As long as I can remember, my summers have been punctuated by outdoor cookouts—and this has usually meant sausages and hotdogs. As such, I’ve got a soft spot for a well-prepared dog, even if it isn’t coming straight from the grill. Having heard great things about a Chicago dog restaurant in Cottonwood Heights, I figured that it was time to make a pilgrimage before I blinked and the summer had gotten away from me.
When I entered Johnniebeefs, I quickly understood that it would take several visits to properly sample their menu. The selection is vast. Most dogs are available in a regular or big size, and there’s also a good selection of sides and Chicago-inspired sandwiches. For my first round, I went with the Cubby Bear combo: a selection of two regular-size dogs from the list with fries or chips and a fountain drink for $10.19.
Since the place prides itself on its Chicago pedigree, the Chicago Dog ($4.49 Regular / $6.29 Big) was my choice for the first half of the combo. If they were going for authentic, they hit the nail right on the head. The Chicago Dog is the best I’ve had outside of the Windy City. Johnniebeefs uses a pure-beef Red Hot Chicago dog served on a pleasantly steamed poppyseed bun that they ship from Chicago. The toppings are exactly what you’d expect— yellow mustard, chopped onions, nuclear-green relish, cucumbers, tomatoes, tiny sport peppers, a pickle spear and a sprinkling of celery salt. Holy hell, this was a pleasurable mouthful, and it almost seems wrong to even call it a hot dog. The beef dog’s inherent richness was softened by the soft bread, and its flavor was magnified by the mound of awesome piled on top. The peppers added a little kick; the pickle spear and relish brought in the sweetness; and the onions made sure the memory of the meal remained long after you’d finished.
I rounded out the Cubby Bear combo with a New Yorkie Dog ($4.49/$6.29) and a pile of French fries. Johnniebeefs also makes The New Yorkie with a pure-beef dog and a steamed poppyseed bun, but the toppings are turned down a bit, limited to sauerkraut, mustard, chopped onions, a pickle spear and celery salt. If you’re a fan of sauerkraut and if the Chicago Dog seems a little intimidating to you, the New Yorkie is a good choice. The addition of the kraut adds a certain tanginess to the dog, and the absence of the sport peppers lowers the spice level considerably, making the dog a solid choice on its own or as part of a combo.
Johnniebeefs Chicago dog
If they were going for authentic, they hit the nail right on the head. The Chicago Dog is the best I’ve had outside of the Windy City. Johnniebeefs uses a pure-beef Red Hot Chicago dog served on a pleasantly steamed poppyseed bun that they ship from Chicago. Photo: Talyn Sherer
My next choice, of the more-than-20 options on the menu board, was the Maxwell Street Polish ($6.59)—a polish sausage that was passed through the deep fryer and topped with yellow mustard, grilled onions and sport peppers. What a gem! Frying the sausage adds a crunch to the natural casing, causing it to snap as you bite into it. The sautéed onions and peppers are a mellow and sweet addition and balance the spice and heaviness of the sausage. I also sampled a “Slaw Dog,” topped with homemade coleslaw, mustard, onions and celery salt ($4.49/$6.29), which reminded me the most of the flavors of a summer cookout.
If you’re not one to eat hot dogs, Johnniebeefs also does burgers and sandwiches. The star of their sandwich menu would have to be the Italian Beef Sandwich (half – $5.19/full – $7.49). They make this one with thinly sliced, seasoned roast beef piled onto a French roll with sweet peppers, and either hot or mild giardiniera. Depending on your love for au jus gravy, you can order it with just a little sauce or completely dipped in the gravy pot. If you forget to specify, they’ll make it extra wet and spicy. Good thing, too, because if you’re going to order the Italian Beef Sandwich, spicy and wet is the way you should do it.
I am so glad that I found Johnniebeefs. The selection is immense and reasonably priced, the staff is cheerful and patient with the uninitiated, and the food is of the highest quality available for a 1950s-themed hot dog joint. Sure, eating a Chicago dog overloaded with toppings can feel and look a little sloppy at first, but when you realize how good it tastes, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.