DAY 2: SATURDAY, JUNE 8 - MILWAUKEE, WITH A DAB OF CHICAGO
My original goals were clear: have a hot dog, slice of pie, and a baseball game in each city on each day. But I'm forced to bend slightly in the name of amazing hot dogs. Although we were spending most our time Saturday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we stopped in Chicago on our way -- and for good reason.
Hot Doug's, located in the Avondale neighborhood, is the stuff of foodie legend. Featured in virtually every food TV show and publication you can name, it combines old standards (Chicago-style hot dogs, Andouille sausage, etc.) with gourmet ingredients (foie gras, anyone?) and some exotic meat choices. Don't be surprised to see venison, alligator, or even buffalo on the menu. It's clearly the stuff that hot dog dreams are made of. And it's not open on Sunday, when I've scheduled our other Chicagoland activities.
No matter. We pop in early Saturday, shortly after the restaurant opens at 10 am. There's already a line around the block, but the wait is welcome; I'm stuck between at least six menu choices, and cannot make up my mind. By the time we finally approach owner Doug Sohn behind the counter, I have my order ready: a chicken Cordon Bleu dog (chicken sausage, asiago cheese, and fried prosciutto) and a Luganega sausage topped with garlic pesto aioli, slow roasted tomato slices, and a generous heaping of burrata cheese. Merritt orders up a portabella mushroom and Swiss cheese pork sausage that's topped with smoke blue cheese and sage mustard, along with a red wine and demi glace venison sausage buried beneath Mufaletta mustard, Pate de Campagne, and goat cheese.
Oh, and an order of French fries cooked in duck fat, for good measure.
If that sounds overwhelming, imagine trying to eat it all. Two bites into the Cordon Bleu dog, and two things are apparent: Doug's team doesn't skimp on the toppings, and they also don't skimp on the tubular meat -- the dogs are large and dense. By the time I've finished the cordon bleu, I'm stuffed. I'm only able to get through about half the Luganega before waving the white flag. I'm done eating for the time being, but the Cruze is finally feeling a little thirsty. Its first fill-up comes after 530 miles on the road, and we need to put only 12.9 gallons in the 15.6-gallon tank. Despite averaging about 80 mph on the freeways, we're getting 40.9 mpg thus far. That's pretty impressive.
My stomach is starting to quiet down by the time we reached Milwaukee, and after we spend a few hours roaming around the city and photographing the Cruze, it's even starting to feel a bit hungry. We head to the city's Bay View district, located south of the downtown area, and stop by the Honey Pie Cafe. In addition to lunch and dinner entrees, the joint serves up a wide variety of fresh desserts, but true to its name, there are always a handful of pies to choose from. I order a slice of apple walnut and Merritt picks out a slice of millionaire's pie. While our server runs to the kitchen, we observe others eating what appear to be giant-sized dinner portions, and cast each other worried glances. Sure enough, our pie slices are incredibly large. My slice looks much like a crumb top pie, but has flakes and chunks of walnut mixed in with the sugars and spices. The apples are tarter than the saccharine-sweet pie I had at Schmucker's the day before, but it's a refreshing change; it also pairs well with the walnuts' flavor.
We make our way to Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, with a couple hours to spare, fearing we'd be twiddling our thumbs until the game began. We shouldn't have worried. As soon as we pull into the parking lot, it's as if we somehow teleported to Green Bay. Tailgating, it seems, isn't just a football tradition; in Milwaukee, it's also tied to MLB games, and is a social event in its own right. The parking lot is flooded with people grilling hot dogs (what else?) and brats, downing a brewski (or six), playing cornhole, and having a grand time, possibly unaware there's a baseball game taking place across the lot.
But there is. As tonight's game pays tribute to Hispanics in Major League Baseball, the team's jerseys replace the Brewers script with "Cerverceros." Clever. The Brewers -- I mean Cerverceros -- allow the Phillies to take a one run lead in the top of the second before tying the game later that inning. After loading the bases in the bottom of the sixth, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez score, then a single from Braun in the seventh allows Jean Segura to reach home plate. The Phillies threaten again with two runs in the eighth, but Francisco Rodriguez replaces Brandon Kintzler on the mound and walks away with the save. Cerverceros barely win, 4-3.
We don't leave the park until well after 10:30, by which time we're munchy enough to seek out a late-night hot dog. Luckily, The Dogg Haus, tucked in the city's lower east side, is just the ticket. Conveniently located near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a slew of vibrant watering holes, the Haus likely makes its keep catering to non-sober clientele, but that doesn't mean we need to be sloshed to enjoy their fare. All dogs on the menu start with a Vienna Beef frank and get creative from there. Merritt's Wisconsin dog is buried beneath three types of cheese, while my Rome dog hides the frank beneath a pile of seasoned Italian beef and thermonuclear giardiniera. Even completely sober, the food hits the spot, and we call it a night shortly thereafter.