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Who let the dogs out? 

Mike's Dog Haus unleashes a Chi-style frank fit for a fork

Does this sound familiar? You're a kid eating dinner and object to the fact that one item on your plate is touching another, perhaps the cranberry sauce contaminating a slice of turkey. You're told that it doesn't matter because "It all ends up in your stomach anyway."

I never could figure that one out. Even when I was young, that reasoning seemed to fly in the face of the whole concept of food preparation. If it truly doesn't matter, why not dispense with the whole ritual of dining, put the whole meal (green beans, new potatoes, dessert) into a blender and drink your dinner in a draught?

Most restaurants believe in separating entrees and side items, but the all-at-once approach is embodied at Mike's Chicago Dog Haus in Sandy Springs. Order The Works ($2.99) and you'll get a hot dog laden with chili, cheese, sauerkraut and a relish of vivid green, all but engulfing the frank and bun. It makes for gooey mouthfuls of multiple junk-food flavors that must be eaten with a fork.

The Works is distinguished from a hot dog "with everything, Chicago-style," which comes bearing tomato, onion, a pickle spear, spicy peppers, mustard and a sprinkle of celery salt, all on a steamed, poppy seed bun. The crunchiness of the condiments adds an extra kick, while the salt-and-pepper spiciness suggests that Chicago-style dogs are more deservedly called "red hots" than the ones you get at a ball park. Mike's dogs tend to be average in size -- not foot-longs -- so if you arrive with an appetite, you might want to order two.

The everything-and-the-kitchen-sink philosophy extends to the decor of the Sandy Springs eatery, which is virtually a storage place for kitschy accoutrements, including a pinball game. The bright yellow walls are covered not only with posters of heroes from the Windy City (Da Bullz, Da Bearz, Da Bluez Brotherz), but also with cut-outs of pro wrestlers, Polaroid snapshots, lists of great novels, signs reading "Danger - Men Cooking" and more. When crowded, Mike's looks like a birthday party in progress, with balloons tied to chairs and, during the holidays, Christmas-themed cloths on the tables. The festive atmosphere doesn't necessarily extend to the employees, who can look incongruously glum even when wearing jester hats.

My favorite item so far from Mike's is the Polish sausage dog ($2.89). The link is fried on the griddle, giving the skin an unusual crispy texture that seals in the juiciness. I ordered this one "Maxwell Street"-style, which includes grilled onions, peppers, pickle and mushroom. There's also a simpler blending of toppings, which customers can order in virtually any combination they wish, including coleslaw and Brunswick Stew in addition to the ones listed above.

The Italian Combo sandwich is a hefty concoction with generous portions of both sliced Italian beef and a length of Italian sausage served on French bread. Unfortunately, the meat items are so juicy that the bread becomes sodden and spongy almost immediately. If, unlike me, you don't mind soft, mushy bread, this could be just your cup of, uh, dough.

Sides include crisp onion rings, fried in a thick coating of batter, as well as standard but passable French fries. The restaurant also offers thick shakes and a freezer full of ice cream desserts -- a great place to bring kids for something sweet. It may not overthrow Barker's as the city's most delicious hot dog (Barker's long, charred franks withstand all challenges and attract junk-food gourmets), but its authenticity puts Mike's in a haus by itself.

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