The parade in Evergreen is a sight to behold. Well over 100 floats make their way down the main drag and the street is packed with rowdy spectators of all kinds. And when I say all kinds I mean bikers, old hippies and people dressed as cowboys. As far as I can tell, the parade actually consists of half of the town dressing up in cowboy suits and marching down Evergreen's main drag while the other half of the town lines the streets to drink and watch them. There is also some heckling, lots of water fights and did I mention drinking? But of course I exaggerate: not everyone is drunk, and not exactly everyone is dressed up as a cowboy or cowgirl. In fact, my favorite float this year, though not the winner of the much-coveted "Crowd Pleaser Award", was from the Evergreen Public Library and featured Xtreme Librarians doing semi-choreographed tricks with rolling book carts.
Obviously not everyone in Evergreen loves libraries as much as I do. Though one thing that most Evergreen-ians and I seem to enjoy are hot dogs (and barbecue), as evidenced by the long lines at a stand that was giving away free ones. But I didn't want to fill up on these roadside freebies, because part two of my Evergreen plans for that day had not been affected by the parade: Eat at CJ's Chicago Dogs.
Going on a strenuous hike (all hikes are strenuous to me now that I only eat and write in my spare time) with an extra 16 lbs strapped to one's chest is the perfect precursor to stuffing one's face with hot dogs, Italian beefs and other Chicago delights.
I was made aware of CJ's after writing a somewhat whiny review about the sad state of the Italian Beef at the infamous Chicago restaurant on West Colfax. Sine then I have come across some decent to pretty good beefs and a twitter-friend turned me on to CJ's last year. I suppose I could have made it over sooner had I visited their much closer-to-home Arvada location, but I wanted to try it at its original location--and who doesn't like a little trip to Evergreen?
My first impression of the small, cramped and decidedly un-flashy CJs was that of nostalgia and comfort. If it weren't for the fact that it was located under a stunning rock formation and surrounded by gorgeous rolling hills, pine trees and other mountain-town miscellany, it would have felt quite a lot like walking into any old Chicago-area hot dog stand.
Even the family working the counter was pleasantly full of dry humor, friendly sarcasm, no-nonsense work ethic and (maybe for my benefit) even engaged in a little Chicago-style family bickering. I felt right at home, especially when I started talking to the guy who was dipping my Italian beef roll in and out of the beef juice with great care. I told him that I still hadn't had a great beef in Colorado. In a fading but never-to-die Chicago accent he looked me in the eye and said: "We'll fix you up."
And fix me up he did. With one splendid-looking beef and an equally enticing Chicago-style dog. The beef was good, and so far the best beef I have had in Colorado. The bread was sopping with juices after taking several plunges into the hot beef juice container, and the beef itself was standard Vienna Italian Beef (they even sell the beef kit) topped with hot peppers of course. In Chicago it might be considered average, but here in the foothills of the Rockies, it was more than enough to satisfy my beef jones.
The hot dog was perfect. A natural casing dog with all the Chicago fixings from the bright yellow mustard to the neon-green relish. Each bite was a luscious crunch of pickles, peppers and tomatoes to compliment the soft poppy seed bun and meaty dog. And there was no ketchup to be found anywhere.
Ketchup on hot dogs, as I have explained before is blasphemous in Chicago. Chicago-style restaurants in Colorado do their best to educate the Colorado consumer about the proper uses of ketchup which pretty much only include a dip for French fries, an ingredient in meat loaf and as fake blood. Of all the Chicago-style restaurants I have visited in Colorado, I like CJ's educational pamphlet best. On the wall next to the tub with little dusty ketchup packets is written out the scene from Dirty Harry where Clint Eastwood himself goes ape-shit on his dweeb partner about putting ketchup on hot dogs.
CJ's of Evergreen serves a solid beef that should satisfy the hunger pangs of any Chicago ex-pat and also serve as a worthy beef ambassador to anyone new to the Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich. The hot dog by itself is almost worth the trip, though it's good to know that there is a closer-to-home Front Range location in Arvada.