If you follow a delivery truck with a logo for 100% pure beef emblazoned on its side through the streets of Bridgeport, there are only a few places it may lead. If you’re lucky and hungry enough, you’ll find yourself at a tiny little building on Halsted and 36th Street, home of Zebra’s Gourmet Hot Dogs. On a recent cold windy day, a few friends and I were just so lucky.
Inside, Zebra’s has a homey feel, with checkered napkins and plastic chairs ringed around white tables. The front of the house is cozy, not a large-scale dining establishment by any means; the counter at which I ordered was also the partition between the eating area and the kitchen. Standing at the counter, the married owners greeted us warmly and–seeing our indecision over the menu–told us that everything on it was only a suggestion and that we could customize our toppings as we liked.
In the end, we stuck with the menu, and ordered four different hot dogs with fries: the Philly, the Chicago Classic, the El Paso, and the Bronx Reuben. Each person’s order came to exactly five dollars. We sat down and waited for our food to come while we sipped the water brought to our tables.
Our hot dogs arrived in diner-esque little black baskets, wrapped in black and white paper and filled with huge sides of fries. There was also a small box with corn fritters covered with powdered sugar, cheerily given “on the house” to the only person in our group who hadn’t ordered fries. Crisp on the outside and not too sweet, the corn fritters were delicious. The same, unfortunately, could not be said for the fries, which were soggy and loaded with far too much salt.
The hot dogs themselves, made from Nathan’s 100% beef, were all filling and juicy. Topped with salsa, jalapenos, and onions, the El Paso was colorfully loaded up on a nicely toasted bun. The jalapenos and onions added a nice kick to it, but the salsa was too sour and too plentiful, nearly overwhelming the rest of the dog.
Upon receiving her Chicago Classic hot dog, my friend smothered it in ketchup before we could warn her about the overwhelming hatred of true born and bred Chicagoans for that red condiment. Ketchup aside, she did say that it was a good hot dog–not exactly news to most Chicagoans.
My friend who had ordered the Philly was understandably distracted by his corn fritters. After savoring one or two of them, he finally unwrapped his hot dog and tried it, saying only–not eloquently–that it was “good,” the meat filling and the flavors interesting. He did not accessorize his food with condiments, content with the swiss cheese, grilled peppers, and onions that made for a colorful and apparently tasty combination of toppings.
Meanwhile, the Bronx Reuben, unwrapped, was completely heaped with a brownish substance that was probably the sweet kraut detailed on the menu. In defiance of my friend with the ketchup, this friend smothered his hot dog in mustard and demolished it, adding only that he also liked the bun. But he must have been sincere, as he also ordered a second hot dog to-go for his late-night snack later on.
As we got ready to leave, one of the owners came over and asked if there was anything she could wrap up for us. She presented the two to-go hot dogs, which had been kept warm in a brown paper bag reminiscent of a motherly packed lunch from elementary school days. My friend licked the last remnants of powdered sugar off of his fingers before the little baskets and wrappers were taken away.
We were satisfied, not elevated to another state of being. But, that’s hot dogs, reliable and true. Luckily, Zebra adds just enough flair to make it something special.
3551 S. Halsted St. Monday-Friday, 11am-8pm; Saturday, noon-6pm. (773)940-1526.