Heres a report on a few favorite hot dog places in the north and northwest suburbs.
A few weeks ago while we were cruising from Gene & Judes to Poochies, my son spotted a sign in the window of the former Mages Hot Dogs on Dempster Street that said New home of Hot Dog Island. Today, we had a chance to try the much-loved Hot Dog Island at its new location and compare it to old favorite Poochies, just as we had compared Gene & Judes to Poochies before.
Quick summary is that all three have very good hot dogs, and the choice is a matter of personal preference, convenience and cost. Let your stomach be your guide. Note: my son has his hot dogs totally plain, while I like several Chicago-style condiments (mustard, relish, tomato, pickle, celery salt) so we have two levels of comparison. Heres more detail on our impressions.
Gene & Judes. The good-sized parking lot was busy at 6 pm on a Sunday night, and there was a line waiting to order. However, the operation is efficient and the line moved quickly. While waiting, we had a chance to size up the decor. It has been aptly described as prison-like. With bare industrial-size fluorescent lights and walls of painted masonry block it would make a good setting for Escape from Alcatraz or similar.
The standard hot dog is only $1.50 including fries which are dumped on top of the dog in the same paper bag. Some like it this way as the flavors and odors meld together. However, we found the otherwise very good skin-on fries to be a little limp because of being put in the bag. The hot dog is very good with a nice pop, however the flavor was less intense than I expected. We had only ordered one dog each. Rather than order a second, we decided to mosey on over to Poochies for a comparison.
Poochies is more expensive. A hot dog is $1.99 and fries (a large-size order) are $1.39. A special of dog, fries, medium drink is $4.25. The fresh-out-of the fryer French Fries were also very good, but crisper than Gene & Judes. The hot dog also had a nice pop and a bit more flavor. (I think it had more garlic, which I like.)
I know this is heresy to some Chowhounds, but good as Gene & Judes is, we preferred Poochies. However, Gene & Judes is the value king; no wonder the place is so busy.
Today, we went to Hot Dog Island at its new location as well as to Poochies to do another comparison. The big sign outside has the Mages name removed, but Hot Dog Island is not yet on it. At least the statement about Best hot dog in town has some truth to it.
Both Poochies and Hot Dog Island were busy; every table was taken at Hot Dog Island. The hot dogs were really close. My son called it a draw; I slightly preferred the flavor of Poochies, but by just a hair. Both had good fries. The ones at Hot Dog Island were a little crisper, but a few were almost burned. Might have been a new guy on the fryer. The crew behind the counter were very busy and the owner was calling out instruction, so they may need a little more shakedown time.
At Hot Dog island your basic dog is $2.20 and fries are $1.25 or $1.75. A special of 2 dogs, fries & medium drink is $5.25 (I think; all prices are from memory).
The parking lot at Hot Dog Island is small only 11 spaces. When leaving we noticed a red SUV parked on the street with license plates HOT DOG 3. Obviously, the owner had moved his vehicle out of the lot so customers would have more space. Very thoughtful.
One additional comparison. A little while ago we had gone to Hot Dog Island only to find it wouldnt open for another day, so we did a comparison between Poochies and The Little Island, Hot Dog Islands successor in the triangular space at the intersection of Crawford, Central and Gross Point Road. Little Islands hot dog and fries were passable, but thats all. They could not compare to the first three.
There are other good hot dog places in the northern suburbs, but these are the ones weve been to lately. We also have pleasant recollections of Wolfys and Flukeys on Chicagos north side, but its been quite a while since weve had their hot dogs, so comparing to an old memory wouldnt be fair. We look forward to trying them again soon.
Gene & Judes
2720 River Road
Hot Dog Island
The Little Island
2600 Crawford Avenue