In Microtones, our newsletter-first column. (Photo via wiener shop on Instagram.)
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MICROTONES by Chris Lay, contributor
Given the one-two punch of spring’s arrival and the opening of that fancy new Portillo’s on Madison’s far East Side, I’ve got hot dogs on the mind. Specifically? Chicago-style dogs.
Tone Madison‘s Scott Gordon and John McCracken already went back and forth on the merits of the fare at Portillo’s, so I’ll leave that as it is. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve been there once so far and had an Italian beef sandwich (“dry,” with cheese and sweet peppers) that was fine and dandy.
Chicago-style hot dogs, like the ones served at Portillo’s (or anywhere else for that matter) are highly problematic, so far as I can see. Not in any sense of traditional purity or regionality, mind you. Nor do I take issue with the customary “dragged through the garden” assortment of brightly acidic veggies. My issues are entirely with the design flaws related to that damn pickle and the peppers. Wild to think that a city that’s home to so many architectural wonders is also so well-known for such a poorly constructed foodstuff. Take one bite and your dill spear tips skyward like a sinking ship whose bow ran aground, perhaps on a yard gnome, mid-garden-dragging. And those sport peppers? You’re generally only gonna get two (three if you’re lucky), which makes spacing them out between each bite a tall order.
The only place that ever did it right, in my book, was Madison’s dearly departed wiener shop (lower-case affectation theirs). Here’s where I make the full disclosure that I have been pals with the erstwhile wiener shop owner Rex Arthur since long before he hung a shingle in front of 447 W. Gilman St., but I’d stan this joint regardless.
The wiener shop’s Chicago-Style Dog kept the requisite mustard, onions, and relish, but swapped the tomato segments along the bun with a slather of chutney, and filling their former spot along the bun-line were dill chips, which took care of that bothersome broad green beam running across the top of traditional Chicago-style dogs. Instead of whole sport peppers, you had a handful of coarsely diced chunks, which were way easier to mete out evenly across each bite.
While it was open, the wiener shop had a solid base of regular dogs, but Arthur and company’s absolutely bonkers specials were where it was at. An early example: “The Windy City Disaster,” a bacon-wrapped jumbo dog with cheese sauce, sliced giardiniera, and caramel corn. The “Silence of the Dogs” special incorporated Usinger liverwurst pate, fava bean succotash, and a Chianti reduction. For the fourth of July you could order up a “Bottle Rocket” dog topped with bacon, raspberry-sriracha jam, cream cheese, fresh blueberries, and Blue Razz Pop Rocks. My personal favorite, though, was the Twinkie Wiener Sandwich, recreated from the movie UHF (wiener, Twinkie bun, EZ cheese, milk), which was available on one day only: Weird Al’s birthday. And, to borrow a line from The Capital Times‘ Rob Thomas, yeah, I ate that.
Sadly, like seemingly every hot-dog-focused restaurant in Madison, wiener shop was not meant to last. It closed up shop towards the end of 2016. wiener shop’s archive of off-the-wall cased-meat creations lives on, though, on Instagram, if you’re needing any inspiration for ways to make the coming cookout season memorable.
New this week:
Katie Hutchinson visits the Backspace, a new gallery in UW-Madison’s Art Lofts building.
On a podcast short, Grant Phipps gives us some points of entry for Mary Timony’s complex discography.
Our Wisconsin Film Festival preview coverage wrapped up with a deeper look at three of the best features in the lineup.
Omar-S and Umfang will be among the highlights at this July’s Musique Electronique festival.
Join Tone Madison and the Digital Warmth podcast on May 30 for a live podcast recording at the Corral Room.
Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Madison stand-ups visit the WORT Access Hour. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel‘s Piet Levy takes a broader look at the concert business across Wisconsin. Cheap Trick will play a June 13 show at the Sylvee. Madison Magazine assesses the state of vegetarian dining in Madison. “Glare analysis” is a thing we need now, apparently
This week’s Madison calendar: William Basinski plays a free show at the Memorial Union. Angela Davis speaks at the Union Theater. Sunwatchers play at Mickey’s Tavern. Print & Resist returns to the Central Library. And more.