Doug’s Cased Meats Emporium

Sausage is a religion in Chicago. And Hot Doug’s is the high altar where locals come to pray from 10:30am to 4pm daily in a steady stream of devotion.

We all stand quietly, penitently in a growing line that snakes down the block outside the small suburban diner. Slowly, the line moves forward a person at a time toward the counter, until you’re finally rewarded with a puff of warm air perfumed by duck fat and frying meat. Hallelujah, baby.

This is the real Chicago–far from touristy Michigan Avenue (where Hard Rock Cafes and Rock ‘n Roll McDonalds pack-em in) and the trendy linen-topped tables where pseudo-California cuisine abounds. I’m at Hot Doug’s Sausage Superstore and Cased Meat Emporium freezing my ass off, and just about as excited as a four-year-old.

Why? Duck fat. My heart is racing (and probably anticipating severe cardiac distress) at the thought of a crispy sausage and French fries cooked in pure duck fat. This is the kind of meal so horrifyingly bad for you that you can’t help but savor every crispy bite.

But that’s just the start. Here at Doug’s, the menu runs from straight up corn dogs to spicy sausage, along with the special ‘Game’ menu that today features ostrich sausage swimming in a bath of Crème de Cassis and tart cherries, all topped with sharp cheddar cheese. I love the Midwest.

Duck fat fries and an ostrich dog, (including a drink): $11. Feeling like you just found a lard-filled nirvana: Priceless.

Hot Doug’s Encased Meat Emporium, 3324 North California, Chicago, 773.279.9550

Next up: Post-modern cuisine at Moto and Alinea.