KENOSHA NEWS CORRESPONDENT
When it comes to hot dogs, what a difference a few miles makes. As customers line up at Interstate Dogs, at the corner of I-94 and Highway 50 in Kenosha, general manager Lois Hendrix quickly knows just what kind of dog she’ll be dishing up.
Illinois folks invariably order a popular Chicago Dog with all the toppings, while local Wisconsinites often opt for what Hendrix calls the Wisconsin Dog — hot dogs topped with just ketchup, mustard and onions. The state line, it seems, can control the condiments.
“It’s really interesting,” Hendrix said as she served up a tasty hot dog in a large, plastic “dog” dish.
Customers are no doubt finicky about their frankfurters. It’s something Joe Catuara of Trolley Dogs in downtown Kenosha has noticed as well.
“Hot dogs are really personal,” he said. “Some people love our franks. Some people hate our franks. What’s normal for one person is not normal for another.”
No matter what garnish you go for, it’s really not a true Chicago-style hot dog if you squirt on the ketchup. A sign in the basement of Trolley Dogs speaks to this rule. It jokingly boasts a movie-like inscription of “NK-17,” meaning no ketchup after age 17.
“There are a lot of rumors about all of it. Books have even been written about it,” Catuara says. “I think ketchup is maybe avoided because there are already tomatoes on it.”
If anyone knows, it’s Catuara. As a teenager, he worked a hot dog push cart on the south side of Chicago for years, and he’s co-owned Trolley Dogs for nearly a decade now. He caters to hungry customers on both sides of the ketchup issue, going through 12 pounds of ketchup a week.
Both Trolley Dogs and Interstate Dogs use Vienna Beef brand hot dogs from Chicago, which are made with 100 percent pure beef with no fillers. That makes them a little more expensive than what you might find at the local grocery store, but they are bigger, plumper and arguably tastier. As for the buns, they are steamed to a cotton candy-like softness.
There’s a dog for every diner, whether it’s deep-fried, bacon-wrapped or doused in chili and cheese. At Interstate Dogs, the ravenous can dive into the Big Wally, touted as a half pound of premium beef pleasure. Hendrix sometimes enjoys a Big Wally for breakfast, cut up and mixed in with some scrambled eggs.
Hendrix and her Interstate Dogs co-workers are graduates of “Hot Dog University,” a two-day course offered by Vienna Beef. It teaches the ins and outs of the hot dog restaurant business, including proper placement, order and amount of the toppings. No detail is left to chance when it comes to making the finest frank.
At Trolley Dogs, vegans can sink their teeth into the “Tree Hugger” meatless option, made with a handful of fries and toppings in a steamed bun. Or maybe you’re up for a longtime Chicago offering — just a tamale in a bun, dubbed the “Mother-in-law” for its potential to upset your stomach. (Catuara is quick to point out that he gets along just fine with his mother-in-law.)
Kids can enjoy The Octopus, which is created with four lengthwise cuts of the hot dog and a quick dip in the deep fryer. It’s appropriately served on a bed of Goldfish crackers. It’s just one way Catuara engages with his customers. He aims to make their visit a fun experience, joking around with them and even making wiener dog-shaped twist balloons for kids who stop by.
“I’m living the dream,” he said.
What makes a true Chicago-style hot dog? You gotta have the Chicago 7. Here are the must-have toppings. And be sure to keep away from the ketchup.
— Celery salt
— Sport peppers
— Pickle spear
Looking to change up your hot dog prep? Joe Catuara of Trolley Dogs in Kenosha offers six ways to cook the sausage to your satisfaction.
— Deep fried: Wrap your dog in a strip of tasty bacon and then deep fry it for deep flavor. After all, “Anything you add bacon to, works,” says Catuara.
— Boiled: Boiled dogs are also called “dirty water dogs” for the appearance of the water after boiling multiple dogs. It creates a “hot dog soup” of sorts. Whether boiled outside on a hot dog cart or inside in a restaurant, the steam resulting from the boiling creates an aroma that draws people in for a taste.
— Baked: Wrap a hot dog in a crescent roll and bake it in the oven for some yummy goodness.
— Steamed: It’s a south-side of Chicago thing. It doesn’t keep long, maybe just two hours, but it’s a quick and easy way to heat a dog.
— Microwaved: A simple and tried-and-true way to cook your hot dogs. Wrap it in a wet paper towel. This will help steam the hot dog and bun and keep them from drying out or hardening.
— Grilled or charred: There is a definite divide in Chicago, and it’s not just the Cubs or the Sox, but the way people like to prepare their hot dogs, says Catuara. The north side of Chicago likes to “char” everything. Think char burgers, char dogs and a big seller — the cheddar char dog.