For a long time, Madisonians who wanted a Chicago-style hot dog — that bewitching combination of a processed beef frank, mustard, sweet pickle relish, onions, tomatoes, a pickle, sport peppers, a dash of celery salt and a poppy seed bun — had to hop on the interstate and make a long journey south to Illinois. However, with the August (although not particularly august) arrival of Mad Dog's Chicago-Style Eatery, students can now get their frank fix on foot.
Mad Dog's is unique among State Street eateries in that it has absolutely no seating. In fact, the interior consists of the cash register, an extensive condiment bar, the hot dog cooker and a cooler with drinks. Suffice it to say, Mad Dog's appeal lies inside a steamed poppy seed bun, not in the restaurant's décor.
However, on a trip to Mad Dog's yesterday, I found what lies inside the bun to be a bit underwhelming. As my dining companion and I raised our hot dogs in a celebratory toast and took our first bites, we were both struck by how difficult it was to take a proper bite. The pickle spear, traditionally the crowning accoutrement of a Chicago dog, was simply too firm for either one of us to enjoy. The frank was otherwise fine: The sweetness of the relish, the piquancy of the mustard and peppers and the fresh, grassy note of the celery salt balanced one another perfectly. Nevertheless, the pickle's durability was a glaring interruption to this harmony.
After stumbling out the doors of Mad Dog's half-satisfied and $3.75 poorer, I began to wonder if I just hated Chicago-style hot dogs. A Minnesotan by birth, I had tragically little experience with them, so perhaps I had deluded myself into thinking a Chicago dog was something other than what it was. In order to dispel any confusion, I spoke with Chicago-area native, UW senior and hot dog enthusiast Kevin Clarke.
Clarke confirmed my suspicions.
"A Chicago dog should be mushy goodness," he said. "You should always be able to get consistent bites, and the pickle should not be firm."
Finally, I had authoritative evidence that Mad Dog's has at least one major kink to work out in their formula. Granted, diners who want Clarke's ideal "mushy goodness" could just leave off the pickle, but that detracts from the Chicago-style hot dog experience. Thus, the institution must scrap its turgid pickles if it is the least bit serious about its Windy City moniker.
Luckily for Mad Dog's, even if major pickle reform does not occur, its two target markets — the after-bar crowd and people who would do anything for a Chicago dog–are unlikely to be too fussy about a stiff pickle. However, if you are a pickle progressive who wishes to instigate reform from within the Wiener Industrial Complex, there is a glimmer of hope. According to an advertisement on its website, Mad Dog's is currently hiring "Hot Dog Artisans." Perhaps one day, a visionary artisan will rise through the wiener hierarchy and install soft pickles atop all of Mad Dog's dogs.
Name: Mad Dog's Chicago Style Eatery
Location: 309 N. Henry St. (Next to Four Star Video Heaven)
Price: $3.75 for a Chicago-style hot dog, other sausages range from $2.75 to $6.50.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday through Wednesday; 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Two and a half stars out of five.