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Hold the Beef: A Real Representative Wiener at America's Dog

By John DiGilio in Food on Jun 8, 2011 8:20PM


Hold the Beef is a monthly series exploring Chicago’s vegetarian burger scene. If you know any veggie burger joints that we should check out, post them in the comments!

We're going to have a little fun today. We like wieners. Not the kind that have been capturing the national news as of late, a la Rep. Anthony Weiner from New York. The kind you slap on a bun with some mustard and relish (please, don't go there). Afterall, if man can't live on burgers alone, then it only follows that vegetarians need something more than meatless burgers. So June is literally going to the dogs.

Unlike the myriad ways one can make burgers from vegetable matter, meat-free hot dogs all pretty much start the same. Whether tofu or seitan-based, they are basically a sausage of bland veggie protein. Out of the package, they sort of just do the trick. Many vegetarians we know simply avoid them so as to avoid the disappointment of not being able to relive the tastes of meat-eating days gone by. More determined and creative vegheads, however, know the real trick. The secret to a great vegetarian hot dog is how you serve it. Mr. Weiner may want to note that there is a right way and a wrong way to put on the dog.

A good veggie dog is one that is served up with all the proper fixings. The fresher the relishes, onions, cheeses and condiments, the better. We set out to find a good wiener here in the Windy City and with, a little help from our own Twitter feed, soon had a list of possibilities. The first few places we visited gave us disapproving looks when we asked about vegetarian hot dogs. Local chain, America's Dog, however, was not only ready, willing, and able, but had more choices then we could have ever imagined. Known for its extensive menu of city-themed hot dog choices, they offered to make almost any wiener on the menu vegetarian-style for us. We were up for the challenge! We started with a Chicago Dog, of course. The mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers, tomato, pickle, and celery salt toppings turned an almost tasteless veggie link into a fresh explosion of local flavor. The New York Dog with its layers of sauerkraut and brown mustard definitely had us reminiscing about the Big Apple. Finally, the deep-fried Baltimore Dog with its grilled onions and cheddar was simply fun (albeit, probably not that healthy). Our only complaint was that the buns were a little too soft. But with all the fun were having, it was easily overlooked.

Part of the fun of being vegetarian is finding foods that remind us of the things we used to eat or that seem similar to the things our friends are enjoying. No, it's not because we miss meat. It is all about the comfort of familiar textures, shapes, and flavors. We want to be part of the fun too, especially during the summer grilling season. No one wants to sit around sucking on a celery rib while everyone else is gorging on grilled goodies. As it is with veggie burgers, so it is with veggie hot dogs. They may all start out similarly (especially the dogs), but not all wieners turn out the same. Perhaps Rep. Weiner could take a tip or two from the class and variety with which America's Dog shares theirs.

America's Dog has four locations in Chicago.

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