e, Gene and Jude’s, gave me the impression of an upscale, bygone restaurant. It would have been dingy, and the waitstaff, impatient and arrogant. Steaks would be served on a silver platter. That’s why I am completely blindsided to learn that they are known for their hot dogs. Even with that information, in my mind, the picture was still an expensive hot dog wrapped in gold leaf.
Located only minutes away from O’Hare, tourists like myself can get here pretty darn easily. I actually measured it, and it is less than 15 minutes after getting my rental car. Gene and Jude’s is located in an older suburb of Chicago. I wouldn’t call the area sketchy, but things are falling apart all around the area. There is no doubt in my mind that there hasn’t been any new investment in this suburb since Jimmy Carter was president. So, about the imaginary dingy restaurant – I’m way off the mark. Closer to getting a hole-in-one for the next hole. The restaurant is situated in an old one-story simple white brick building, next to a very busy intersection. Huge orange and red fonts decorate and bring contrast to a rather bleak environment. Tamales, anyone? There is no way this place has changed since the inception. Unlike the NJ diner scene, which was also slowly dying but there is a new cult that is allowing the rest to prosper with their retro looks, it did not seem like Gene and Jude’s care to renovate or update their looks. It continues to be absolutely no frills. One observation – the parking lot is huge compare to the size of the restaurant, because many people are eating in and around their cars. I soon learn why people are doing that.
Once inside, there is a line of workers facing another line of customers. Think of a zipper, where one employee will deal with customer, and the chain continues. Bare-bone is the right word to describe the interior. There are no chairs, and only some counter top space along the windows that are facing the parking lot. I stood at the back of the line, and observes what and how orders are being placed. Although there is no harm being the tourist, considering Chicago is a pretty friendly city, I rather not stand out now and would love to blend in. Initially, I thought everyone here is a local from the way they dress. As I try to figure out how others are ordering by eavesdropping into many conversation, I learn that at least a third are first timers like me. The line snakes along the perimeter of the restaurant and around the largerst trash bins you could buy at DIY shops. Old dusty accolades hangs on one of the walls, and there are plenty to show that the food here has been verified as heaven on earth.
The menu is just like the decoration, simple and sweet. Gene and Jude’s serves 2 sizes of hot dogs – the single and the double. 4 kind of condiments, peppers, onions, relish and mustard. All hot dogs come piled with fries. This is known as the Depression style hot dog, pioneered by this restaurant, where vegetables and skin-on fries are topped on the poor tiny hot dog. In fact, the no ketchup policy on hot dogs in and around Chicago might also have come from here. For some unknown reasons, they also have tamales, and fries for anyone else who cares for more. That’s all, folks, on the menu. Seriously – there are 10 choices for drinks, and only 4 for food. Then again, they could be serving burgers and cheese steaks and nobody would order them, so why not downsize. It is simplicity and efficiency at its finest. One shocker, Gene and Jude’s accept credit card (Thank god). Oh, and if you were wondering if they make their hot dogs? The large sign outside proudly displays the Vienna Beef logo (So technically, you can make this at home; Vienna does customize the sausages for all their client, so technically no. I’m confusing you. Just come here if you want the real deal).
By now, I have realized that the thing that got Gene and Jude’s famous isn’t the meat, but the act of adding french fries and vegetables to a hot dog. The original story involves Gene, the founder of this restaurant, who bought some hot dogs after a ball game at Wigley Field in 1945. He felt that something was missing from the hot dog, and decided to add fries to it. With this simple idea, Gene begun selling this version of the hot dog, which quickly became popular. Some time later, everything else on the menu were removed except for the 4 items that still exist until today. Ah, back in the good old days where such simple ideas could sustain a business. Back in the store, the potatoes are sliced into fresh fries in situ, and the fryer has not stop churning out massive amount of fries when I’m there. My turn comes up after some time waiting, and I place my order with a lady, who puts all the condiments in the hot dog bun, then load a heap of oily fries on top of that mess, and finishing the order by wrapping the hot dog in paper. She do it twice for my 2 hot dogs. Then come probably the best part – I paid almost nothing for a pretty hefty bag of good.
I found a spot along the window, and unwrap the first hot dog. The lady piled so many fries that they hid the hot dog. Instructions on how to eat this monster would be nice right about now, because I can’t eat the whole thing like a normal hot dog. So, there it begins, act I: the clean up of the fries! The fries are fresh from the fryer, so they are soft but not soggy – tasty. It takes awhile for me to eat enough of the fries until I could hold the rest of the hot dog with one hand. The sausage itself is snappy… and I don’t think it is any special. Most of the flavors come from the condiments, namely mustard & peppers, which made the hot dog rather delicious. The leftover fries feel like filler, to an otherwise small meal. As mentioned earlier, the sausage is only a small portion of the hot dog sandwich; the fries fill in the blank and the condiments makes the hot dog tasty. Had I want something more meaty (in terms of the amount and the flavor of meat) but in a similar vein, Shack Shack’s Shacago dog is the place to start.
The double is better than the single, because the meat to everything else ratio is higher, which is the main thing lacking in the single. Even with the double, I am still eating mostly condiments and fries. That isn’t really a bad thing, it just isn’t what I was expected from a hot dog stand. Welcome to Chicago? I do consider this is a stand, as there are no seats available. A piece of advice, get either the single or the double dog, but don’t get both. There is plentiful of food in each of them. Gene’s idea is proven true, that fries do bring cheap calories. I’m not impressed by the quality of the hot dog, but I definitely learn a lot today, about Chicago style hot dog, no frills restaurant, history, and pilling fries on buns (which will be a recurring theme in the Midwest). All for a couple of dollars and a filled tummy.
Visited: June 30th, 2017 at 2pm.
Address: 2720 N River Rd, River Grove, IL