DOWNERS GROVE – Reaching for the ketchup in a crowd enjoying Chicago-style hot dogs can draw an actual, audible gasp – until they realize the condiment is just for the fries, of course.
That sacrosanct recipe for the Windy City dog is practiced by hundreds of stands, diners and restaurants, but only a select number make the Vienna Beef Hot Dog Hall of Fame.
Downers Grove’s Eagle Restaurant was given the nod by Vienna Beef on May 7, honoring it for more than 30 years of serving American and Greek fare to diners.
Owner Lee Zografos opened the business in 1981 at the corner of Maple and Fairview avenues, converting what had been a vacant gas station into one of the favorite local spots for hot dogs, hamburgers, gyros, sausages, Italian beef and more. It’s his second restaurant, after the Towne Kitchen Restaurant, which he owned in Clarendon Hills from 1973 to 2005.
Visitors to Eagle may notice the interior has a different feel than many hot dog stops. The walls have a softer color, the wall art is framed, and it’s clear, as Zografos said, people are invited to stick around.
“They come to eat and spend time enjoying it,” he said. “So we keep the place always fresh and new.”
The current look is Eagle’s fourth remodel, and he said this spring, they plan to add patio eating.
Many customers have been coming for as long as Zografos’ children have worked there, such as his son John, who now is manager.
Shortly after Vienna Beef Senior Vice President Bob Schwartz presented the Hall of Fame plaque to Zografos on May 7, nearby resident Joan Konecny stopped in for a hot dog and fries.
Konecny said she’s been stopping by for the gyros, Greek salad and dogs – she likes hers without the pickle – since it opened.
“The people are friendly; they have a smile,” she said.
Schwartz, who started the Hall of Fame seven years ago, is the author of “Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog.”
He is passionate about hot dogs, their place in Chicago-area history and the importance of mom-and-pop businesses in the community.
“The origins of the Chicago-style hot dog was really during the Depression,” he said. “It was the ‘depression dog’ or the ‘banquet on a bun,’ which in those days you got for a nickel. And you had mustard, relish, onion and cucumber. So you have a little bit of everything, your food groups.”
Eventually, the lineup of toppings cemented itself in the familiar standard of mustard, onion, relish, pickle, tomato, sport pepper and celery salt.
“I always say ‘dragging it through the garden,’” Schwartz said.
In addition to serving the cylindrical meat sandwich, restaurants have to be open for at least 20 years to be considered for the Vienna Hall. Once nominated, Schwartz and others will consider the food, along with the intangibles that make a place special.
“They’ve got to mean something to the community,” he said.