There are several hallmarks at a classic Chicago street food stand. The food centers around hot dogs, Italian beef, and the occasional pizza puff. The letterboard menus (often featuring a soft drink sponsor) make natives feel they are in a safe space, a place where they can find an affordable and quality meal. To honor these restaurants, Eater Chicago has launched a regular feature called Standing Reservation highlighting some of the more noteworthy stands around the city and suburbs.
Next up is Gene & Jude’s, the lauded locale where diners can find the singular Depression Dog.
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If there was ever a Chicago-area hot dog stand that requires little introduction, it’s Gene & Jude’s. A destination for more than seven decades, the storied sausage spot is the home of the Depression Dog, a slightly dressed-down alternative to the classic Chicago-style hot dog. Composed of a red hot sausage doused in yellow mustard, relish, white onion, and sport peppers, what really sets the signature dog apart is its crown of crispy, crunchy French fries.
The legendary stand, housed in a squat white brick building in suburban River Grove, is also known for its rules, proudly posted to its website: “No seats. No Ketchup. No pretense. No nonsense.”
Though Gene & Jude’s is firmly situated beyond the city limits, its history — steeped in mythology — has roots in Chicago proper thanks to late co-founder Gene Mormino, who in 1946 opened his first hot dog stand on the corner of Polk and Western Avenue in Tri-Taylor. A year prior, according to legend, Morimo and his friends attended a baseball game at Wrigley Field but found their meal of hot dogs and drinks to be wanting. He set to work experimenting with ingredients and thus, the Depression Dog was born.
Morimo was “a bit of a cowboy,” his son Joe Morimo, the stand’s current owner, told Time Out Chicago in 2008, and in 1949 he lost the hot dog business after wagering it in a poker game. This prompted his departure for the suburbs, where he and his high-school friend Jude DeSantis co-founded the spare yet storied stand at 2720 N. River Road, about half an hour by car outside the city.
Gene & Jude’s general manager Dan Ciancio answered a series of emailed questions. Below are his lightly edited responses.
Eater: Who are you and what is your relationship to Gene & Jude’s?
My name is Dan Ciancio. I am the general manager at Gene and Jude’s.
When did Gene & Jude’s open?
Gene and Jude’s has been family-owned since [it] opened in 1946.
What’s the one thing that customers would notice if you changed?
We have a very small menu—all we serve are hot dogs, double dogs, fries and tamales. If we changed anything on our menu, our customers would notice. Many of our customers have been coming for generations. They like everything the way we have been serving it since we opened our doors.
What is the best-selling item at Gene & Jude’s, and what do you think makes it special?
Our best-selling item is our hot dog with fries. What we do differently from other hot dog stands is Gene had the idea to serve the fresh-cut fries on top of the hot dog and wrapped all together.
How have price increases for food affected Gene & Jude’s in recent months?
In the past few years with COVID and increases [in] our supplies, we have had to modestly increase our prices, just like all other businesses.
What do you think makes Chicago street food special?
Chicagoans are very passionate about their food. For food places to thrive, they have to come up with something unique, and this brings a lot of good food options to the Chicago area.