Monday, January 17, 2011

Hey! Hot Dog

This past Saturday, Mrs. Hackknife and I took Hackknifette to a Sesame Street Live show in nearby Joliet at the Rialto Square Theater (Hackknife Jr. stayed with Grandma). For those of you not local, Joliet was for many years a thriving and vibrant city by virtue of its location on the Des Plaines River, steel industry, and relative proximity to Chicago (about 40 miles southwest). Its current prominent businesses are mainly casinos and much of the city's demographics have changed, but it still has its historic downtown (the Rialto opened in 1926) and some outlying neighborhoods with more of an old-fashioned feel to them. It is in one of these neighborhoods (northwest of downtown, on the west side of the river) that you'll find Hey! Hot Dog, a Joliet original that started serving chili dogs and frosty mug root beer around 1960. I came here for the first time on a warm summer day back when Hackknifette was still small enough to be toted around in her baby carrier and I quite enjoyed my chili dog and ice-cold root beer while she dozed. Once our Sesame Street show ended at noon, Hey! Hot Dog seemed like a good place for us to grab a quick lunch and attempt to clear our heads of the numerous ditties spouted by Elmo and friends.

When we arrived, we pretty much had the place to ourselves (most of their lunch business is the weekday blue-collar crowd). The building is small (lunch counter with stools, plus a side room with a few tables), but the decor is very diner-ish, probably having changed little since its beginning, with an orange/brown color scheme. The menu is very basic, no-frills-or-circus: hot dogs with or without cheese and chili, polish sausage, barbecue beef, chips, root beer, and that's about it. The owner was kind enough to comp us on a tiny mug of root beer for Hackknifette (her first ever soda pop), which she sipped a couple of times before deciding that her hot dog was a little better tasting than this strange, dark milk. Mrs. Hackknife went with a basic cheese dog, while I tried the polish with onions, mustard, and sauerkraut. All told, I have to say that I prefer the chili dog over the polish (allegedly the house chili is a secret recipe) and really the root beer (which is also house made) is the standout of the operation, made doubly good by the frozen mugs that it's served in (there's nothing better than root beer slush at the bottom of the mug). Bottom line - if you're looking for a dose of nostalgia, a sinfully cold root beer, and a good value on a decent chili dog, Hey! Hot Dog is your place. If you're seeking a higher-end encased meat (of the Hot Doug or Franks 'n Dawgs variety, for example), you'd best set your sights back upriver towards Chicago.

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