Hot Diggety: Wholly Joe's offers a slice of Chicago

America is obsessed with hot dogs.

The proof: The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that we eat 20-billion hot dogs each year.

"That's enough for every man, woman and child in the world to enjoy a hot dog," the group's Web site enthuses. Another nugget from the council: kids prefer ketchup on their dogs while adults favor mustard.

Sounds reasonable.

This frank discussion, ahem, brings us to Wholly Joe's, a better-than-average hot dog joint on the Far North Side. The counter-service operation combines both suburban and urban aesthetics -- lots of big windows, a concrete floor, Formica-topped tables and such -- under one roof.

Simply put, the place serves a memorable dog. Two, fully loaded, make a hearty meal at lunch, even for larger appetites. The wiener is of the Red Hot Chicago variety, an all-beef dog, lightly spiced with a taut casing. If you get it prepared to the specifications of the restaurant, it comes with yellow mustard, relish, onions, tomato, cucumber, pickle and sports peppers, a type of pepporoncini. Whew. That's alot of stuff, a nicely assembled package that's wrapped in a steamed poppy seed bun. There's nothing wrong with keeping the dog more simple, or dousing it with chili.

Another of Wholly Joe's specialties is its Italian beef sandwich -- narrow slices of beef and cheese on a crusty bun. It, too, comes with a variety of options. A mild jus gives the sandwich some moisture while a spicy giardiere really wakes up the flavor.

Other things we liked: a crispy fish sandwich, Polish sausage, flame-boriled cheeseburger, and sub with three nicely sized, housemade meatballs.

We had mixed success with the deep-dish pizza, another of the house specialties. We like its crust, firm on the bottom and supportive of the ingredients, and the oregano-forward tomato sauce, sparkling with acidity.

We weren't crazy about the prodigious amount of cheese, which puts to shame any '80s hair-metal band. We ordered peopperoni and roast beef, the latter of which you couldn't taste over the mozzarella. All told the 12-inch was certainly more than enough for two people.

Keep in mind that it takes about 45 minutes to cook one of these things, so if you dine in, order ahead. Maybe you can order a hot dog as an appetizer.

Vital Hot Dog Statistics

In 2007, consumers spent more than $4.1 billion on hot dogs and sausages in U.S. supermarkets – that equals more than 1.5 billion pounds of hot dogs and sausages bought at retail stores alone.