One Man’s Quest for the Best Hot Dogs in Chicago 

By Kristin Boza 

Once again, local author Dennis Foley has expertly combined his love of Chicago and food to deliver a book full of “snap.” In “No Ketchup: Chicago’s Top 50 Hot Dogs and the Stories Behind Them,” Foley created a hot dog bible meant to live in the glove box so travelers are never more than 15 minutes away from a superior hot dog.  

Foley is a lifelong Chicagoan who found success and joy in careers ranging from bouncer to attorney to teacher to writer and Streets and Sanitation worker. His first book, “The Street’s and San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats,” won the Midwest Independent Publishers Association Book Awards first place for humor. He went on to publish “The Drunkard’s Son,” a memoir about growing up amidst family and neighborhood turmoil in 1960s Chicago.  

“I originally set out to write a novel set in the early 1900s Chicago, and I had what I thought was a pretty good first chapter. But nothing else was coming to me . . . I kicked it to the side because I found myself being pulled toward writing about one of my favorite foods — hot dogs,” Foley said. “The Chicago dog has been written and blogged about a bunch, but in this book, I made sure to give a good deal of focus and props to the mom-and-pop owners. Sitting down with some of Chicago’s most iconic dog stand owners was what made the book special for me. Their stories are Chicago stories through and through; stories that we can all relate to.” 

One such iconic story is that of Fat Tommy’s, 3031 W. 111th St., and owner Dan Coogan. Foley awarded Fat Tommy’s his top rating: four mustard bottles, translating to “Excellent.” According to “No Ketchup,” Coogan aims to make Fat Tommy’s not only a hot dog destination, but a happy place for families to find fun in tandem with “heart and soul.”  

Foley was especially impressed with Coogan’s substitution in his Chicago-style hot dog. Instead of a dill pickle, a fresh slice of cucumber is added to the usual Chicago dog mix. “The condiments are fresh and the dog has plenty of snap,” Foley wrote in the book. “Snap” is among Foley’s highest compliments for a hot dog.  

Coogan humbly stated why Fat Tommy’s is the tops. “The best answer to that question I ever heard was ‘I don’t know if we are the best, but whoever is the best, we make ‘em awfully nervous.’ It’s a great honor and very humbling to be in Dennis’ book. He’s a great guy with good stories and an excellent writer,” Coogan said. “Whave been in business for 29 years and take it one day at a time. It’s always nice to be recognized.” 

Foley spent 50 days researching his book – that’s one hot dog per day. “But I ended up eating far more than that. I ate at many of these dog stands before, but I went back for another go ‘round to my favorite places and then took some tips from some of my trusted foodie friends,” he said.  

The meat of the book is really focused on the personal and oh-so-Chicago stories of the hot dog stand owners, many of whom have been neighborhood staples for decades.  

“Some of these owners overcame a great deal after emigrating to the U.S., some struggled to keep their business going over the years, and some have great stories about how they came to open their business or name their stand,” Foley said. 

Research for the book took Foley all over the city, but some of his favorites are right here in Beverly/Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood. “I’m a big fan of Fat Tommy’s, Janson’s, and Joey’s Red Hots. A great Western Avenue event would be the Pub and Dog crawl. You can’t go wrong knocking off some good dogs in the area and downing some quality craft beer at places like Open Outcry Brewing and Horse Thief Hollow.” 

 

Find Dennis Foley’s “No Ketchup” at Bookie’s, 10324 S. Western. Be on the lookout for Foley’s next project with his son, Matt, as they co-write a screenplay, and be sure to check out his film “Not a Stranger, which was filmed in Beverly/Morgan Park in 2015 and received three stars from film critic Richard Roeper, now available on Amazon Prime.