The Dish is a multimedia food review segment co-produced by Will Davis and Carter Horan. Each week, they will travel to a North Shore restaurant to try, discuss, and evaluate the eats in and around Lake Forest.
Located comfortably in downtown Highland Park, Michael’s Hot Dogs is certainly a staple for many north shore citizens. Michael’s prides itself on their Chicago style dogs and their unique, homemade cheese sauce. Both of these items have been raved about by loyal customers on sites like Yelp and GrubHub. Another attractive feature of Michael’s is their array of televisions located in the seating area. It is said to be one of the best spots to watch sporting events in the entire Highwood/Highland Park area. The joint has been around since 1977 and has been extremely successful since their opening. All of these things made it a no brainer to go check out the scene at Michael’s.
With the Chicago Style Hot Dog coming in at just under four dollars (almost equal to the dog at Dogout in Bannockburn) and the Char Burger at around six, one can determine that the prices at Michael’s are certainly fair. While the frankfurter at Left Bank happens to be a trifle cheaper, menu items like fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, Italian beef, salads, and the grilled chicken sandwich are available exclusively to Michael’s, and a buck or so difference on the hot dog doesn’t make a major difference (that being said, the chili cheese markup on the hot dog at Michael’s vs Left Bank does create significant variation – $7 vs $3, respectively). Overall, the prices at Michael’s might not be the best around, but they are absolutely fair and get you a good amount of outstanding food.
Right in the heart of the vibrant city of Highland Park, Michael’s always seems to be packed. Our recent trip absolutely validated this, especially considering it was fairly early on a Tuesday night at a place that we traditionally viewed as an above-average lunch spot. Upon entering Michael’s, one immediately notices the drawings covering the walls. These pictures definitely add a sense of community, as they depict authentic Highland Park scenes. However, the standard tables and chairs that dotted the gray flooring were not nearly as iconic, and while the function of these did not disappoint, they certainly didn’t present anything unique. Furthermore, half of the eating area was roped off as a private event space, creating an almost deserted feel due to all the extra space. While the presence of a private event space is a nice bonus, personally we would prefer if there was a wall (perhaps removable) present to block off the usually-empty area. This being said, Michael’s was recently redone, so all of the appliances were brand new. Furthermore, a plethora of televisions were added up front, making the spot a sweat venue for game watching.
Food Quality: 8/10
Although the prices at Michael’s come in at right around average, the grub offered definitely exceeded expectations. Having gone to Michael’s many times before (but not recently), we knew that we were in for some delicious food, but, to be fair, we did not realize the full extent of the incredible food quality. The main showstopper at Michael’s (at least for us) had to be the thick cheese sauce available both on the dogs and on the side with fries. Known as “Merkt’s Cheddar,” it seemed to compliment just about anything perfectly, and thus we have absolutely no complaints when it comes to the cheese. The ratio of this cheese to the hot dog, however, is an entirely different story. Although it’s fairly common to get an excess amount of cheese, Michael’s seemed to take it to the next level, and unfortunately this was not a good thing. This meant that after just the first bite, basically the entire bun had fallen apart and a fork and knife were needed to salvage the final (delicious) bites. Intensified by the presence of chili, this problem was certainly a nuisance. However, the wide selection of sides available provided a necessary break from the messy main entrees. We enjoyed mozzarella sticks, onion rings, and fries, although sweet potato fries and soup are also available. While all three of these sides were fairly unremarkable, the presence of the cheese sauce managed to wake them up a bit.
Immediately upon entering Michael’s, we were greeted by a kind employee who informed us of the necessity to pay in cash. Although this was no problem for a couple of high school boys, it’s expected that this would certainly be an annoyance for older folk. Moving on, the friendly cashier made up for this inconvenience with her kind greeting. After ordering from the extensive menu, we grabbed a seat in one of the many tables. Rather quickly, an employee brought the food over to us – an unnecessary yet convenient touch. Although there was a slight mixup with our cuisine, this was instantaneously corrected and thus warrants no dockage in points. Overall, the service at Michael’s was absolutely a bright spot in an already-fantastic establishment.
Spear Rating: 3 SPEARS (out of 4)