Hot Chocolate + Hot Doug's = Perfection
We don’t get to Wicker Park very often, but I needed to do some research for another one of my harebrained business schemes. En route we stopped for a (second) breakfast at Hot Chocolate, a trendy new place that heavily emphasizes chocolate and desserts over pretty much everything else on the menu. It was sleek and sophisticated and definitely not the kind of establishment that we would normally patronize, since we’re both suffering from seriously restricted incomes at the moment. But we managed to enjoy a decadent breakfast for a mere $14, ordering the signature hot chocolate (capped with a homemade marshmallow), coffee and a plate of warm, succulent miniature brioche donuts that were accompanied by a dreamy little pot of raspberry jam. I loved the various shades of cocoa that decorate the dining room, and the staff was friendly despite their painfully hip appearances. My assessment based on this short visit is that Hot Chocolate is here to stay, and that any place that takes dessert that seriously deserves our loyalty.
Less than an hour later, we joined the cheerful line of patrons snaking out the door of Hot Doug’s. I never managed to visit before their Roscoe Village location burned down, and had been eagerly anticipating their reopening all winter. Hot Doug’s is a kind of Chicago cult favorite (that’s saying quite a bit in a city with hot dog stands on every corner) that serves extraordinarily high-quality, creative encased meats of every ilk. They even feature game meat hot dogs including rattlesnake, crocodile and so forth. Antelope was available this week, as was crawfish sausage with shrimp mayo, and a Reuben dog - a sausage stuffed with corned beef and topped with Swiss, kraut and dressing. Most crucially, on Fridays and Saturdays you can also buy French fries that have been fried in rendered duck fat for $3.50. Holy shit.
You know how sometimes you can find game meats on the menu at crappy restaurants as a novelty item? And then you order the alligator fritters or the ostrich burger just because you’re bored with the prospect of another chopped salad made with rubbery strips of lunch meat? And then your order comes, and it tastes like a hockey puck because it’s just been sitting in the freezer until some misguided sap like yourself decided to take a chance on the novelty game meat when you should have just ordered a BLT?
Well, Hot Doug’s is not at all like that. This man is serious about his meats, and it shows. I tried one of the specials, a lamb sausage served with horseradish dijonnaise and chopped nuts. Randy went for the Don Rickles, which was a more traditional beef, pork and garlic dog. I don’t know how Randy’s tasted because I was too busy raving about my lamb dog, which somehow managed to mimic a complete dinner. The musky meat flavor was punctuated with crisp bits of mint and the creamy tang of horseradish, while the chopped almonds and pistachios added texture and crunch. And I hardly need tell you that the duck fat fries were everything we hoped for and more. Especially sublime were the small, crunchy bits at the bottom of the tray that melted in the mouth ever so decadently.
We shared a table with Mel, a retired stockbroker whose business card reads “Gentleman At Leisure” or “Curmudgeon At Large” depending on which one he feels like giving you. That makes him my hero. He generously shared tales of his varied work history with us, which included a (loooong) ten-year stint at a processing plant that cranked out Chicken Kievs. For some reason, this cracks me up.
Our “Hot Day” was close to perfect, filled with rich chocolate, airy donuts, duck fat fries and hot dogs with the complexity of fine wines. Now it’s time for a nap.