The Chicago dog is not bad.
State Street now has another hot dog joint. The Dawg House, located in the former Pel'Meni dumpling storefront, joins Mad Dog's Chicago Style Eatery on Henry Street and FIB's, a cart on the UW Library Mall, in offering the original middle-American fast food.
The storefront has not improved much in looks since it was Pel'Meni, although there are now murals of chipper dachshunds walking around dressed in buns. Does that spruce up a dining area? Your call. There are a few tables but the overall atmosphere doesn't encourage dining in.
The dawgs come as the "Ol Fashion" (mustard, pickle, $2.75), "Maxwell Street Chicago" (onions, tomato, sport peppers, relish, pickle and celery salt, $3.75), "Badger" (cheddar cheese, $2.75), corn dog (on a stick, $4) and "Coney Island" (Coney sauce, onions, $3.25).
The Chicago dog is not bad. The wiener itself was plump (freshly fried on the griddle) and the toppings were super generous. I like the more naturalistic take on relish, as served here, although purists prefer the neon green variety considered to be an essential part of the Chicago tradition. The bun (not poppyseed) held up fairly well to the onslaught of toppings, and the sport peppers finished off the meal-in-a-bun nicely. At $3.75 and veggie-heavy, it's lunch or a late-night snack for the neo-depression.
The French fries at the Dawg House are crispy and reminiscent of the bright, salty taste of the fries at Five Guys. The side, at $2.50, is a big portion for one, but awkward to split -- not quite enough for two, unless you both have a lot of willpower. Also available fried and on the side, cheese curds and onion rings.
The dawg menu is somewhat limited. Where is the classic chili dog? How about a cheese/slaw dog? A foot-long? The menu is rounded out with a brat and a Polish sausage ($4.25), a gyro, hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken sandwich (grilled or deep fried) and an Italian beef ($4.25-$6).
I was in the mood for Italian beef, another brainchild of the Windy City. I was fresh off a good Italian beef from Trapani Pizza and Pasta on Regent Street, which closed suddenly mid-November before I had a chance to write about the place. Its Italian beef sandwich featured absolutely tender beef, without any hint of gristle, that had been steeped in a nicely spiced broth.
The beef at The Dawg House was bland, and not exactly tough, but stringy in spots -- hard to chew. It comes with a choice of sweet or hot pepper toppings; I asked for "hot," but the vegetable-mix topping on the sandwich I received was a very, very salty giardiniera that was neither hot, nor sweet -- just oily and salty. Among the salted: red and green peppers, celery, cauliflower, and carrots. The chewy bun stood up to the addition of the jus, but the whole thing was hard to eat, with little taste payback for the difficulty -- and the price.