The Great Hot Dog Project: Vienna Beef Factory Store and Home Depot

[This is the third in a running sequence featuring one of my favorite street foods: The Chicago Style Hot Dog. A snappy sandwich which can be considered a 400 calorie snack or the cornerstone of a typical Chicago lunch from 1983: two hot dogs, a basket of fries and a Coke.

Chicago Style Dog Official IngredientsPoppy Seed Bun, Steamed Hot Dog, Yellow Mustard, Chopped White Onions, Sweet Pickle Relish with Mint, Tomato Wedges, Dill Pickle Spear, Sport Peppers and Celery Salt.]


Have You Seen The Light!? Do You See It!?

Vienna Beef: The Factory Store

2501 N. Damen in Chicago

If you profess to be any sort of Chicago hot dog fan, this address is as well known as 1060 West Addison is to a Cubs fan. A visit to the Vienna Beef Factory Store conjures up mental images of this classic scene from The Blues Brothers:

Going to Vienna Beef is like a pilgrimage. But don’t even think about a factory tour: the waiting list is over two years.  No joke. 2 years to wait to see how the delicious beef brisket gets encased. For me, the iconic red, yellow, and blue of the Vienna Beef color scheme inspires more civic pride than anything else. The classic Chicago flag is a close second, but it just doesn’t make your mouth water.

The unassuming factory at the intersection of Elston, Damen, and Fullerton could be the worst location on the planet to grab food. It’s a total dead zone with a comical amount of traffic. But are the dogs worth it?  Plenty of people must think so, because it’s pretty busy on a Saturday, so be prepared to wait.

Sidebar: Upon entering the retail area of the Vienna Beef Factory I had a second “Have You Seen the Light?” moment. Before me stretched a wealth of information on locations for The Great Hot Dog Project: The Hot Dog Wall of Fame. It had them all: Wolfy’s, Murphy’s, Wiener Circle, Gene and Jude’s–the list went on and on. Chicago places, hot dog places across the country, international hot dog stands (OK, I made that up). A dream was born: visit them all. Some people tour the country to see all of the Major League baseball stadiums; I’ve just added the Hot Dog Wall of Fame tour to my Bucket List.

So the dog: When my view of a hot dog assembly line is blocked, I always get nervous that the celery salt will be forgotten. It’s just something I do. With all of the Chicago Style Hot Dog kitsch all over the place, Vienna Beef’s reputation is on the line with every hot dog served. They sell Chicago Style Hot Dog kits that include the correct ingredients, including the mint relish, which is literally impossible to find elsewhere. THEY CANNOT MESS THIS UP! Thus far, the Great Hot Dog Project has seen a total failure on the celery salt front. Of the 5 places reviewed to date, only one correctly supplied celery salt: VIENNA BEEF. That’s right, baby, the real deal. A soft poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, onions, mint relish, an 1/8 pound Vienna Beef dog, tomato wedges, a snappy pickle spear, and a generous sprinkling of celery salt. This is what it’s all about. Life is good, for $2.50. The typical Chicagoland hot dog stand serving Vienna Beef dogs provides you with a great product, but the Vienna Beef store really one-ups everyone. They leave the casing on the dog. I love this. The extra snap of the dog really blasts this Chicago Hot Dog into the realm of being world class.

Check out that encased wiener!

Vienna Beef Retail Store

Hot Dog Rating: 8.5 

Restaurant Experience: 10.0

Hot Dog Quotient: 9.9*

* Hot Dog Quotient = Hot Dog Rating^1.5 / Price. See Chart Below.

Home Depot

2570 N. Elston in Chicago

Ugh. After writing about the Vienna Beef store, I don’t have much enthusiasm for writing about the Home Depot dog. Just thinking about another dog from Vienna Beef has my brain dumping endorphins. Home Depot’s dog, on the other hand, is merely OK. They’ve got a solid cart setup, complete with pony-tailed man. They’ve even posted the ingredients to the Chicago Style Hot Dog behind the cart. Unfortunately, only the customer can see the list, and the pony-tailed hot dog slinger apparently hasn’t memorized it. Again no celery salt. For a cart the dog isn’t bad. You get the expected garbage bun: a couple days old and lacking poppy seeds. The tomato wasn’t the best and the pickle was mushy, but the sport peppers were crisp and the dog was an Eisenberg all-beef. All in all, it is a solid post-lumber purchase option for $2.50.

That Bun: IT"S CRAP!!!

The Home Depot

Hot Dog Rating: 4.0 

Restaurant Experience: 3.0

Hot Dog Quotient: 3.2*

* Hot Dog Quotient = Hot Dog Rating^1.5 / Price. See Chart Below.

Update the data:

Check out the real ultimate power of numbers!

Data Summary: Superdawg and Vienna Beef top the charts with 8.5 scores, but Superdawg really kills itself with the tourist level price tag. Factoring in value is where the fun comes in. Using a simple Score/Price ratio, Home Depot and Superdawg offer identical value. Superdawg doubles the quality for double the price. Vienna Beef is the runaway leader right now, blowing away the competition with an amazing 9.9 Hot Dog Quotient!  Kombs currently offers a surprisingly decent dog for the price, coming in second with a Hot Dog Quotient of 5.7. I’ll look into tweaking the Hot Dog Quotient next time around since the Home Depot dog was vastly superior to the dreadful Dino’s dog. The Home Depot dog is well worth the extra fifty cents. This isn’t reflected in the Hot Dog Quotient.

468 ad