City Billiards says that the recipe it uses to make chili for chili dogs is 50 years old. It is a good one that deserves longevity. The dog itself is a pink little pup without much character, but as chili dog aficionados know, that’s often exactly right as the foundation for a transcendent frankfurter. An excellent artisan sausage, even a top-notch, all-beef frank like you expect in Chicago, could upset the balance and detract from the chili. At City Billiards, the wiener exists more for harmony than melody: an oinky home for a thick application of chili that is dense and meaty, teetering deliciously between sweet and spicy. In concert with grated cheese and/or cole slaw, you’ve got an A-1 true-South hot dog.
The main culinary attraction at City Billiards is not the chili dog, but the cheeseburger, which is, according to the sign outside, “the best cheeseburger you’ll ever eat.” I don’t necessarily agree with that assertion, but this is one heck of a fine burger, a half-pound of ground short rib and chuck, pattied thick and beautifully grilled, its velvety insides ready to drip juice at first bite. If you order one, you will be asked how you want it dressed. “What’s normal here?” I inquire, and receive mine with mayonnaise, mustard, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, and raw onions. It is a handsome and delicious package.
A wonderful array of specialty burgers includes a Southern Stack (with a fried green tomato, gouda cheese, and caramelized onions), a Caribbean (with ghost pepper cheese and a jolt of jerk seasoning), a Southern BBQ burger, and a Kitchen Sink burger with the works. A Knife & Fork Burger comes freighted with French fries and vividly woodsy mushroom pan gravy.
City Billiards, which really does have a couple of six-pocket tables at the back of the dining room, offers a broad bar menu of sandwiches, salads, and wings with and without bones. Among locals, it is a spot for lunch and casual supper. Despite the tavern-like mise-en-scene, families feel right at home.