I couldn’t have asked for a better day. A lazy Sunday afternoon, a cozy bookstore and the opportunity to gather with a group of compatible, likeminded souls to hear my friend, Bruce Kraig, talk about a topic dear to my heart and the subject of his informative and entertaining book, Hot Dog, a Global History.

Kraig is Professor Emeritus in History and Humanities at Roosevelt University, the founder and president of the Culinary Historians of Chicago, and my favorite food historian. He has hosted and written a series of award-winning, insightful and entertaining documentaries for PBS and has appeared throughout the media. Kraig has also written several cookbooks and his numerous and varied articles have been published both here and abroad. He is also my colleague at the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College where he teaches a very popular course in food history.

Seasoned Oak Parkers may well remember Bruce Kraig as Wednesday Journal’s first food columnist , but I remember him – happily – as the restaurant critic, and author, of the very first review I received as the chef of Philanders. It was a glowing, “great” review and one for which I will be forever grateful.

So now it is my privilege to recommend this latest “gem” from Bruce Kraig about the noble hot dog, a cultural icon that Kraig traces from its origins 20,000 years ago up to the present time. The hot dog has captivated Americans since the early 20th century and, incredibly, an estimated two billion hot dogs will be consumed by Americans just in the month of July alone, proving how popular the “tube steak” has become.

Just as incredible is the lack of consensus on how we should serve up (and eat) a hot dog. Here, Kraig ably illustrates the regional traditions surrounding this culinary phenomenon, noting the variations between a traditional Chicago-style dog (Never with ketchup!) that mandates mustard, onions, relish, tomato, cucumber, sport pepper and celery salt, as opposed to the New York “kosher style” dog that comes with mustard and sauerkraut or cooked onions. In New England, hot dogs come with Boston Baked Beans, and numerous other differences and variations exist among other states and other countries as well.

Locally, there are a plenty of hot dog stands to choose from, including such notables as Parky’s – still my favorite – on Harlem Avenue, and the recently opened Byron’s on Madison Street in Forest Park. Definitely worth a visit is Hot Doug’s, located at 3324 N. California, voted No.1 in Chicago, and recently featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the travel channel. And I can’t forget Gene & Jude’s Red Hot Stand, located at River Road and Grand Avenue in River Grove. Warning: Don’t even ask for ketchup!

The big question at the book signing last week was what Bruce Kraig’s favorite hot dog stand was, and though he was diplomatically reluctant to choose one over another, there was a lot of mention throughout the afternoon about Frannie’s Beef on River Road in Schiller Park.

Hot Dog, a Global History, meanwhile, is chuck-full of facts and trivia, color photos, and even a nice selection of recipes from all around the world. An absolute delight to read.

Thanks, Bruce. It was great to see you!

Frank Chlumsky opened Philander’s Oak Park restaurant as its first executive chef in 1979 and now works as a culinary instructor at The School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago.

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