EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD in Chicago has a hot dog joint. It is usually a grubby hole-in-the-wall, with a name like Big Herm's, Little Louie's or Wolfy's. The owner is decked out in a undershirt, the counter help is surly, but the food is unsurpassed: Vienna pure beef hot dogs, cradled in steamed poppyseed buns, smothered with mustard, relish, chopped onions, peppers, sauerkraut, long slabs of dill pickle, tomato slices and topped with a sprinkling of celery salt.
This is the Chicago-style red hot, as much a part of the Second City as precinct captains, elevated trains and deep-dish pizza, which now claims the title as Chicago's regional food. The pizza made it East years ago; but the red hot has been missing from Washington's culinary landscape for too long.
There's good news, however, for exiled Chicagoans who have relied on care packages from home to stock their freezers. There are now two, soon to be three, Chicago-style hot dog stands in the Washington area.
The latest is Miz Mustard's, one of the specialty food stands in Georgetown's new Market House. Miz Mustard is the alter ego of FiFi Sheridan, a native of Macon, Ga., where they usually don't breed hot dog mavens. But when Sheridan began looking for a "fun food" to sell at the Market House, friends urged her to try Viennas. Now she craves the plump, juicy red hots, and based on two weeks of booming business, she is certain Washingtonians will soon be converts, too.
The first Chicago-style stand in the area opened a year ago at 5519 Leesburg Pike, near Bailey's Crossroads. It's called Flukey's -- same mane as the Chicago landmark -- and its original owner, Mark Singer, is about to open another stand at the top of the Rosslyn Metro station.
Coming from a family of restaurant entrepreneurs, Singer already has 75 restaurants, along with countless hot dogs, under his belt. He studied the Chicago method of preparing hot dogs at some of the best hot dog shacks along Lake Michigan; he would take a job behind the counter for $3.25 an hour, learn how to cook a perfect dog, and then quit after he was confident he could duplicate it.
It was more than business savvy, however, that prompted Singer to open Flukey's I and II in Washington. "Very simply," he said, "we wanted to open a Chicago-style hot dog place so we could have a hot dog."
To Singer, who grew up in Chicago, Vienna is the only way to go. But even the most devoted Vienna fans, including the man who brought them here, are afraid that Washington will be a tough market to crack.
"This is a very kosher-oriented salami and hot dog market," said Andy Topus, who opened Vienna's Washington sales office in March 1979. And Viennas, to the surprise of many, are not kosher, although they are prepared the same way and are equally expensive.
"For the same price, customers still demand the Hebrew National that their mother fed them when they were a kid," Topus said. "If it's not kosher, people think it's no-good garbage food that you serve the kids when you go out to the movies."
Flukey's and Miz Mustard's should convince Washingtonians that Vienna is a first-rate hot dog and Chicago-style is the only way to serve them.
To qualify as purveyors of authenic Chicago-style hot dogs, Flukey's and Miz Mustard's follow three rules: They are faithful to the Vienna brand, they steam the franks and buns and they serve a hearty selection of toppings.
The Vienna hot dog made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the company now supplies 2,200 of the 2,600 hot dog stands in Chicago. Vienna's hot dog is only 20 percent fat, and it is wrapped in a natural sheep casing, which gives it that distinctive snap when you bite into it.
In addition to the simmered hot dog and steamed poppyseed bun, the toppings are very important. Miz Mustard's has reached for more of a highbrow crowd with her French pommery mustard, but plain old yellow mustard is available for the traditionalists. Catsup is offered, too, for those who must. French chopped onions come next, followed by bright green relish, sauerkraut, a kosher pickle spear, tomato wedges and hot sport peppers, for the truly dedicated. Finish it off with celery salt and you've got the works.
A "fancy frank" at Miz Mustard's costs $1.55 -- more than the vendors on the Mall -- but you're not getting a mushy hot dog. Her crisp, fresh French fries are well worth another 55 cents, or 95 cents for a half-pound. At Flukey's in Falls Church, a hot dog with the works and French fries is $1.49.
To cook a Chicago hot dog at home, you can buy a 12-ounce package at Miz Mustard's for $2.35. Viennas also are available by the pound at several delicatessens, including Wagshal's, 4855 Massachusetts Ave. NW; Delly Den, 7913 Tuckerman Lane, Potomac; Potomac Wine and Cheese, 10114 River Rd., Potomac; Broadway Deli, 2301 Jefferson Davis Highway, Crystal City; and Hofberg's, at Lake Forest Mall, Loehman's Plaza in Rockville and at 7822 Eastern Ave. in Washington.