It seems that by the teen years, though, the ketchup impulse wears off. Al’s Drive-In, run by Heidi Ratanavanich’s family, is right across the street from Proviso East High School. The restaurant’s general manager, Art Boonma, said only about 0.5 percent of his customers ask for ketchup on their hot dogs.
But if you went to Al’s today and wanted ketchup, Mr. Boonma, 72, would probably give it to you. The more he sees his customers happy, he said, the happier he is.
Ratanavanich’s mother, Sue, 77, who owns Al’s, talks about the restaurant as an integral part of the community. She likes to brag that none of her employees ever really leave her; if they exit the job, they always come back to visit, often bringing their own children.
For Heidi Ratanavanich, that affinity is even stronger. “I grew up at Al’s,” they said. “As a kid, eating a hot dog was like eating food from home.”
The Chicago staple had become a vocation, and an object of affection for the family. So much so that Ratanavanich’s mother was even OK with the tattoo — at least it was a hot dog.
Recipe: Chicago-Style Hot Dogs
And to Drink …
I would happily drink beer with a Chicago-style dog. Pilsener, Kölsch or gose would be my choices, but your own favorite style will also make a great combination. Few remember, but when the first Shake Shack kiosk opened in Madison Square Park, it was a hot-dog stand that offered a great Chicago-style dog. You could even get a little split of Champagne with it, which was a fine pairing with the brisk, tart-sweet components and the frank. It is not an outlandish notion. Though it’s no longer open, a London restaurant, Bubbledogs, specialized in American hot dogs with Champagne from small producers. Other sparkling wines like cava, crémant and sparkling riesling would be delicious, too. So would a still German riesling, whether dry or moderately sweet. ERIC ASIMOV
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