Sky Full of Bacon

The Music of Changes at Hot Doug’s

Doug Sohn, “Hot Doug,” has long been recognized as one of the key innovators on the Chicago food scene, albeit one usually relegated to a lesser position than the fine dining innovators— Achatz, Cantu, D’Angelo, Gras— because of lingering prejudice (rooted in 19th century aristocratic notions of what constitutes food art) toward common foods such as hot dogs and sausages.

Nevertheless, I think one of his new works represents a breakthrough for Sohn which catapults him into the ranks of Chicago’s most formally innovative and structurally incandescent chefs. I was fortunate enough to experience it today and, though I’m still digesting my experience (figuratively, not literally, as you’ll see), I have some initial thoughts which I think should encourage any of you to repeat my lunch sooner rather than later.

I noticed the surprisingly bare celebrity sausage board (as well as the uncommonly low price for a special) as I walked in.  “What’s it like?” I asked Doug as I reached the front.

“A little bit of everything,” was his cryptic reply.

Curiosity piqued, I ordered it along with fries and a drink.  “Be sure to have the special first, before you get into the fries,” Doug urged me.

A few moments later I heard “Mike G?” and I turned around.  As the guy who works the floor handed me the tray, he looked at me and said, “It’s not a mistake.  This is how it’s supposed to be.”

As soon as he set it down, I saw where the confusion might arise:

We often speak of minimalist hot dogs but clearly Doug was pursuing this to an entirely new level.  I stared at the meal, trying to comprehend how to eat it— which end to pick up, where to begin, whether ketchup was appropriate.

And as I stared at it, a curious thing began to happen.  Though I wasn’t eating personally, I began to take in the eating all around me— the kids sucking on the sticks of their corn dogs, the guys from the gaming company chomping into spicy pork sausage and bacon-cheddar elk sausage.

As I listened more closely, I began to pick out individual notes— the crunch of sauerkraut, the beery tang of St. Jacques mustard, the sweet-tart cherries on a pork sausage.  Flavor after flavor came at me from all directions, and the lack of anything on my own plate meant that I could savor everything in the restaurant.

In many ways it was almost overwhelming to experience so many flavors simultaneously.  I felt my vision begin to expand, I seemed to take in all of the restaurant at once.

The experience lasted a little under five minutes and then the sensations seemed to subside and I ate my fries and drank my Pibb Xtra while contemplating, a little shaken I must admit, the extraordinary synesthetic experience I had just had.

Doug has long been a playfully radical innovator, selecting ingredients by casting the I Ching or sometimes by playing canasta, but this meal exposed a new side of him, the hot dog artist as shaman, as trickster and mendicant, opening the doors of perception by bringing into question the very meaning of such concepts as “sausage,” “lunch,” and “value meal.”  As much as I’ve enjoyed my past meals at Hot Doug’s, I felt that this one took it in new directions which have for me completely redefined the experience of eating sausage.  I emerge from it reborn and grateful for the changes it has wrought in me for what is, unquestionably, a very small price for such, dare I say it, genius.

Hot Doug’s
3324 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 279-9550

If you like this post and would like to receive updates from this blog, please subscribe our feed. Subscribe via RSS

Comments are closed.