Byron’s Long Just a "Cramped, Barely Functional Hut" – But, Oh, the Food…
Posted By: Michael Sweeney
June 13, 2010
My favorite hot dog stand, Byron’s, got involved with the White House’s catering of last week’s annual Congressional picnic, helping to provide fully loaded (meaning – NO KETCHUP!) Chicago-style hot dogs for the President and his guests; you can read all about it here in Lynn Sweet’s piece in the Chicago Sun-Times…(and, of course, my above "more or less" only refers to the White House safety rule of no outside ingredients; as the article states, the WH bought the recommended supplies, and Byron’s’s owner came in and helped to properly craft the chow)…
I’ve long been a customer, supporter, and advocate for Byron’s – particularly the classic, iconic Irving Park Road location, pictured above; it’s a bit north of Wrigley Field and just east of Graceland Cemetery. I was fortunate enough to move in about a block-and-a-half away from it when I got my first city apartment back in ’83…and I once walked over there on the coldest night in Chicago history (IIRC, 26 degrees below zero – BEFORE factoring in the "wind chill") to grab me a few dogs.
In local travel guidebooks I’ve written, I’ve described it as a "cramped, barely functional hut," and…it clearly is! (I’ve also even covered it on local TV AND even dragged out-of-town food writers / critics to sample the goods there…) The limited seating is outside – although now it consists of a few tables under an open-sided tent-like cover, rather than "merely" unprotected picnic benches. The El screams by just beyond the back of the site’s small parking lot. Ah, but the food! I’ve never been disappointed here, mightily enjoying the steamed, garden-laden dogs…crisp, yet juicy double cheeseburgers…dripping Italian beef sandwiches, loaded with "sweet or hot" (peppers, of course)…sides of fries or "onion straws"…oh, it’s ALL good.
Corinne and I headed up there on Friday for our first visit of the warmer-weather season. (There is an El stop around the corner, but…for us, the 151 Sheridan bus is a direct northbound route from across the street from us in Lincoln Park up to the corner nearest this street-food heaven…) I’d noted that the garish painted sign on the eastern side of the building had been recently redone (no longer promising "Chedar" on burgers, dogs, or fries), but, other than that, the opened-in-’75 spot looked about the same as I first encountered it some 27 years ago.
As ever, the food was just about perfect (ah, the double cheeseburger! and, uh, if I skip the fries, why, I do believe I can even fit in a mustard-onion-tomato-and-celery-salt dog, too!)…and the "street theater" up there – on the semi-gentrified (yet still bustling) border of Wrigleyville / Lakeview and Buena Park / Uptown – was entertaining. In the past, we’ve seen amusing street confrontations, flocks of pigeons and grackles fighting inventively over piles of discarded fries, and even the cops chasing a car full of kids into the Byron’s lot, then cuffing and frisking them. This time, we got to share our meal outside near a "The Rock"-looking dad and his 6-yr-old son; the dad turned down a street beggar asking for money, but instead went in to buy him a hot dog ("How ‘bout a cheeseburger, fries, and a pop?" the street guy countered with…"Don’t push your luck," The Rock guy answered). Later we even got to witness a near-blows argument (apparently between a waiter and a cook) spill out of the next-door Italian restaurant. It’s always something!
…And, if the Obamas didn’t quite get to eat their meal surrounded by such semi-random near-chaos (on a warm, but beautiful Chicago June night), well…at least they still got to enjoy the gastronomic quality of some fine, Chicago-style encased meats, my friend!
And – cuz, I swear, I’d even bring Martha Stewart to Byron’s if I had the chance – as I fully know…that’s a good thing!
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