It's long been argued that Chicago has the best hot dogs in the country—and now Rachael Ray has put her stamp of approval on it to make the claim official. In the March issue of Every Day With Rachael Ray, the perky budget-focused chef, along with three judges from Serious Eats, named River Grove's Gene & Jude's the No. 1 hot dog in the U.S.
The classic spot beat out 64 other American places known for hot dogs, including Chicago's Hot Doug's, which we all know is pretty damn good.
The hot dog stand, founded by Gene Mormino and Jude DeSantis first in 1946 and again in 1950 after Mormino gambled away their first business, doesn't mess around when it comes to their dogs, which only comprise five toppings: mustard, sport peppers, relish (and not the over-powering neon green kind), onions and French fries. Yup, fries. Gene & Jude's puts its fresh-cut, fresh-made crispy fries right on top of the hot dog. Gene started doing that more than 60 years ago and they haven't changed a thing since. And no, you won't find any ketchup at the standing-room-only joint. Not for the fries and certainly not for the hot dog.
We caught up with Gene & Jude's general manager, Dan Ciancio, to chat about their reaction to winning, possibly expanding around the suburbs and whether they'd ever put ketchup on a hot dog.
Eater Chicago: So how does it feel to be named the best hot dog in America?
Dan Ciancio: It's wonderful. We're known locally, but it's great to be recognized on a national level.
EChi: What made yours stand out?
DC: The way we do things is different. We use fresh fries and cook them right in front of the customers. We have a potato cutter in front of the customers and there's no wall between us and them. Gene, in the '40s, wanted to do something different. He decided to put the fries right on the hot dog and wrap them together. We're known for that. He just knew he wanted to do something different
EChi: What are you going to do to deal with the crowds?
DC: Right now we're probably one of the highest volume places in the area. Any given time—like on Saturday from open to close—there's anywhere from 20 to 25 people in line, sometimes up to 50 people. They're waiting [on average] for 11 to 14 minutes. We try to be very efficient and fast. Even though there's a long line, it's fast food, but made fresh.
EChi: So you're already crazy busy, eh?
DC: I'm sure with advertising we'll see more people. A lot of people locally have heard of us. Last week, Jim Belushi came in to get a hot dog. We get a lot of people who stop in right away after getting in from the airport.
EChi: Do you ever think of expanding or opening another spot?
DC: I know [owner Joe Mormino] would like to open more in other suburbs to service more people. We get people driving in from Crystal Lake and Cary who drive down like once a week. [Joe would] like to open in Schaumburg or Downers Grove. We also get orders for the second half of weddings, like a couple of hundred hot dogs. It's just word of mouth. We did probably close to 100 to 150 weddings [last year].
EChi: What do you say to people who ask for ketchup on a hot dog?
DC: Most people know we don't have ketchup and occasionally you'll have a newcomer and other customers will tease or heckle them.
EChi: Would you ever put ketchup on a hot dog?