Hot Dog! Biker Jim’s Excellent Adventure
Biker Jim Pittenger runs the coolest hot dog cart in the city: Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs. A trained journalist and former repo man, ex-resident of the great state of Alaska and proud biker, Jim now makes his living slinging Denver’s best dogs from his Cadillac of carts on the corner of 16th and Arapahoe and pushing his cheesecakes and caffeine-jacked milkshakes at Biker Jim’s Freakishly Small Concession Stand right around the corner in Skyline Park.
You can’t miss the guy. Just look for the huge crowd of people waiting for his Louisiana Red Hots with cream cheese from the caulking gun, Alaskan reindeer sausage or German white veal brats juiced with Vietnamese sriracha, and the big plumes of smoke rising from his grills.
Anyway, Biker Jim spends a lot of time standing on the corner trying to get people to buy his wieners, but everyone needs a break now and then. And so Jim recently went on a mini-vacation to Chicago where, in fine gastronaut style, he used every waking moment to shove his face full of grub.
Lucky for us, when he got back, he decided to write me about it (and also posted reports on the blog on his Biker Jim website). So without further ado, I present you: Biker Jim’s Excellent Adventure. Please to enjoy…
Here's a story you might like. With summer coming, I knew my weekends were going to start getting sucked up by things like Westword's Music Showcase in a couple of weeks and this pool party I'm catering Monday and yada...so I figured I'd take a motorcycle ride to Chicago to eat hot dogs. A buddy and I left Denver a week ago last Thursday, hooked up with another pal from Oklahoma City just west of Lincoln and bombed out to Chicago. Two days to get there in some pretty crappy weather. Not that we actually got rained on, but a lot of post- and pre-rain. Not the greatest of rides, but hell, a vacation is a vacation. We got to Chicago Friday night, promptly got lost, and drove an extra 43 miles to get to our hotel that was two miles from where we exited. Forty-three miles in Chicago is about two and a half hours. First thing we noticed? Denver has got really nice streets. Chicago's streets are tore-up pieces of crappy pavement you could hide crack babies in. But you've gotta love a place where you get passed by a school bus doing 60 in a 35. Nice.
We were hungry and tired so of course we went to White Castle and ate a box of sliders. Been a while since I've had them. The first five or so were not bad...the next two, okay. The last three were some sort of an endurance test. The next morning, though, they do just "slide right out." Pretty sure that's where the name comes from.
First stop on our gagger stampede was Hot Doug’s. I don't know if you've heard of this guy (www.hotdougs.com), but he is doing what I've been trying to do. Doug is a trained French chef who decided to open a hot dog restaurant. And although I think my sausages are as good as his, he takes his elk sausage and puts a Guinness Stout Mustard and Cahill’s Whiskey Cheese on it. Or he'll do a Bacon Sausage with wine-infused grainy Dijon mustard, herb-garlic eurocreme and caramelized onions. Fuck, this guy knows how to accessorize.
We walked in and on the wall were the day’s specials, including the "Celebrity Sausage of the Day" -- the "Biker Jim Dog." I was floored. He'd found out we were coming and actually named a sausage after me! It was a gyros sausage with a spicy raita and an olive tapenade. Man, it was good, plus FUCKING BIKER JIM DOG! On weekends he does his french fries in duck fat. He was telling me that if you ever get a chance to eat anything in duck fat, just do it. I'm now pretty convinced these are fine words to live by. They were great. Crispy and rich and "fuck the rest of the world these are mine so keep your mitts" off good.
Doug has been voted one of the top hot dog joints in the country by the Wall Street Journal, featured on Hot Dog Paradises on the Travel Channel and pretty much is just the darling of the hot dog world. I will go there any time I'm within 300 miles and so should you. But be prepared to wait. I get a lunch line that sometimes 25 or 30 people deep. He gets that kind of a line every day, all day. I don't feel so bad when people have to wait at my joint anymore.
Next we went to the Vienna Beef Factory, the home of the quintessential Chicago Dog. There we ate corned beef that was just made. I know we were supposed to eat hot dogs, but you know you can get those Vienna Beef dogs anywhere in Chicago. Corned beef just made right from the plant? That was worth missing a dog for. Shaved thin, German mustard on a fresh, not-too-sour seeded rye. Fantastic. But our eating tour had just begun.
We then went to Jimmy's. Jimmy's is the hole-in-the-wall (literally...they have bullet holes they're pretty proud of right there) that you think of when you think Chicago dog. For $2.30 you get a Vienna beef 8-to-1 or a Polish pulled from the boiler, tossed on a steam-soaked bun and smothered in a handful of fries. They have a whole wall devoted to fryers. And there is a sign by the counter stating that if you even think of asking for ketchup, get out. Crap dog, crap fries, and lines out the door.
We then rode to Johnny's for Italian Beef sandwiches. And Italian ices also. This place also had a line out the door 30 people deep. But it moves fast. Doesn't take too long to throw some meat on a roll and dunk it in juice. And oh, man, what meat and juice they have. There was a Saturday Night Live skit about a Greek restaurant where the guys go to Mt. Olympus for the juice for their whatever kinda sandwiches. Every one that had that juice was immediately transcended to a new plane. It was all, "Oh, so you like the juice, yes?" Well, same juice. Fatty and rich and meaty and spicy and all the things you want dripping down your arm on to the sidewalk as you lean over while eating this thing. And I've gotta tell you, leaning over was getting kind of difficult, as I was getting pretty packed.
Then we had Italian ices. I have no idea how they can shave ice so fine to make it this smooth and creamy. But they did it. And it was sweet and lemony and sticky and freaking perfect after a sandwich that good. Can you tell I don't have a lot of experience with this kind of food? Not too many good Italian street food joints in Alaska. Not too many here either, I don't think.
Next on the list was Gene and Jude’s. We'd heard about this place the first night we were there...when we were lost. A fair-sized joint with no chairs, no tables, just a rail on the wall were you can lean against and eat your boiled Vienna beef 10-to-1 on your crappy roll, with your crappy handful of fries. Once again, a line out the door. Once again, $2.30 got you a dog and fries. I tried talking to the guy behind the counter: "Hey, we rode motorcycles all the way from Denver just to eat your hot dogs." Perfect response: "Oh yeah? That'll be $2.30." Such charm, these people.
I was fucking stuffed! But we had one more place to go.
Paradise Pup was recently featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. A quick aside. Did you know that Guy Fiere trailers that bitchin’ red-hot Camaro convertible he drives on the show? They have pictures of him pulling out of the trailer in front of the restaurant. My favorite T-shirt ever was on the back of a guy riding to Sturgis a couple of years ago. It said, "Nice Trailer, Pussy." Ah, well…
Anyway, this was the only place other than Doug’s that actually grilled up their stuff, and it was the only other hot dog in Chicago that I really liked -- charred to perfection and topped with something called Merkt’s cheese. I've never heard of it before. It is a smoky, cheddar-type thing that goes with meat (and potatoes: their fries were great topped with this cheese, bacon, and sour cream) like nobody's business. (Quick aside: Merkt’s is a kind of spreadable cheese product produced out of Wisconsin and capable of producing both fanatical devotion and massive heart attacks among sports fans in the Midwest.)
These were friendly people, two brothers and the hot wife, enjoying doing what they do. Shooting the shit and cooking good food for lots of people. Once again, lines out the door.
That was six 6 places in about four a half hours. I was one Thin Mint away from exploding. But fun and fun. We left the next day, as soon as the rain stopped. First 500 miles with a 40 mph Southern cross wind -- that means you lean to the left for 500 miles. Fortunately, the next day we had a 40 mph Northern cross wind for the other 500 miles. Fixed that crik I got in my back from the day before.
Yesterday after work I went to Chicago's on West Colfax. That is the Chicago dog I was looking for. Good poppy seed bun, a hot, well-steamed Vienna Beef dog drug through the garden with onions, relish, sport peps, tomatoes and a bag of fries. They put a bit of care into that dog and I like that. No Hot Doug’s, and not charred like Paradise Pup, but pretty much the best Chicago dog this side of Chicago. Maybe even the other side of Chicago, too.
Thanks for reading my "How I spent my summer vacation" story, man. I'll catch up with you later,
Man, his note made me hungry. I think I’m gonna head out for Skyline Park right now for a dog or three, then maybe Chicago’s (at 6680 West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood ) for a little hot beef. Anyone care to join me? -- Jason Sheehan
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