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How Gene & Jude’s Chicago dog stands the test of time
Issue 37: It's summer so here are some words about hot dogs.
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River Grove is a sleepy neighborhood in Chicago about 25 minutes by car Northwest of ‘The Loop’. It’s mostly a residential area with little in the way of restaurants or nightlife, but Gene & Jude’s has been slinging Chicago Dogs for the last 75 years.
A Chicago Dog is a time-honored icon of The Second City and is relatively simple in its execution. It starts with an all beef hotdog with natural casing, which ensures a nice “snap” when you take your first bite. The dogs are steamed and placed in a poppy seed bun, topped with with yellow mustard, neon green relish, chopped onions, tomatoes, pickles, sport peppers, and celery salt. And, as always, there’s no ketchup.
Gene & Jude’s is always crowded — there’s a line that snakes through the parking lot even before you get inside. They offer a unique take on the Chicago Dog — it’s served with a giant pile of fries on top — and as legend goes, it’s a twist that was dreamed up in the stands of Wrigley Field.
Some historians argue that this was this was the original style of Chicago Dog. Born out of the idea that the Chicago Dog should be a full meal, the Depression Dog at Gene & Jude’s is consistent, fast, and cheap. It’s iconic and a must-eat on any trip to Chicago, so how has this small joint stood the test of time in a quickly changing food scene?
Long-time general Manager Dan Ciancio is a regular presence at Gene & Jude’s and while we chatted, he frequently chipped in to help fill sodas or clean up. He’s been working at the shop since he was a teenager, working his way up from the counter, to shift manager, to GM. Gene & Jude’s is a family establishment and it’s as evident in his history as it is with many others: his brother has worked here, and his mom was a regular when she worked in the area.
Gene & Jude’s 75 year history is an unchanging part of the River Grove neighborhood, amassing a following that stretches into the far suburbs of Chicago. “For the most part, everything inside is the same. We’ve remodeled with some better equipment that helps us move the line faster, but that’s it,” Dan says. “We’ve been using the same brands for a long time,” he says, though now they have potato growers that sell just to them to maintain the quality and taste of their fries. It’s that consistency and quality that keeps loyalists coming back, and brings in a regular clip of newcomers. “Several times a week we get people saying it’s their first time here,” Dan says.
There are essentially two options at Gene & Jude’s: a single or double dog, both topped with a pile of fresh-cut fries. Behind the counter is organized chaos with different people in charge of each part of the order. From steaming the buns to adding the mustard to cutting the fries, it’s a well-choreographed, hot dog dance. “We wait until you order, everything's made to go,” Dan says. There’s an open aversion to ketchup — you literally won’t find any there. “If you make fresh-cut fries,” Dan says, “you don’t need to dip them in anything to make them taste good.”
Chicago’s food scene has seen an explosion in recent years, but Gene & Jude’s has stood unchanged and unwavering in its commitment to a humble and simple meal. Quality ingredients and tradition are what bring Chicagoans to Gene & Jude’s on a daily basis and continue to entice outsiders. It’s a tradition that has lasted as food trends come and go, and Gene & Jude’s is not going anywhere any time soon.