Castleberry Hot Dog Chili Sauce Review

Castleberry Hot Dog Chili SauceI’ve written quite  a bit about coney island style hot dogs, including my version of the origin of the dog, courtesy of American Coney in Detroit; my home town favorite in Duluth, MN, and some other regional versions like Nu-Way in Macon.  I’ve found very few ‘make at home’ preparations that I liked, today I picked up a can of Castleberry’s Hot Dog Chili Sauce.

Recipes for ‘coney sauce’ vary wildly around the country, from a pure meat-based sauce, to meat and beans, and in parts of the south, “hot dog sauce” takes the form of a red, watery, heavily onion-flavored topping.  There’s a region of Michigan were the primary component is beef hearts; other places I have been actually use ground hot dogs in their concoction.

Castleberry’s is made of beans, beef fat, water, tomato, mustard, salt, and other flavorings and colors.  In the can (pictured left) Castleberry’s resembles (to me) refried beans; the smell is reminiscent of vegetable beef soup.

It’s a ‘medium’ consistency, not particularly thin, not particularly thick.  The flavor is predominantly “chili-like’, meaning the cumin really comes through. It’s salty, as well, which is unusual for me to notice, as I am an ‘over-salter’.

Would I purchase it again? Possibly.  So far, though, my favorite “home-made” sauce comes from the dry packets of one of Cincinnati’s favorites, Skyline.

Castleberry says on their website they are the leading brand of hot dog chili sauce in America.  If you can’t find it near you, you can order online.

Finished product featured Milwaukee’s Usinger’s Beef/Pork franks in a lamb casing, garden onions, Plochman’s yellow mustard, and buns from Pan O Gold Bakery in St. Cloud, MN.

You can gets some Castleberry’s online from our little store.

If you’re a curious person like me, you’ve probably always wondered why there isn’t a mustard museum.  There is!  The National Mustard Museum is located just outside of Madison, WI. Open seven days.

Castleberry Hot Dog Chili Sauce

Hot Dog Chili Sauce Review

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Dog n Suds

From humble beginnings in Champaign, IL, in 1953, Dog n Suds grew to be one of the formidable fast food chains in the early 60s, peaking at over 600 locations in more than 30 states. The restaurant featured drive-up service, coney island style hot dogs, and ‘charco-broiled’ burgers.

A series of events, a couple of sales, and interest in new franchises waned, and shop after shop closed.

Today, the company is rebuilding, with about two dozen outlets, primarily in the Upper Midwest.  They’ve licensed their classic root beer formula, which was the original bedrock of their success, to Clover Bottling in Chicago, and Dog n Suds root beer is available in grocery stores in the Midwest.

I haven’t been to one for years….but I’m feeling it’s time for a road trip!

Dog n Suds



Dog n Suds

Grand Opening New Franchise

Dog n Suds

Coney Island Hot Dogs

Dog n Suds

Bottled Root Beer

Dog n Suds





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Knollas Pizza Review – Wichita, KS

Here’s one of those “best places in town” as touted by local media. I guess when you live in the town that Pizza Hut started, it doesn’t take too much of an effort for people to think you have a “good” pizza.

I had been itching to get here, because I had heard about the “coney island pizza,” thinking, wow, two of my favorite things, coney island hot dogs, and pizza, combined! This will be GREAT!

I ordered two small pies to go, the coney island, and the all meat, because I was hungry for pizza, and got the meat one as a back-up in case I didn’t like the coney pie.

The coney is topped with hot dogs, hot dog chili sauce, diced dill pickles and onion, and a swirl of yellow mustard.

Conceptually? Interesting. Reality? YUCK!

I tried one bite. Ewww. Tried rolling the slice, and pretending the crust was a hot dog bun. Ewwww. Offered the remaining pie to two homeless guys, they passed.

So I opened the meat box, and one couldn’t complain about the quantity of toppings. One could complain about the quality, however.

Nothing disturbs me more than picking up a slice, and having the entire top, cheese and toppings, slide off the crust into the box. OK, there’s one thing that disturbs me equally, as much, picking up a slice, and having all the toppings roll off into the box. Such was the case here. The sausage was akin to “Sysco Meat Crumbles #2” or some such. Lifeless, tasteless, and looking suspiciously, all by their lonesome in the box, like something a furry big eared animal might leave behind.

I’ll post a video later. For now, these pics, the coney and the meat pie. I always try to find the good in a place, and I thought a hand-tossed crust might be Knolla’s redemption, but even that fell flat. Lifeless was a word I used above, and I’d say it again about the crust. It just didn’t have any pizazz at all. A floury taste. Maybe they didn’t proof it.

The location I was at, pure carry-out, except one table in front, for two. They were very busy. Somebody obviously likes these pies; just not me.

I’m not posting a map, even.  They have four or more locations.  You can avoid all of them of your own volition.

Knolla's Pizza Cafe on Urbanspoon

Knollas Pizza Review

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StoneRidge Natural Casing Wieners Review

StoneRidge Wieners ReviewI love hot dogs. In natural casings, please. The “purer” the better, IMHO. And I love to make them as “coney island style” hot dogs, which have nothing to do with the place Coney Island. A Coney Island hot dog is strictly an upper midwestern thing, popular in Michigan, Ohio, pockets of Texas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. By all accounts,they were invented by a Greek immigrant in Detroit in the early 1900s. BY some peculiarity, many coney island hot dog shops were started by, or are owned by Greek immigrants or their descendants.

While the ingredient recipe varies a little, basically a coney island hot dog is a natural casing wiener in a bun, with yellow mustard, diced onions, and meat sauce. Not ever to be confused with a “chili dog” as coney sauce is not chili.

My own personal coney sauce recipe is a winner – it took me years to perfect. For me, nothing makes a perfect coney, or hot dog any way you choose to cook or dress it – than a quality natural casing frank. They are hard to find, as we natural casing lovers only make up about 5% of the national hot dog buying public!

StoneRidge’s version is perfect, an ideal combination of pork and beef, with no fillers,  and the right spices and length of smoking to give it perfect flavor and just the right amount of “snap” when you bite into it. In other words, you want a dog that when you bite IT, it bites right back!

No matter how you choose to cook a natural casing wiener – on the grill, in hot water, on a griddle, low and slow is the key, lest you split the casing open and all the delicious meaty juiciness spills out! You don’t want that.

You can purchase StoneRidge’s exceptional hot dogs online, and pick up some other points and recipes on their Pinterest page!  Anyone who purchases online from StoneRidge this month will be automatically entered to buy $50 worth of products! Winner will be notified by email on March 1.

StoneRidge Wieners Review

                 Place your StoneRidge dog on mustard                                                         lathered bun

StoneRidge Wieners Review

                        Ladle on the coney sauce

StoneRidge Wieners Review

          Add diced onion and another swirl of mustard







StoneRidge Natural Casing Wieners Review

(Ed. Note:  StoneRidge furnished products for me to try)

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StoneRidge Meat Snack Sticks Review

StoneRidge Bratwurst ReviewAn affinity for all things butchered and old world sausage making brought together the principals that started StoneRidge Meat and Country Market, now known as StoneRidge Piggly Wiggly.

Located in mid-Wisconsin, thirty minutes west of the Fox River Valley, the market serves grocery shoppers and sausage aficionados from a wide radius. Why sausage lovers? StoneRidge has built a superb in-house meat department, specializing in a wide variety of cured, uncured, and flavored meats, and are particularly known for their dozens of bratwurst flavors.

StoneRidge produces a widely-enjoyed meat snack sticks, also made in flavors, including original, pepperjack, habanero, honey BBQ, teriyaki and more. I tried out their .Bacon and Cheddar variety.

I think that a Philadelphia entrepreneur, Adolph Levis, who had built a business selling specialty foods to bars and delis, is credited with ‘inventing’ the beef snack stick in the 1940s, though I believe it was probably inspired by the German snack “Landjager.” Levis thought America was in need of a portable, ready-to-eat version of sausage.

There are certainly companies much larger than StoneRidge that make beef sticks, but probably none that produce a product of this quality. The “big guys” tend to have “mechanically separated poultry” as a prime ingredient, but in the StoneRidge variety, you’ll find beef, pork, and flavor seasonings. Period.

What I liked about the StoneRidge product is the distinct flavoring, a coarser grind than most competitors, meaning there’s no doubt in your mind this is a real meat product.

There are a lot of other reasons to enjoy StoneRidge snack sticks:

  • They are extremely portable – take hiking, camping, tailgating,   have in your office drawer, or the kid’s school lunches.
  • They are a high protein, low carb snack.
  • They are gluten-free.
  • Ounce for ounce, they are one-third the price of beef jerky.

Great taste. Good value. Get yours at your local grocer, or browse the online catalog and order direct from StoneRidge.  While you’re waiting for your package of deliciousness to arrive, follow StoneRidge on Twitter and Facebook.

StoneRidge Bratwurst Review

        Bacon & Cheddar Meat Snack Sticks






StoneRidge Meat Snack Sticks Review

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Daisy Hot Dogs Review

Daisy Brand Hot Dog Review

Daisy Hot Dogs ReviewHad a hankering to make coney island style hot dogs, with my ho-made delicious sauce (recipe), so I needed some natural casing hot dogs.  Gotta have that “snap” when you’re dripping coney sauce down your shirt. (BTW, in the industry, that “snap” is referred to as “knack” – from the German word for “crack.”)

Alas, one grocery had no natural casing dogs, across the street, where they usually have three or four options, today they had only one, “Daisy Brand,” a Chicago product, “since 1925.”  Made by the Crawford Sausage Company, a few miles southwest of the Loops.

It’s a pork/beef product, very mild, with a minimum of additives. Tasty. All natural casing dogs run very close to the same price, unless they are on sale. They’ll cost you about a buck a dog. Well worth it.  What I like about them over some competitors is they are “pure savory,” you can’t taste any added sweetener which seems to be so common these days.  Full ingredient list: PORK, BEEF, WATER, NONFAT DRY MILK, SODIUM LACTATE, SEASONING (DEXTROSE, SPICES, SALT, PAPRIKA, HYDROLYZED PROTEIN FROM SOY, FLAVORINGS, CARAMEL COLOR), SALT, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ERYTHORBATE, PAPRIKA, SODIUM NITRITE.  (No corn syrup solids, yay!)

These pups are made in the Crawford factory on South Pulaski, pictured below. Looks like they are working on setting up online ordering.

And oh yes, the coneys turned out JUST fine….

Daisy Hot Dog Review

Daisy Hot Dog Review






Daisy Hot Dogs Review

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Shake Shack Chicago Review

Shake Shack Chicago ReviewI am generally prepared to not be so wild about places that receive a huge amount of hype; as an example, I found Umami Burger to be……..something worth laughing about.

And when citiy’s make their “best of the best” list, those are always awful, like Stanich’s in Portland, or Port of Call in New Orleans.

Around the year 2000, New York acclaimed chef Danny Meyer, owner of restaurants including Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard, The Modern, Cafe 2 and Terrace 5 at MoMA and others, started fooling around with burgers from a trailer in a NY park, using high quality ingredients, and cooked to order burgers and fries.  Today there are about 50 Shake Shacks in the US, and another dozen overseas, with the promise of “up to 450” coming.

In physical appearance, the burger looks like an offering from In N Out (another place I think is high-overrated, and I don’t get it), but the similarity ends there.

Meyer sourced his ground beef from the best burger meat company in the world, Pat LaFrieda,  and the fresh, soft (but supportive) potato buns are from Martin’s. Fresh chopped condiments are good and crisp.

The burger patty is thin, smashed, and crispy around the edges which is perfect for my personal tastes, and the meat has flavor all on it’s own, and to me, that’s how I judge a great burger.

The Shackburger (see complete menu) is a cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato, and Shack Sauce.  When questioned about the latter, the countr person said “it’s our own, house-made, spicy mayo.”  What a great answer, huh?   And it was tasty.

Crinkle cut fries are the side, and there were apparently complaints early in the chain’s life about their quality, so they went to a fresh cut, cooked to order fry. They’re fine, not spectacular, but adequate as an accompaniment to the star of the show.

You can check out Shake Shack’s full menu here.  Track one down near you.

The group is off to a hot start, did a monster IPO this year, and clearly shows how they stand out from segment leader McDonalds;  the average per store annual sales for a Shake Shack location is nearly $4,000,000 – which is about twice what the average McDonald’s takes in.

BTW, this downtown Chicago location was totally jammed, but the wait to order and get your food goes fairly fast.  Single burger around $6.00.

Shake Shack Chicago Review


Shake Shack Chicago Review
Shake Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Shake Shack Chicago Review

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Kojaks Review – Cary, IL

One of hundreds (thousands) of independent “hot dog” (for lack of a better description) stands, Kojaks, in the Chicago NW suburb of Cary, serves satisfying Chicago staples, cooked to order, at value pricing.  Dogs, sausage, burgers, gyros with the proper side dishes, and an expanded menu that includes items beyond what most of its competitors offer.

Located right across the street from the Cary Metra station, Kojaks is apparently a big supported of local youth sports, too, which is a good thing.   Kojaks is similar to Mr. Beefy’s, just down the street, but I think Kojak’s has a leg up (or two) on them.

Open Monday through Saturday, 11 AM – 9 PM, closed on Sundays.

Restaurant menu.  Catering menu.

Kojaks Review Cary

Cheeseburger and Fries


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Kojaks Review

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National Hot Dog Day at Meatheads

July 23 each year is designated as “National Hot Dog Day,” (July is National Hot Dog Month!)  and why not? Each summer, during the “hot dog season” Americans consume 7 billion (yes, with a “B”) hot dogs between Memorial and Labor Day.

Meatheads, a fast growing burger chain in the Chicago area, serves their hot dogs “New England Style” which means the bun is more like a piece of toast in the shape of a bun, but not as crunchy, of course.

While many places had special hot dog deals for the “holiday,” I chose Meatheads because they serve the top quality dogs from Chicago’s Vienna Beef company.

I had mine with mustard and kraut, and a side of Meathead’s most excellent fries.

Check this company out. Locations. Menu.

National Hot Dog Deal Meatheads

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National Hot Dog Day

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Kookers Review – Barrington, IL

Kookers Review BarringtonI am one of the world’s biggest fans of mom and pop businesses of any ilk, and that goes double for the restaurant biz, a segment so terribly difficult even under the best of circumstances.

Kookers has served the posh Chicago suburb of Barrington for at least thirty years, that I am aware of, perched on US Highway 14.  It was previously in a smaller facility on the north side of the road, and within the past few years, moved to a larger facility across the street.  It was for sale for awhile before the move, not sure if it changed hands or not, but based on visits years ago, I would guess it has different owners.

They serve a typical “Chicago” menu of fast food, burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef, gyros, fried sides, plus some extended offerings in different day parts.  Menu.

I so wanted to come away from my latest visit bubbling over with enthusiasm, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

I popped in mid afternoon and was the only customer, except for a man engaged in conversation with the counter person, apparently a conversation so engaging that it was more important than waiting on me.  Strike one.

I place my order, for a cheeseburger (they have many cheeses to choose from, I went with blue) and walked into the bathroom.  Wasn’t antiseptically clean and parts of it seemed to be held together with scotch tape and wire.  The entrance to the men’s room is through a hallway which was stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of various restaurant supplies.  Strike 2.  I don’t want to see that.  I fear that standards of (lack of) organization or ‘cleanliness’ extends throughout an establishment.

It didn’t take long for the burger to be ready, but it really wasn’t anything special, a machine-formed patty and put together with a not very aesthetically pleasing appearance.  Strike 2.5?

I gathered up some sections of newspaper that were laying around, perused them while eating my burger, which I finished in short order.  Got up to leave (still the only customer) without any acknowledgement from the employee (“thanks!”  “come back soon”).

My recollection of the previous long-time owner was people supported him for a couple reasons;  one, he made a point to ‘know’ every customer and be hospitable, and two, he prided himself on quality ingredients.

Neither appears to be the case at the “new” Kookers, sadly.

Kookers Barrington Review
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Kookers Review

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