Monday, December 16, 2013

The Cassoulet Hot: Death by hot dog

Posted By on 12.16.13 at 01:44 PM

It looks so harmless. . .
Before I ordered the Cassoulet Hot at Hoppin' Hots, the upscale hot dog joint in the Andersonville storefront formerly occupied by Great Lake pizza, I had never paid $8 for a hot dog outside of a sports arena. I had never realized that duck confit and sous vide deep-fried pork belly were ingredients that could go on hot dogs. I had never had anyone at a hot dog joint inquire sincerely and politely how I was enjoying my meal. And I had never been so physically overwhelmed by the simple act of digesting a hot dog that I had to go lie down. Life is full of wonderful new experiences.

Despite its ridiculous name, I really wanted to like Hoppin' Hots. The appearance of the Sonoran dog in this part of the world had shown that there's a whole slew of things that might taste good on a hot dog, like bacon or beans or even fried eggs. After all, we dress up burgers. Why not hot dogs? Why not with gourmet ingredients? And the people behind the counter were so cheerful and friendly and enthusiastic about their hot dogs.

"Try the cassoulet!" the woman urged me. "It's a special, so it won't be coming back around for a while."

And, I admit, I've long been a bit fascinated by cassoulet, although I never considered it a possible inspiration for a hot dog. That is why I don't have my own gourmet hot dog joint. But if you consider that cassoulet does traditionally include sausage, the Cassoulet Hot isn't an entirely far-fetched idea. (Mark Bittman has called cassoulet "a glorified version of franks 'n' beans," though I'm sure actual French people would sneer at that description.)

Now here's the part where I admit I need to take some responsibility for what happened later. Along with the Cassoulet Hot, I felt it was my duty to taste other items on the menu. I took bites of the Hometown Hot (basic Chicago dog, on a veggie dog) and Modern Chicago Hot (tomato jam, deep-fried pickle spear, jalapeño mustard, and house-pickled celery, with the duck dog). I ate some fries. I drank an excellent milk shake (salted caramel, with little bits of caramel). I sampled the very good deep-fried pickle spears, which come in a nice tempura-like shell. I was also really hungry.

I chose the beef hot dog for the base of my Cassoulet Hot. It was just OK, not especially snappy, and its flavor didn't compare to a plain old Vienna. The veggie had a mushy interior with a really weird metallic aftertaste. In retrospect, I should have chosen duck, which was the best of the bunch, rich and meaty.

The Cassoulet Hot comes topped with stewed cannellini beans, thyme aioli, fresh thyme, duck confit, and deep-fried pork belly. Please don't ask me why I thought it was a good idea to eat a hot dog covered with two other foods that consist mostly of fat. It sounded good at the time. But both the pork belly and the confit were dried out and tasteless, a strange combination of crispy and leathery. The beans were also dry.

It was hard to eat the Cassoulet Hot. It's really awkward to say that your mouth doesn't open wide enough to get around a sausage, but in this case, it was true. I think a lot of customers must have this problem, because the nice woman behind the counter thoughtfully gave me a fork.

Overall, the Cassoulet Hot was not a very satisfying experience. Even worse, though, was the feeling I had after I stood up. Suddenly the Cassoulet Hot weighed about 15 pounds, and it settled right in the bottom of my stomach. The woman behind the counter asked how I'd enjoyed my meal. "It was great!" I lied.

The undigested Cassoulet Hot got even heavier on the bus ride home. I staggered the four blocks to my apartment. I thought maybe a brisk walk with the dog might help, but I just couldn't do it. Instead I sat inert on the couch waiting for it to digest. I thought about the Romans and their lovely habit of postprandial vomiting. Digesting and idle thinking together required so much energy, I had to go lie down and take a nap.

On the bright side, I finished eating the Cassoulet Hot at 3 PM and didn't have to eat again until breakfast the next morning. Hoppin' Hots are the dogs that keep on giving.

Hoppin' Hots, 1477 W. Balmoral, 773-989-4687, hoppinhots.com

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