Saturday, December 8, 2018

How fancy is too fancy for a hot dog?

I couldn’t help but be amused to learn of a new study that proclaims Portillo’s, the Chicago-area-based joint specializing in hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, to be the nation’s favorite restaurant.
Would this 'stand' have been worthy of honor?

As in TripAdviser, a website catering to tourists who wouldn’t have a clue where to go outside of their home communities, said the chain of Portillo’s restaurants are the best in the country when it comes to Fast Casual – as in food nice enough to be more than fast food, but not so elite you have to get all dressed up in order to eat there.

IT SEEMS SOMEBODY is trying to push the idea that Portillo’s is the ultimate experience in hot dogs, and that one has to have their take on a sausage dragged through the garden before they can truly know what the Chicago hot dog experience is.

This amuses me because I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find that just about everybody with any experience in consuming a “Chicago-style” hot dog could rattle off a whole slew of places that they would prefer, rather than making the trip to whatever Portillo’s franchise happens to be closest to their particular neighborhood or suburb.

While there’s nothing wrong with Portillo’s, I just think there are many other places that are better.

Particularly when one considers the cost of a Portillo’s dog ($2.65 each, fries and drink extra). It ain’t cheap. In fact, I definitely feel like we’re being asked to pay premium prices for the Portillo’s décor – which is meant to display various memorabilia with a Chicago atmosphere.

IT’S ALMOST LIKE we’re visiting a Chicago-inspired theme park. Whereas I’d argue that a true Chicago experience would include a visit to an actual neighborhood hot dog stand – which likely would be so tiny that these tourism-based websites would never find it.

Not that it would be a bad thing. If anything, it’s the obscure neighborhood joints that offer up the best experiences, and the larger places somehow manage to lose something in the process of business growth.

It makes me wonder if Portillo’s itself, which originated in suburban Villa Park and displays a photograph of the original “dog house” motif hot dog stand in every one of their stores, may have actually deserved the accolades way back when.
Proclaims Portillo's the best 'fast casual' restaurant

Now, it’s just a generic chain restaurant. And a highly-priced one, at that.

I STILL RECALL the last time I went to a Portillo’s. I had the barbecue ribs meal – and paid close to $25 for it. Not exactly eating on a budget.

As for a hot dog, I don’t feel compelled to seek out my local Portillo’s joint whenever I feel the need for one. Because for me, the whole concept of a hot dog and fries is that it’s supposed to be a cheap meal.

A couple of “dogs,” fries and a coke for about $5 sounds about right (I'm sure people of my parents' generation could remember a time when the cost would have been closer to $1) – with the understanding that eating too many meals like that isn’t doing my overall health any benefits.

Anyway, my own personal favorite of hog dog stands is actually the Boz’ Hot Dogs scattered throughout the southern end of Chicago metro. I particularly like the way they use cucumber slices, rather than pickle spears – a personal quirk that some may not enjoy as much as I do.

I’M ALSO ONE whose memory still salivates at the notion of Gold Coast Dogs. I’d probably eat hot dogs more often if I could still get a char dog or two with everything (and everything does NOT include ketchup, which they had enough sense to realize).
Would Boz ever make the list?

So the idea of Portillo’s as the best Fast Casual restaurant in the country? I doubt it. Because any place serving a hot dog of any quality whatsoever would probably never be deemed worthy of any type of “best” list.

Now if you really want to talk off-beat foodstuffs, consider the “chocolate cake shake” that Portillo’s offers up.

At 850 calories in their small-sized shake, it most definitely is not something to eat if one wants to be in good standing with “Weight Watchers,” but is something unique-enough to make the occasional trip to Portillo’s worth one’s while.


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