The Hot Dog Box, the ambitious business that’s made a noteworthy splash in Chicago’s competitive gourmet hot dog scene, has at last opened its first stand-alone location. Helmed by charismatic self-proclaimed “sausage king” Bobby Morelli, it’s grown from a Bronzeville shipping container to a full-fledged restaurant at 4020 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Portage Park.
At about 2,000 square feet, the restaurant seats 30 in a space meant to evoke a festive year-round picnic — a riff on a scene from 1993 drama Poetic Justice — with ketchup red and mustard yellow furniture, an enormous wall mural of the Chicago skyline, and a replica of the original fire engine-colored stand in the Boxville marketplace where Morelli’s company began in August 2020. An oversize game of Connect Four (a staple at the Bronzeville location) also appears in the new restaurant. “I really want the space to feel like a sunny afternoon backyard gathering, like a big family group with cousins from all over,” Morelli told Eater in early January.
The Hot Dog Box has earned a loyal following with a menu of filet mignon hot dogs, smoked salmon dogs, and vegan dogs, all piled high with creative topping combinations. Hits have included Morelli’s signature Bronzeville bourbon dog (bacon crumbles, bourbon barbecue sauce, sport peppers). In tribute to the restaurant’s new neighborhood, the team has added a Portage House dog: a sausage tucked inside a pretzel bun and topped with root beer steak sauce, sautéed onions, and mushrooms.
A recording artist who joined the hospitality industry during the pandemic, Morelli has also courted fans on social media — often flanked by 10-year-old daughter and sometime assistant Brooklyn. Their family-friendly videos and posts, combined with a flurry of media coverage of the Black-owned business, have charmed fans, who form long lines outside the South Side stand. Over the summer, staff on occasion had to close early because demand was so high that they sold out entirely.
Morelli hopes to channel that momentum into the Hot Dog Box’s new home — and eventually, even beyond the Chicago market, he tells the Tribune. In the meantime, he’s ironing out operations in Portage Park and concocting plans for a neighborhood party in the summer, when the city’s hot dog season kicks off in earnest.
Those balmy days are still far off, but for now, explore the new restaurant in the photographs below.
The Hot Dog Box, 4020 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.