Ryan Lewis: Conqueror of America’s Dog

Gavin Hilder Staff Writer Ever since I can remember, my favorite food has been the hot dog. In particular, I have always enjoyed the deliciousness of a Chicago style hot dog. In my opinion, there is nothing better than the combination of yellow mustard, diced white onions, neon green pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. In fact, I was so in love with the Chicago style hot dog that I had not been fully aware of any other styles of hot dogs until Ryan Lewis, a junior, told be about a new hot dog place on Lincoln Ave: America’s Dog. The first time I went there I was blown away by the restaurant’s originality. It features hot dogs from 21 different cities across the continental United States. The restaurant wall reads: In 1993, my brother and I packed up my Jeep and left Chicago taking a road trip across this great country. We sampled the local hot dogs in every city and brought the best back home with us to Chicago. Now it’s your turn to TASTE THE BEST FROM EAST TO WEST. These hot dogs are truly the best. With selections ranging from the New Orleans Dog (BBQ sauce, grilled onions, and tomatoes) to the Richmond Dog (mac & cheese, bacon, and shredded cheddar cheese) to the Tucson Dog (jalapeno hot dog with chorizo, melted cheese, and crispy tortilla chips), you can’t go wrong. While I don’t know if I can personally say that (I have only tried 5 out of the 21 hot dogs), Ryan Lewis, the man who originally introduced me to this place, has now eaten 18 different hot dogs, making him an expert on the topic and a member of the Road Trip Club. After Ryan was inducted into the Road Trip Club with his picture on the America’s Dog website, a t-shirt, and a free meal for two, I sat down with the legend to talk about all things hot dogs and his journey to devour 18 different kinds.

Q: How and when did you begin this contest? How does it feel to have finally completed the task and be a member of the very prestigious Road Trip Club? A: I had been going to America’s dog for a long time and just filling out Frequent Dogger cards: a “buy 10 hot dogs get 1 free” hole punch card.  My usual order consists of a Des Moines Dog (corn dog), a Pittsburgh Dog (chili dog), a Buffalo Dog (buffalo sauce dog), or a Chicken Caesar wrap, so I was filling out Frequent Doggers at a very rapid pace.  It was around the time I finished my eighth Frequent Dogger card that I decided I needed a new challenge, so I began the America’s Dog Road Trip.  For a hot dog eater like me, 18 hot dogs with no time limit was hardly a challenge, but the reward for such a task was far greater than just another free hot dog.  It’s truly an honor to be a part of such an exclusive club. I don’t know anyone else who has completed the trip. Q: What were your favorite and least favorite hot dogs out of the 18? What makes or breaks a good hot dog in your opinion? A: My least favorite dog was the Green Bay dog, a hot dog with just melted cheese on top.  I am not a fan of cheese so this one was hard to get through.  My favorite is between the classic Chicago dog, the Buffalo dog, and the New Orleans Dog.  What makes a hot dog is a very hard question to answer, as there are so many different answers. However, what ruins a hot dog is pretty simple: an excess of raw onions, cheese, or coleslaw. Q: Is your hot dog eating career over, or will you try and go for all 21 dogs and then some more? A: My hot dog eating career is never over.  As I said before, this road trip was not much of a challenge for me because I enjoy eating hot dogs. I didn’t complete the Road Trip because I wanted to compete or to add to the “sport.”  I completed the Road Trip because it’s what I love doing; the competitive edge and phenomenal rewards just make it a little more exciting. Q: One last question…are you planning anything special for your 2-year anniversary with junior Amanda Orenstein? A: For our 2 year I am planning on a romantic hot dog dinner at America’s Dog.  It has everything a date requires: ambiance, quality food, great wait staff, and cleanliness.  So, ya… I’m gonna take her to a hot dog dinner.  Why wouldn’t I?
    [gallery] Although not all of us have Ryan’s sheer eating power (I know that I could never eat four plus hot dogs in one sitting; my metabolism is way too slow for that), everyone reading this should go to America’s Dog and begin their very own American Road Trip. You could even make it your summer project; it’s a fun experience and a great way to try very unique and distinctive hot dogs without having to actually travel.  Once again, congratulations to Ryan Lewis and a big “thank you” to him for sitting down with me and answering the above questions.