Hoping to break the ice, I recall idly querying, "Excuse me, Sir, what exactly is a Chicago dog?"
To this day, I've never seen someone switch from suspicious to affable quite so quickly. The precise details of the answer became secondary as I recoiled in delight at the sheer excitement my newfound best friend took in explaining this prized creation. The Chicago dog, it seemed, was something inspirational and to be cherished.
So, what exactly is a Chicago dog? Start with an all-beef, quality hot dog wrapped in a steamed poppy-seed bun. Next come a splosh of yellow mustard, a sprinkle of chopped white onions and a dab of bright green sweet pickle relish. There's more: Add a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, sport peppers and a suitable flurry of celery salt.
It's practically the long-lost casual-eats brother of the Bloody Mary inasmuch as the various embellishments seem excessive at first glance, but are all part of the final magic. And yes, I probably offended every Chicagoan with that flimsiest of analogies; much like other regional delicacies, this treasured jewel fuels the most serious of debates over the seemingly slightest of nuances.
And this is where my swashbuckling tale of encounters at the Chicago DMV starts to develop a point (see, I did have one).
Step forward Chicago native Johnnie Carrasquilla and his Utah restaurant Johnniebeefs. The restaurant's location might be third time the charm, too, previously taking pit stops at two locations the last, a quirky foray operating out of a gas station.
Johnniebeefs is Carrasquilla's homage to his home city, liberally peppered with Chicago sports paraphernalia; Bears fans will feel especially welcome with the "Dytka" burger ($6.99), topped with a bratwurst.
The menu kicks off appropriately with the Chicago Dog ($3.99 regular, $5.99 big), and Carrasquilla proudly imports as much as he can from Chicago. For those with concerns about authenticity, a flight to Illinois might be the only way to top Carrasquilla handing you a Red Hot brand Chicago dog wrapped in a steamed Chicago poppy-seed bun with all the fixings.
The menu proceeds with some 30 variations on the humble hot dog. Selections begin simply and progress through increasingly complex creations with pico de gallo here and sauerkraut there. Along the way you'll see Polish dogs, bratwurst and Italian sausage, in all manner of configurations, some deep-fried, some wrapped in other things. Many items not imported are made in house, and it's difficult to find anything outside the pocket-friendly $4-$6 range.
My single quibble, sampling dog after delicious dog, was the Utah dog. Perhaps the Utah's lone topping of mustard was a coy joke about our notoriety as a state with blander tastes, but c'mon, load that thing up with fry sauce and pastrami and I bet even Jake and Elwood would sing the praises of such a creation.
The menu features more than just dogs, the most notable item being the wonderful Italian Beef Sandwich ($6.99 or $4.99 half). Thinly sliced, seasoned roast beef is stuffed into a French roll with sweet peppers and giardiniera. The ensemble is then dipped in jus at your behest, anything from a light dunk to the full-on "dipped in the river." It's a manly monster of a sandwich and great value considering the meltingly tender beef's journey from Chicago. The same beef can be found in the Italian Grinder ($6.99 or $4.99 half), along with provolone, grilled onions, sweet peppers and Johnnie's homemade horseradish sauce, which packs an enlivening punch.
While the side dishes at Johnniebeefs probably won't be mentioned in the same breath as Chicago's famed Hot Doug's duck-fat french fries, you also won't have to queue around the block for 90 minutes or sign some Faustian pact to get your hands on them. Crinkle-cut french fries ($2.69) go direct from the freezer bag to the hot fryer, but it's a plentiful portion and more than acceptable. Better still, order them "dirty" for a feast loaded with sport peppers and fiery house chili, good enough to be a dish in its own right. A word to the wise: You can find that same excellent chili with bacon, cheese, onions and peppers on the Punky QB dog ($6.49) as well.
Those hankering for a taste of the Windy City or simply in search of good, honest, quick eats in the Cottonwood Heights area should seek out Johnniebeefs. Just be sure to petition for a bolder Utah dog. We're braver than just mustard, right?
Stuart Melling also blogs at http://www.theutahreview.com.
Food • HH
Mood • H
Service • HHH
Noise • b
Crafted by a Chicagoan with imported ingredients, this is a taste of the Windy City in Cottonwood Heights. You'll need airfare to Illinois for anything more authentic. Recommended dishes include the Italian beef, Punky QB, Maxwell Street Polish and Dirty Fries.
Location • 6913 S. 1300 East, Cottonwood Heights; 801-352-0372
Online • johnniebeefs.com
Hours • Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Children's menu • Yes
Prices • $
Liquor • No
Reservations • No
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • All major