Monday, February 8, 2010

Henry's Drive In

-In Chicago: Every Dog Has it's Day

The next stop on the Chicago Hot Dog Stand Tour is to Henry's Drive In on Ogden ave, aka Route 66, in the Chicago suburb of Cicero. If you've ever taken a drive down the start of US Route 66 on Ogden ave then you have seen Henry's. Out of all the 1950's era neon signs in Chicagoland-Henry's reigns supreme with me. This classic Chicagoland hot dog stand was started in the 50's by a guy whose surname was Henry. He originally started off with a hot dog wagon on Austin just north of Ogden. When Route 66 was getting going, Henry then built and opened up his own place where it stills stands today. Luckily for the fans of Route 66 and all the neon signs that were built to be displayed along it, Henry's sign is still alive and well. If Henry's were to ever close, I'd pay top dollar for the neon. It shows a hot dog with toppings and fries on top which is how they're served at Henry's and then has a neon arrow pointing towards it proclaiming their slogan "It's a meal in itself" Its classic signage.

A familiar face along Route 66 in Cicero, IL

I'm sure you could find anyone who grew up in Cicero to give you their story of Henry's and recollect when they used to hang out there in high school but I read an interesting piece of info on it over at LTHforum. It seems as though back when Henry's Hamburgers was an up and coming chain (read about my story on it here) they tried to open a location at the corner of Ogden and Austin right by Henry's Drive In which was already there. The poster at LTH who went to high school with Mr. Henry's sons went onto explain that "One of the two parties sued, and Mr. Henry won, primarily, as I understood it at the time, based on the fact that his business bore his actual surname, whereas the chain was using a corporate identifier" The business was then taken over by one of Mr. Henry's boys and has since been sold to a family from the area.

Henry's has some relics on the walls from when Rt. 66 was BIG

So what about the dogs? Well they aren't bad. I would call them your typical Chicago hot dog stand hot dog (better than most places outside Chicagoland, not as great as the best in the city) but since this place has so much history, its a cool spot to visit and I would recommend doing so if your ever in the area. If your doing Route 66 from Cali to Chicago, you'll know your close to the city when you see the sign. The dogs are Vienna Beef skinless (not my style) and come dressed with mustard, onions, relish, sport peppers and a pickle spear. When they wrap the hot dog up they throw the fries (which are frozen but not bad) on top just like so many other Chicago hot dog stands do nowadays. I don't think Henry's started this trend but its obvious from their sign they've been doing it this way since the 50's.

Hot Dog from Henry's fresh out the wrapping

a well known hot dog in Chicagoland

Just like the rest of the hot dog stands around the city, Henry's serves up hot dog stand tamales. If your from Chicago then you should of had one or two in your day and if you haven't you've definitely seen them. Its thought that when the blues musicians of the Mississippi delta came north to Chicago to get out of the south, they brought with them their Delta style tamales. Eventually before you even knew it the city had at least three companies that mass produced the cornmeal based tubes filled with mystery meats that can now be found all over town. In fact it was Iltaco, the creator of Pizza Puffs, who started off selling just tamales. Illinois Tamale Company as Iltaco is short for would eventually cease all making of tamales and stick to their popular pizza puffs. Over at Henry's they serve Tom-Tom tamales and you can have them a few ways.

Serving Chicago since 1937...Tom Tom Tamales

There are a few popular ways of eating Chicago hot dog stand tamales aside from straight up. The most popular way is probably in a bowl of chili. Some places will take the tamale out of the wax paper and break it in half and throw it in a cup and then some chili on top. Its something that Chicagoans have been eating for decades.

Tamale in a bowl of chili

It doesn't end with the chili tamales. If you saw the "No Reservations" Chicago episode then you might remember the "Mother In Law" which is one of these tamales stuffed in a bun and smothered with chili, cheese and onions. Also at Henry's you can get a tamale dog which is just a tamale replacing the wiener in the bun with mustard, onions, pickle and sport peppers.

Henry's Tamale Dog

Lets just say that the "Chicago Style tamale" was my first and last try of one of these things. Something about the pickle spear and tamale didn't make for a pleasant texture or taste. I love a tamale in chili and feel like the tamale often makes most hot dog places below average bowls of chili a little better. They also still carry BBQ beef sandwiches with pickles on top which I remember loving as a youngin' in my youth and ordering often. But rarely see it on the menu of spots these days.

The insides

Henry's Classic Roadfood Sign during daytime (Pic from Rt 66 Pool on Flickr by Flickr-Nickk)

Henry's Drive In
6031 West Ogden Avenue
Cicero, IL 60804-3742
(708) 656-9344

Henry's Drive-in on Urbanspoon


Unknown said...

The original owner did not use Vienna hot dogs. My memory is not perfect, but I remember seeing the box containing the hotdogs. I think they were Palestine Kosher, which I'd bet is long out of business. My first trip to Henry's was in the early 50s. Mrs. Henry managed and operated the stand in the 1970s. I never met Mr. Henry as far as I know. At least no one ever identified himself to me as him. The stand North of Ogden must have been in the early 50s. I had probably been there but was too young to know Where I was. The stand did move to It's current location back then. I remember the parking lot was all white stones. When you drove in, you'd here popping noises as the tires rolled over the stones. Henry's was remodeled and made bigger. You can still see that there was an outside addition made to the building. I only ever remember going up to the outside window to order hotdogs. I don't know if the original building had indoor seating. Everyone ate their hotdogs in the car back then. There were big yellow trash cans all over the lot to throw your garbage away. Back then it was the best hotdog stand around. It would get surpassed by other stands in later years, but those stands in the area are long gone. Henry's is still there.

Anonymous said...

In the summer of '66 I was 12 and my brother was 10. We would spend ALL day EVERY day at the public pool just a few blocks away. Dad would give us each 50 cents for lunch at Henry's. Yep, 50 cents for a hot dog with fries and a drink!

Smart Packaging said...
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