At long last, Chicago’s South Side gourmet sausage sensation the Hot Dog Box is ready to unveil its hotly anticipated stand-alone location on the North Side. The original is a 400-square-foot shipping container in Bronzeville’s Boxville marketplace, but the new space, slated to open Saturday, January 15 at 4020 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Portage Park, will feature a 30-seat dining room.
The Hot Dog Box debuted in August 2020, but a Reader story the following spring renewed a surge of interest in the exciting addition to the city’s gourmet hot dog scene — evoking the vibes of the Hot Doug’s, the dearly departed sausage superstore that closed in 2014.
While owner Bobby Morelli remains mysterious on where he sources his encased meats, Hot Dog Box serves some unique sauces including hot dogs made from filet mignon and salmon, smothered with shrimp, blue cheese, and other creative toppings Morelli and his now-10-year-old daughter Brooklyn have since cultivated a passionate following at the box and on social media with playful posts celebrating their familial bond. In May 2021, Morelli announced he was opening a permanent location in Portage Park. The Bronzeville box is temporarily closed until spring.
The path to opening the new location has been longer and more challenging than Morelli, a recording artist and relative newcomer to the hospitality industry, initially anticipated. Despite nine difficult months of hiring and firing contractors and navigating regulatory processes, Morelli says the extended timeline was an opportunity in disguise.
“All in all, it’s a good thing that it has taken me so long to get here because I’ve learned so much in the process,” he says. “And, had I launched earlier in the year, my menu wouldn’t have the new, exciting things we’re bringing now.”
Morelli is holding the details of that menu close to his chest for the time being, but promises that patrons can expect to see hits from the Boxville menu like the signature Bronzeville bourbon dog — a filet mignon hot dog piled high with smokey bacon crumbles, bourbon barbecue sauce, and sport peppers — alongside new entries like a Portage House dog. He also may introduce a selection of booze-free cocktails to lend the stand a celebratory atmosphere while remaining family-friendly.
The restaurant will seat 30 in a space that draws on the branding fans have come to know well: a ketchup red and mustard yellow color palette, green AstroTurf, picnic tables, and an oversize game of Connect Four. “I really want the space to feel like a sunny afternoon backyard gathering, like a big family group with cousins from all over,” Morelli says. He was inspired by the picnic scene in Poetic Justice, the 1993 film starring Janet Jackson and the late Tupac Shakur.
After the long wait, Morelli is eager to start slinging dogs but acknowledges that summer is Chicago’s primary hot dog season. When warm weather arrives, he hopes to hold a special celebration to build relationships with the community. “As people gravitate toward Brooklyn and I, everyone becomes extended family,” he says. “That’s the experience I’d like to give in the new space.”
Block Club Chicago first reported the restaurant’s opening date.
The Hot Dog Box, 4020 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Scheduled to open January 15.