by Michael Hadley
Living in the Chicago suburbs for six years, sausages became a huge part of my diet. From hotdogs to Polish sausage, brats to kielbasa, there was always something new to try. You may think that these things shouldn't be special in one region of the country. After all, sausages can be shipped easily, stored easily, and cooked easily. But there's just something about Chicago sausage that is different. From the buns to the meat, the Windy City does it better than anyone else in America. Even on the four-hour trip south to Indianapolis, one sees the quality of the meal fall off drastically. That is, unless you find yourself at one of the two (and possibly soon three) DJ's Hotdogs locations.
DJ's Hotdogs, Greenwood Park Mall and Lockfield Commons (10th & Indiana)
I first tried DJ's Hotdogs while working in the Greenwood Park Mall. Curious to see if Chicago-style hotdogs could work in Indianapolis, I approached the innocuous location with caution. Every time I had tried a "Chicago Dog" outside of the Chicago area, they had done something terrible, like add ketchup. But DJ's seemed different. Dave, the owner, told me right off the bat the most important piece of information of all: Everything came from Chi-town. In his northeast Illinois accent, he detailed how each of these one-of-a-kind ingredients came directly from bakeries, butchers, and wholesalers that knew exactly how it was supposed to be done.
Well then. I just had to try a Chicago Dog. What's on it, you ask? An all-beef hotdog (steamed or simmered) in a poppyseed bun, loaded with yellow mustard, white onion, cucumber, sweet relish (of the neon-green variety), tomato, sport peppers, a pickle spear, and a dash of celery salt. DJ's version was as perfect as you'll find anywhere in the Second City. But that's not all DJ's does. They have their own city-inspired hotdogs, ranging from the Indy Dog (ketchup, mustard, relish, tomato) to the Jersey City Dog (BBQ sauce, bacon bits, shredded cheese) to the Kansas City Dog (Sauerkraut and Swiss cheese). My personal favorite is a corn dog (all natural, in-house-made batter) around a jumbo dog, Atlanta style - chili, cheese, and onion.
Don't think you'll like any of those combos? That's okay! DJ's has a "build your own" option like any good frankfurter vendor! Choose from 12 common, free toppings, or go adventurous with eight less common additions for just $.50 extra. All of this starts on a $2.79 original or $3.79 jumbo dog, laying in a poppyseed, plain, or pretzel bun.
Chicago is also known for their Italian Beef Sandwich, the midwest's answer to a Philly Cheesesteak. Prime shaved beef is marinated in Italian seasonings, loaded onto an French-style bread. Folks, this is the only Italian Beef I'll eat outside of Chicago. I personally prefer mine with sweet peppers, onions, Giardinera (a mixture of veggies and hot peppers that is soaked in olive oil until the whole thing just makes your mouth water), and dipped in their au jus. Some like it wet (the meat soaked in au jus but not the bun) or dry (no au jus), but however you get it, you'll enjoy every bite.
Specific to the 10th & Indiana location is DJ's take on a burger. This is your choice of "fresh, never frozen" Angus beef ground into 1/3- or 2/3-pound patties, topped with any of the ingredients on DJ's extensive menu, but this time including bacon. On the side of any meal there are fries, potato salad, or cole slaw for your pallet to savor.
I know it seems like I give a lot of glowing recommendations, but this is one you cannot miss. DJ's does a truly difficult thing in a very simple way: Showcase Chicago's finest ingredients in an incredibly affordable way. (Did I mention students who use their JagTag get a cup that is good for free refills for the rest of the year? Or that frequent-buyers can use a punch card to get a free meal?) The staff is extremely friendly - and mostly related - and will make you feel welcome every time. Sit and enjoy for as long as you want, or grab a meal to go.
Just steps away from IUPUI's campus (or easily accessed while shopping in the Greenwood Park Mall), DJ's is a must try. I dare you to not be hooked the first time you take a bite.
Food: A+ -- I've never had a bad bite, and I've eaten well over 100 meals from DJ's.
Atmosphere: A -- Sometimes it's a bit hard to find a seat, but you can't really fault a location for being so good that they're literally overflowing with customers.
Staff: A -- Dave and co. are some of the kindest people I've ever come across in the food industry.
Overall: A -- I'm hard-pressed to find a better value-to-quality restaurant in the city.