Saying Goodbye to Hot Doug’s, A Chicago Legend

If you drive past the corner of Roscoe and California too quickly, you’d likely miss it. And, after October 3rd of this year, what once stood humbly there amongst Spanish-language churches & an industrial park will be no more.

I’m not talking about some historic Chicago landmark (though, one day?) or a beacon of architectural excellence….no, what once belonged here was simply the greatest sausage restaurant to ever be established, founded and run by probably the nicest food expert you’ll ever talk to.

If you’ve never been to Hot Doug’s, good luck getting there between now and when the doors officially close next month. The line outside the maybe 15-table joint, already known to, at times, take 2+ hours, likely will cease to be jammed-packed before the final curtain call.

So, on Thursday, I took PTO from work, as did one of my brothers. My cousin, her husband, and their 1 year-old drove in from Indianapolis. I was up before 6am, and in line at 8:30, in a consistent light rain. All this, for one specific purpose: saying goodbye to Hot Doug’s.

It’s been a family tradition for years– not the entire clan, mind you, as many of them think we’re nuts; but, there’s a group of us that go religiously. And by that, I mean, the day before Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving; whatever the occasion. Some families hit up bars, or visit popular cultural exhibits. Us? We prefer exotic encased meats.

Keep in mind, Hot Doug’s isn’t just another hot dog stand. Great Chicago hot dogs are aplenty in this city– but, alligator or duck sausage with foie gras is not.

Duck & “Mountain Man” Sausage

Yes, the sausages are amazing (and I cannot stress that enough), but, that’s far from the only reason to visit. The proprietor, Doug Sohn, personally takes every single order. That’s 5.5 hours a day, at least, 6 days a week. It’s a commitment, but one Sohn takes on with a smile & friendly banter with each of the dozens that show up daily. For the 3-5 minutes an order can take, it’s worth standing in line for a little refreshingly-pleasant conversation with a master chef and businessman.

Saying goodbye to Hot Doug’s was bittersweet– we couldn’t have gotten a more perfect spot in line, on a day with low humidity, and our “crew” was all able to be present. But, of course, it was sad, too, as we knew we may never again have the chance to meet new people in a line of seemingly-random sausage fanatics, all patiently waiting to sample from the menu of encased goodness.

While Hot Doug’s still has just under a month left of life, that will likely be my final visit. I couldn’t picture a better way to remember it. But, if you get the chance, and haven’t been, I urge you to go. Strike up a convo with Doug, drop a few bucks in the tip jar for his staff, and enjoy the experience. You’ll probably be one of the last who can.

And to you, Doug Sohn, if you should read this: thank you, both for your creative ways in the kitchen, and also, maybe even more importantly, for giving our family a place to look forward to.

  • KenC

    With Hot Doug’s soon to be history, can individuals obtain the sausages from any of his suppliers? Man, I’d love to throw a bunch of those gourmet encased meats on the grill for a party!

    • In his book, Doug says that he has exclusive deals with some suppliers. That being said, I’m certain many of the exotic sausages can be found– though, without the toppings and sauce that Hot Doug’s puts on them, would it really be the same?

      • KenC

        Thanks – does anyone know the sources for the ones that are available? And with the closing, I would think the exclusivity arrangement would no longer be in effect.

        Maybe we can come up with recipes for the various sauces/toppings? I see some opportunities here – a ‘sausage of the month’ club or something?

        I recall when I was there, I asked Doug which condiments would be appropriate for my order. He was clear that it was to be eaten the way he serves it, the flavors there were designed to blend just as they were. And of course, he was right! It was delicious! It was the rib-eye sausage, I actually forget the rest of the ingredients, a smoked cheese I think, and now I forget the sauce as well, but it was fantastic.