Hot Doug's ... or ... Why All Meat Should Be Encased
Not literally, of course, but boy howdy, does it feel that way. What I had for lunch this afternoon was encased meat product like no other.
I first heard of Hot Doug's from my dear friend Kirsten a couple of years ago. She regaled me with tales of delicious, creative sausages. She teased me with the promise of duck fat fries. Then she mentioned that, oh yeah, they just had a fire and were closed indefinitely. This closure was the first in a line of occasionally legitimate excuses that kept me from visiting Doug Sohn's "Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium" until today. First, it was incinerated. Then, I was busy. Then, I forgot about it for a while. Then, it was featured on "Check, Please" and the place was a zoo. Then I traveled to China six times in one summer and was too jetlagged. Then I was busy getting married. And now? Now I weep for two years of lost link opportunities.
Since I'm way behind the curve on this one, I can't tell a dedicated food reader anything that he or she hasn't already read. But for those who haven't had the pleasure of hearing Doug's story, he now resides -- post blaze -- on a deserted-looking stretch of California just north of Belmont. A lively neighborhood, it isn't. Hot Doug's is across the street from Midway's nondescript grey bunker of an office building and an empty lot, and kitty corner from some sort of public utility building. It's a small joint, cute and clean with a perpetual line out the door. Seating is available indoors, where there is a window counter and perhaps ten tables, or outdoors, in the six foot wide walkway separating Doug's from the townhouse next door. Just inside the door, Doug himself stands posted -- Elvis Costello on an encased meat diet -- taking orders from and merrily jawing with every person who steps through his door.
|Cajun Pork Sausage with Bleu Cheese Dijonnaise, Fried Okra and Spicy Smoked Almonds|
Like everybody else, I'm all too familiar with the beautiful agony of looking at a menu and being absolutely paralyzed by all of the tasty-looking possibilities. But this decision was especially torturous. I decided to order two sausages, which was more a function of my resolve to try two options than it was of my actual hunger. Though I felt compelled to get at least one standard for benchmarking purposes, I couldn't resist the specials. Both the venison and the duck called out to me, but I absolutely couldn't walk out the door without trying a pork product. As such, since the venison appeared to be a fleeting special, I ordered the two you see pictured here... the Cajun Pork Sausage with Bleu Cheese Dijonnaise, Fried Okra and Spicy Smoked Almonds, and the Merlot and Blueberry Venison Sausage with Three-Berry Mustard and Stilton-Apricot Cheese. And, of course, duck spuds.
Merlot and Blueberry Venison Sausage with Three-Berry Mustard and Stilton-Apricot Cheese
The sausages were incredible.
I mean, they were really, really, really incredible. The rolls had an unusual amount character for soft bread. The toppings, while bold in theory, were remarkably restrained in practice. The three-berry mustard, for example, could have easily been overly sweet. Any number of cheeses could have been chosen that would have absolutely overpowered the meat. And the spicy in spicy smoked almonds could conceivably cover a broad range. But all of the accompaniaments, while bursting with flavor, never crossed the line into distracting. They all knew that the star was the sausage. And, oh boy, the sausage. Flavorful, juicy and moist with just the right amount of fat. They were made from meats of impeccable quality, all beautifully seasoned. And perhaps most surprising, and pleasing, was the fact that they were exceptionally light and tender, with none of the tough, dense, chewy texture that I've come to expect from other sausages. We were, all four of us, absolutely floored, and planning our next visit by the third bite.
The Sausage Superstore
and Encased Meat Emporium
3324 N. California
Chicago, IL 60618