waiting for Dad to get paid, and marvelling at the canisters that went into the soda machines. To my mind, you don't go to a hot dog stand to lounge about watching TV as you eat. It is efficient food that you should eat (preferably standing up) and then get the hell out. If you want to linger over a meal, go have a steak dinner somewhere. Clearly, I haven't spent much time in hot dog stands having been a vegetarian since 1983, but there's a way things ought to be done. That's why they're called traditions. ,The boys lingered over their lunch, the heathens.
I can't know for certain when it started, and I suspect it was a marketing gimmick by the hot dog manufacturer but somewhere along the way the phrase, "Drag it through the garden" came into being. A Chicago hot dog has onions, relish, sport (hot) peppers, tomatoes, mustard, celery salt (yeah, I don't know why either) and a pickle. A dog with everything has been "dragged through the garden" but really it hasn't because no one ever said that, at least not before the Internet. I lived in Chicago for 24 years and I never, ever heard anyone say, "Drag it through the garden". The phrase makes me cringe. My mistake was letting Danny know just how much it irritates me.
The only thing worse than hearing, "Drag it through the garden" from some dipshit that probably spent half a day in Chicago before going on Yelp to write an authoritative guide to the culinary history of hot dogs in Chicago, is someone, upon hearing I'm from Chicago asking me about gangsters. You can go anywhere in the world and someone trying out their English on a tourist will respond, "Al Capone, bang bang!" when they hear you are from Chicago. Yeah, bang bang, drag it through the garden. I have a teenage son. A teenage son with a phone and a generous text and data plan who kept texting me from the back seat of the car, "Drag it through the garden." and "Bang bang, Al Capone" for the entire drive between Omaha and Chicago. He won't think it's so funny when I throw him out of the house on his 18th Birthday.
If you're wondering why so many of these essays about Chicago feature food it is because I travelled with my husband and son. About twenty minutes prior to the hot dog, Mr. ETB had stopped at a Korean takeaway on the other side of Skokie for "a snack." That snack followed a trip to Touhy Ave. in Lincolnwood for bagels. It was as much a culinary tour of the city as anything else. And that's reasonable-Chicago(land) is a great place to eat interesting things. One evening I took them for BBQ chicken at a place in Niles (Booby's) that's been there since I was a child (and still packing in a crowd even on a weeknight). Another night we drove to Wheeling to eat at a tiny pizzeria (Joe's) we used to go to after work because it was cheap, and open late. These places have survived decades because they make exceptional food, I just didn't think the boys would want to try everything in the space of a week. Never underestimate the amount of food a teenager can consume! My one extravagance was a root beer float at The Bunny Hutch in Lincolnwood. I swear it had about a pint of ice cream in the giant cup. I was sick for a couple days from it...but I'd do it again.
|That is a shit-tonne of ice cream.|
|bbq chicken from Booby's. That was the owner's name. No idea why, he's been dead for 40 years so we'll never find out. Nice man though. He'd be happy to see how packed his place was.|
|Because you need to wash down that bbq with a tamale?|
"Yeah, sometimes." She replied cheerfully.
"Since when?!" I demanded.
It seems in my decades long absence from Chicago people have started saying silly things. You know, I'm terribly disappointed, Chicago. I leave for thirty some odd years, I mean I barely turn my back and you what? You start saying, Drag it through the garden? What kind of crap is that?! I can't leave you guys alone for a minute-you can't be trusted. What's next, historic gangster tours?
Fine. Some people (what's the word I'm looking for here? Douchebags? Tossers? ) might feel clever using faux diner slang at a hot dog stand, but I promise you, they sound foolish. Dont. Do. That.
Al Capone, bang bang.