Chicagoans are very set in our ways. We still insist on calling the former flagship Marshall Field & Company store on State Street “Marshall Field’s” even though it’s been a Macy’s since 2006. Guaranteed Rate Field is still “Sox Park” to most folks, and there’s no quicker way to reveal you’re an out-of-towner than to call the Sears Tower the “Willis Tower.” When we find something we like, we stick with it (even when the rest of the world doesn’t) and champion it, and that’s why we’re so adamant that the Chicago-style hot dog — an all-beef frank in a poppyseed bun, topped with yellow mustard, neon-green relish, diced white onions, sport peppers, tomato slices, a dash of celery salt and a pickle spear — isn’t just the best way to eat a hot dog, it’s the only correct way, the One True Hot Dog.
That’s why, as a native of the Chicago area now living in Brooklyn, I’ve spent years lamenting how difficult it is to find a decent, authentic Chicago dog in the borough. Shake Shack’s “Shack-cago Dog” is a bastardization, and it recently fell victim to the pandemic when the chain reverted to a limited menu. Emmett’s in Greenwich Village is a must for displaced Midwesterners in search of deep dish or Chicago tavern-style pizza, Italian beef and yes, Chicago dogs in Manhattan, but for whatever reason, finding this particular style of tubed meat on this side of the East River was especially hard until recently. (You can find some solid ones at Canal Bar, a Chicago sports bar in Gowanus, but a restaurant or stand devoted specifically to the art of the Chicago-style hot dog — yes, I said art — was severely lacking.) You can imagine my delight, then, when I heard about Dog Day Afternoon, a new Windsor Terrace hot dog joint specializing in Chicago-style dogs.
Located at 266 Prospect Park West on the very block that the 1975 Al Pacino movie it takes its name from was filmed, Dog Day Afternoon is the brainchild of restauranteurs Jay Kerr and Joe Boyle, a Chicagoland native, and the Vienna Beef umbrella out front serves as an immediate signal to those in the know that it’s the real deal. (For a Chicago dog to truly uh, cut the mustard, it has to be made with a Vienna Beef hot dog, notorious for the extra snap its natural casing provides, but Vienna Beef can be a little hard to hard to find outside of Illinois; I’m not sure how Dog Day Afternoon managed to find an East Coast distributor, but I’m thrilled that they did.)
Dog Day Afternoon offers four different dogs — a classic Chicago dog ($6), a Maxwell Street Polish (another traditional Chicago delicacy, consisting of a kielbasa topped with mustard, grilled onions and sport peppers), a chili dog ($7), and a vegan dog ($8) that’s essentially a meatless version of the Chicago dog, similarly “dragged through the garden” (i.e. topped with all the traditional Chicago-style toppings). We sampled them all, and none of them disappoint. The Chicago dog is delicious and extremely authentic. (My only complaint is a very, very minor one: I could have used a little more celery salt, but that’s just a matter of personal preference. Overall, it’s pretty spot-on, and I can’t wait to go back and eat many more.) The Polish ($9) is also excellent, and the chili that tops the chili dog is surprisingly great.
The vegan dog itself definitely tastes vegan, but if you’re a person who doesn’t eat meat, it’s still leagues above your run-of-the-mill veggie dog. Chicago cuisine traditionally does not have a whole lot of options for vegans or vegetarians, so it’s great that they now have an opportunity to experience a traditional Chicago-style hot dog (minus the meat, of course) here.
Ultimately, that’s what Dog Day Afternoon is all about — a way for New Yorkers (and whoever else happens to be passing through) to experience some authentic Chicago cuisine, perhaps for the very first time. There’s no judgement here; when a woman ahead of me in line asked if she could get ketchup on her Chicago dog, it took all my inner strength not to yell “NO!” and smack it out of her hand, but she wasn’t mocked or turned away. And while the restaurant obviously celebrates all things Windy City, it also honors its Brooklyn roots, prominently displaying a framed photo from Dog Day Afternoon so customers can see what the very street they’re standing on looked like when Al Pacino famously paced across it as Sonny Wortzik, screaming “Attica!” A still of iconic Brooklynite Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing hangs on the Wall of Fame just inches away from a photo of Bill Murray, perhaps Chicago’s most beloved native son, in Ghostbusters.
The storefront is relatively small, and there’s not much in the way of seating, but there is an old arcade-style Ms. Pac-Man game inside as well as a rack of used records for sale. There’s also a foosball table on the sidewalk outside that customers are welcome to use and benches where you can post up and chow down. This is a neighborhood spot, and even if you’re not interested in talking all things hot dog for whatever reason, it’s easy to see how you could linger, flipping through records, eating dots and avoiding ghosts as Pac-Man or challenging a friend to some foos’.
No matter how you take your hot dog — the right way, or some other non-Chicago-style way — you’ll find something to enjoy at Dog Day Afternoon. Newbies are welcome and accommodated, and purists will be impressed by the quality and authenticity. It seems primed to become a fixture of the neighborhood, spreading the gospel of the Chicago-style hot dog while paying homage to the cinematic history of the area it has made its home. We’re certainly rooting for it.
Now if only we can get a decent Italian beef spot.
Dog Day Afternoon is located in Brooklyn at 266 Prospect Park West, in between Prospect Ave. and 17th Street. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
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