The best hot dog I ever had happened at Hot Doug’s

Family matters took me to Chicago and northwestern Indiana this week (more on that later).

Even though my traveling roadshow of social media was keeping me busy (all a dude needs is a camera, a laptop, and wifi), I did manage to take time out to make it to Hot Doug’s, the much hyped and highly touted “encased meats emporium” on the north side of the Windy City.

Everything you’ve read about this place is true: at Wednesday lunch time, with light snow falling and temperatures below 20° F. (no kidding), there was a line around the block. As a devoted lover of encased meats in general, I’d been wanting to get out to Hot Doug’s for sometime and my moment of truth had arrived. I’m here to tell you: it was worth the 20 minute wait I spent in the cold for that dog (I arrived around 11:45 a.m. and by the time I left the wait had increased to probably 45 minutes).

Hot Doug’s is probably most famous for having topped wieners with foie gras. (And owner Doug Sohn, below, gained notoriety when he was among the first to challenge Chicago’s ban, later repealed, on foie gras.) Being a traditionalist in Nebbiolo and hotodoggery, I went with the classic Chicago dog and a Polish sausage (with sauer kraut and mustard), plus cheese fries and a coke (my bill was less than $8 and, btw, when I ordered a large soda, Doug — who waits on everyone — pointed out that refills are free and recommended that I get a small, thus saving me about a dollar).

Hot Doug’s simply does it right. Dogs can be charbroiled, steamed, deep-fried, or fried and grilled, and the classic toppings applied on the Chicago-style dog are impeccably and impeachably aligned with the North American hot dog canon: “Mustard (yellow, spicy brown, honey or Dijon), Caramelized Onions, Relish, Tomatoes, Pickle [wedge not slice], Celery Salt [the sine qua non IMHO].”

I also really dug the Ramones-heavy mix that was playing the day I was there. Forget all the hype and all the paraphernalia (however fun) that surround Doug Sohn’s “emporium”: I highly recommend this joint.

Stay tuned for my harrowing escape from clutches of insipidness in the culinary wasteland of Bruce Springsteen’s America, on deck for tomorrow.

I have seen Franciacorta future and its name is…

…Giovanni Arcari.

Above: Giovanni Arcari, the Bruce Springsteen of Italian sparkling wine. This man is crazy and I thank goodness for him.

We first met in September of 2008, when he, Franco, and I visited Ca’ del Bosco together, where we tasted 1979 Franciacorta by Ca’ del Bosco (owner of Ca’ del Bosco, Maurizio Zanella, was just elected president of the Franciacorta consortium, btw).

We connected again at Vinitaly, where we got thrown out of the fair for hanging around his booth after hours, drinking Franciacorta and eating salame.

Above: In March, Giovanni led a tasting of artisanal “grower-producer” Franciacorta bottlings at Ceri Smith’s excellent wine shop in San Francisco, Biondivino.

The last time I saw him, he still hadn’t launched his new blog, Terra, Uomo, Cielo (Earth, Man, Sky), “a small man, on a small plot of land, under a small sky.” The blog is now live and so I felt it time to share my vision of the future with you: Giovanni has spearheaded an innovative winemaking program and agenda in Franciacorta, consulting with grape-growers who previously sold their fruit to the large commercial producers of Franciacorta. In doing so, he has helped to create a new genre of grower-producers who make excellent hand-crafted, artisanal expressions of Franciacorta.

Above: Ceri Smith (left) with Giovanni at their March tasting in San Francisco. One of the things I like the most about Giovanni is that he doesn’t just help the growers to make great wines. He also helps them to market the wines. There’s no point in writing a song that no one will ever hear and while there are plenty of reasons to make wines that will never make their way to the market, Giovanni’s wines are too good not to share with the world.

That day in Verona, we tasted a number of bottlings by Andrea Arici’s Colline della Stella and the Dario and Claudio Camossi’s Camossi di Camossi, each tasting better than the last. When sampling these terroir-driven wines, you cannot help but be impressed by their freshness and their structure. The secret, Giovanni will tell you, lies in when the wine is disgorged.

Chapeau bas, Giovanni!

The wines are not currently available in the U.S. but you can find them at Vittorio Fusari’s excellent restaurant and food and wine shop, Dispensa Pani e Vini in Torbiato di Adro in the province of Brescia (Lombardy). Even if you don’t read Italian, check out the photos is this review of legendary chef Vittorio’s new enterprise.