I remember stopping at Parky’s around 1978. I was living in the city, and my cousin and I drove out to Berwyn to help an old Bohemian aunt move out of her two-flat. My cousin used to live in Berwyn, and he demanded that we stop at Parky’s, a place I’d never heard of before.
The place seemed retro even at the time: the severely sloped roof, reflecting an Eisenhower-era sense of what the future would be like (clean and sweeping lines, bright colors, lights), but inside, kind of dingy, utilitarian – and maybe a little greasy (like someone had lightly sprayed the interior with a patina of Pam).
I had my first Parky’s dog that day, and although I’ve visited randomly over the years, I have always felt it a guilty pleasure, with guilt taking the slight advantage, so I’ve never been a regular.
Recently, it was bright and sunny and I thought, “Excellent hot dog weather.” I biked over to Parky’s on the Forest Park side of Harlem, just north of Madison.
A smile was hard to suppress when the counterwoman asked me, with genuine concern, if I wanted salt on my fries. I mean really, if you have a problem with sodium or fat or carbs or calories, you shouldn’t even be walking by Parky’s: You’d overdose on those evil things based on vibe alone.
It’s a very good sign when the bag of fries cannot contain the grease they were cooked in. Parky’s, since the first day I visited, has always been generous with fries, and you can see how wonderfully fatty they are by the “grease signature” on the bag. (Am I the first to coin that phrase? The language needs a way to describe that mouth-watering sign of deliciousness.)
The dog is pretty much classic. Not the stripped-down, Depression-era wiener of Gene’s and Jude’s, and not the kind of fully dressed wiener you might find elsewhere at fancier dog shacks. Condiments are fresh onions, relish (though not of the radioactive blue-green variety), sport peppers, tomato with celery salt, and mustard.
Parky’s used to have another location on Roosevelt in Berwyn, and like this location, it was connected to a house (would love to know if that was happenstance, or if the original Mr. Parky’s business model was built around the breakthrough concept of a dog stand with annexed living quarters, the better to accommodate around-the-clock dog tenders).
I would have preferred a little more snap in the dog, a fluffier bun, etc., but for $3.25, I got a dog with everything and fries, ate it streetside under a spreading tree and the upward thrust of the Parky’s roof, right beside the sign with the hand holding a naked dog, pinky finger cocked in faux elegance.
Parky’s may not be the most sterling exemplar of the Chicago dog, and it may be a bit funky around the edges, but it’s a local treasure and I’m very glad it’s in my hood.