Doug Sohn is to encased meats what Rick Bayless is to Mexican food. Both of them have taken a cuisine that's often overlooked and derided to a legendary and cult-like status. Before Bayless few would have waited in line for what was perceived as a generic homogenization of a culture. Before Sohn, no one would imagine waiting for an hour and a half for a hot dog. But that's just what happens at this "Sausage Superstore and Encased Meats Emporium." It's kind of like waiting in line at Great America, except everyone around you is happier and you'll get more than 90 seconds of thrill at the end.
I visited on a Saturday with another newbie and two veterans, the lovely Ed and Amy Knittel of TastyCMS, who walked us through our paces. Being fortunate enough to have those two as our Sherpas, I thought it only fair to share what we learned.
- On Fridays and Saturdays there are duck fat fries. While these are tasty, it's more important to know that their presence increases the line, so...
- Bring a friend or two and make sure they're good conversationalists.
- Most of the time you'll be waiting outside, so dress appropriately.
- Prices are CHEAP! It's $1.75 for a Chicago-style hot dog. They're what, six bucks at Navy Pier? The most expensive item is the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel for $9. Yes, you read that correctly. Foie Gras, Sauternes, Truffle, more Foie Gras - NINE DOLLARS.
- Since prices are so low they don't take credit cards. There's no ATM on premise so bring some cash.
- That being said, bring more than $5. You can't just go in and get the Chicago dog. That's like going to Spiaggia and asking for angel hair with marinara.
- When you get up to the menu you'll see lots of celebrity names. Sohn names the hot sausages after women he thinks are spicy. There's the Keira Knightly, formerly the Jennifer Garner and the Britney Spears, which is "mighty hot", and the Salma Hayek, formerly the Madonna, the Raquel Welch, and the Ann-Margaret, which is "mighty, mighty, mighty hot".
- There's also a game of the week. It could be rattlesnake; it could be antelope; no matter what it's worth a try.
- Then there's the daily celebrity sausage. At the time of posting it's an "Irish Banger with Guinness Stout Mustard and Tipperary Irish Cheddar Cheese"
- By this time you're really glad I told you to bring more than $5. Now I suggest coordinating with your friends and choosing all different items so you can sample as many as is humanly possible.
- When you get to the counter, say hi to Doug. It will be him. He's always there. Always.
- If you order a large drink he'll suggest you get a small since there are free refills. Seriously.
- Despite the long line and crowd of people, you will find a seat. The timing just seems to work, especially since patrons would never be so disrespectful as to sit after they're done. This place is like a secret club where everybody inherently knows proper etiquette.
- Dig in and enjoy! You'll think "line? What line?"