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Hold The Ketchup: A taste of the second city in Bend 

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With my first bite of a Chicago Hot Dog from Chicago Hot Dog and Italian Beef, I became an honorary sibling of The Blues Brothers' Jake and Elwood. Owner Jeff DeHart has brought a taste of the Windy City to Central Oregon. They import their all-beef dogs, poppy seed buns and ubiquitous neon green relish, known as "Nuclear Relish," straight from Chi-Town.

A week after Christmas and a little religion still hung in the hot dog and French fry steam as I trudged through a snowstorm on my first visit. The scene recalled Jake Blues ululating, "Yes I have seen the light!" when I plowed through snowdrifts into the front door and was instantly warmed by the aroma and the décor. DeHart has transformed the former Baskin and Robbins ice cream store into a deli-sized treat of dark blue walls, comfortable booths and posters of Bugsy Siegel staring down at the hot dog assembly station with an almost come-hither, old Hollywood smirk.

Behind the counter, employee Raemi Poitras crafted the puzzling hot dog combination - mustard, onions, sport peppers (hot!), tomatoes and celery salt - into an authentic Chicago experience. Another customer shared my chagrin at the lack of ketchup until we were genially informed how one never serves (or eats) a Chicago Hot Dog with the ever-present condiment. But if we refused to embrace this near-shocking news, the owners keep a bottle at the end of the counter.

Whether or not you believe the recession is over in Central Oregon, we can all relate to a recession in our wallets after holiday spending. But here, you can order a hot dog with all the "usual suspects" (what DeHart calls his generous mound of toppings), fries and a soda for $6.50.

For a dollar more, you have your choice of the Screamin' Meanie Weenie or a Killer Capone Kraut Dog. And no worries of an earnest Geraldo Rivera opening an empty vault around here. Chicago Style Hot Dog and Italian Beef offers a big-on-flavor bite of a food culture new to the high desert.

Chicago Style Hot Dog and Italian Beef

541-383- 3647. 1106 NE 3rd St. Lunch and Dinner Daily


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