To celebrate July’s 50th anniversary of National Hot Dog Month, we rounded up some tasty area dogs. Whether you like ‘em plain, seeping with chili or Chicago-style, you can find your favorite frank in Peoria.

We also discovered the difference between a Coney dog and a chili dog. Some believe Coney dogs have “a special type of sauce (different from chili sauce), chopped onions and relish and no mustard,” while others claim the real difference is whether beans are in the chili sauce.

Terri Kalish of Nathan’s Famous Corporation—which has been in the hot dog business since 1916 and sponsors the famous July 4th International Hot Dog Eating Contest—told us, “Although the distinction may be somewhat ambiguous, a chili dog and a Coney dog have a slightly different definition from a regional standpoint. We believe that a chili dog is primarily a hot dog with chili or chili sauce on top of the hot dog. The chili or chili sauce may contain meat and/or beans. We think a Coney dog, in most parts of the country, is thought to be a hot dog with a chili sauce and onions on top of the hot dog. The chili may contain meat.” So there you have it!

1 Mr. G’s Chicago Style

Save a trip to the Windy City by stopping into Mr. G’s Chicago Style, located at 601 W. Main. Their all-beef Chicago dogs come with all the toppings—sport peppers, yellow mustard, chopped onions, a pickle spear and even the signature electric-green relish—in a poppyseed bun. During the Great Depression, Chicago street vendors invented these dogs “with the salad on top” and sold them for a nickel. Mr. G’s has been selling them since 1991, when Jody Smith opened the business. Enjoy a Chicago-style red hot with an order of famous fries on Mr. G’s patio.

2 Velvet Freeze

With four locations—in Campustown, Peoria Heights, East Peoria’s Fondulac Plaza and now The Shoppes at Grand Prairie—you can pick up a bag of Wonderdogs anytime, to share or keep all to yourself. The “wonder” is how they manage to squeeze all the meat and onion on the dog. The “sauce” is more of a hearty meat topping than a chili sauce and will quiet down your appetite in a hurry. A plus on the topping—after one day in the fridge, the bun was still soft and springy, not soggy.

3 Lou’s Drive-In

Just being able to patronize one of the original, authentic drive-ins is a treat in itself. Whether you eat in your car or head to the patio, plan on purchasing one of Lou’s Coney dogs. Their version of a Coney dog is a jumbo pork and beef frank topped with a thick chili sauce and chopped onion. But feel free to improvise on toppings; in fact, they encourage it.

4 O’Brien Field

While hot dogs thrive in almost every market—Americans spent approximately $3.9 billion on hot dogs and sausages at supermarkets in 2006—no one benefits from the delicious franks quite like the ballpark. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans will eat enough hot dogs at major league ballparks this year to stretch from R.F.K. Stadium in Washington, D.C., to San Francisco’s AT&T Park. A trip to see the Chiefs play just won’t seem complete without at least one tasty dog piled high with chunks of onions, diced relish, ketchup and mustard. And one might be all you need, considering each one is a foot long!

Man Bites Dog

When Chicago native Doug Sohn first debated opening a Chicago restaurant almost 10 years ago, he never dreamed he would eventually be serving more than 600 customers on a given Saturday. He also never thought he’d be selling gourmet hot dogs and sausages.

“Genuinely, I don’t think about the next 10 years—I make sure I have enough hot dogs and buns for the next year,” Sohn said with a chuckle, adding that franchising doesn’t interest him. “I love doing this. I didn’t go into this thinking, here’s a million dollar idea. I was just hoping to stay open for six months. My goal was to create (Hot Doug’s) and make a living and I’m doing that.”

Emo’s

On Thursday, April 5th, Emo’s Dairy Mart, located on the corner of Prospect and War Memorial Drive, celebrated its spring opening by hosting the 18th annual “Coney Dogs for Breakfast” event, with proceeds benefiting the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. Customers began lining up at 5 a.m. in freezing temperatures to enjoy Emo’s delicious Coney dogs—topped with onions, chili and mustard—at half price. So popular, they had to limit the dogs to 10 per customer! The event raised approximately $2,700 for the foundation.

Hot Doug’s, the self-proclaimed “Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium,” offers up some unusual and tasty sausage combinations. Each week features a type of game sausage—merlot and blueberry venison sausage with prickly pear cactus mayonnaise and goat cheese, anyone?—and other daily specials like roasted artichoke chicken sausage with creamy horseradish sauce, crispy fried onions and smoked gouda cheese. Adventurous eaters can sample imported antelope, kangaroo, alligator, rattlesnake and wild boar when they rustle their way onto the menu for a week. The condiments—made in house—are also uniquely flavored, from blue cheese dijonnaise to green apple cream sauce.

What Hot Doug’s takes seriously is top-notch, Vienna beef Chicago-style hot dogs with all the fixin’s. Add ketchup and you won’t get a dirty look from Sohn. “The big Chicago thing is that you can’t put ketchup on [a hot dog]. I don’t care, but I’m definitely in the minority who think that,” Sohn said.

The former cookbook editor— he also attended Kendall College, a top-rated culinary arts school—started his now 43-seat restaurant seven years ago after two years of touring more than 45 area hot dog establishments with friends. “We started grading the places and writing little reviews. They got more involved and more ridiculous,” Sohn said with a laugh. “Most places got a B- or a C+. Then ideas started forming. It got to the point (when I said) ‘well I suppose I could have a place.’”

What Sohn found in his research is that vendors were straying from high-quality, Chicago-style hot dogs in favor of surefire money makers like chicken sandwiches and pizza puffs. With a burning love for sausage and some creative flair, Hot Doug’s was born. “When a hot dog is done well, it really is a great-tasting item,” Sohn said. Hot Doug’s is located in Chicago at 332 4 North California and is open Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Tasty Tip: The weekly game specials tend to get gobbled up quickly so go early in the week to guarantee you’ll get some. Also try the Duck Fat Fries, only offered on Fridays and Saturdays— potatoes cooked in rendered duck fat which makes for a richer and sweeter taste. a&s