Hot Dog Of The Week: Texas Tommy
"Philly is greatly underrepresented in the hot dog history books."
This week we take a look at another Philadelphia hot dog—one that seems to have slipped through the cracks of hot dog history. Popular with 1950s housewives and on almost every greasy spoon menu in Philadelphia, Eastern Pennsylvania, and South Jersey, the Texas Tommy is a grilled and split hot dog loaded with bacon and lots of cheese. Other condiments are optional but not necessary.
The earliest Texas Tommys were wrapped in bacon before being cooked and grilled, or deep-fried like they used to make them at The Cup in Pottstown, Pennsylvania (now closed). This might seen familiar if you've ever seen Rick Sebak's fantastic 1999 Hot Dog Program on PBS. It's possible that the Texas Tommy even inspired the bacon-wrapped Tijuana Dogs, first spotted on the streets of Mexico in the 1950s. Or maybe great minds just think alike.
Popular with mid-century housewives, recipes for bacon-wrapped dogs (along with some really bizarre hot dog atrocities) appeared in ladies magazines, often cooked under the broiler with slices of American cheese or Velveeta. It's unclear if the popularity with home cooks led to them being on every menu in the Delaware Valley or vice versa.
Also mysterious is where the name "Texas Tommy" came from, although it's safe to assume it went along with the general branding of hot dogs as "Texan" on the East Coast.
In Philly, Texas Tommys are available at almost any neighborhood establishment with a grill. Usually split and cooked on a flat top—a common preparation in Philly and Pennsylvania, and probably my favorite way to cook a hot dog—and covered with dripping globs of delicious Cheez Whiz and strips of bacon. Well known cheesesteak and roast pork spots Tony Luke's and John's Roast Pork both have them.
At Nick's Charcoal Pit, also a great place for a char-grilled filet mignon sandwich on Italian bread with spinach and provolone, they grill their dogs over hot coals and serve them on kaiser rolls, drowned in Whiz and crumbled bacon. Delicious.
Old-school diners often have the Texas Tommy hidden on the bottom of the menu, alongside the liver special and sardine sandwiches. Little Pete's in Center City Philadelphia has a terrific Texas Tommy with American cheese, served with a pickle and a shiny silver bag of chips for $3.50. Kosher-style delis (with an emphasis on the word "style") also make them with all-beef kosher dogs, yet still covered in bacon and cheese.
Earlier this week Serious Eats put Philadelphia up against New York, and in the hot dog category Ed announced New York the clear winner. While I can't deny New York's status as the birthplace of hot dogs (and pretty much the hot dog capital of the world), Philly is greatly underrepresented in the hot dog history books.
From the Fish Cake Combo to the Texas Tommy, hot dogs topped with pepper hash, and other curious creations hidden away in ancient neighborhood luncheonettes, we've got our own thing going on, even some newfangled Philly dogs from Paesano's, a new sandwich shop in Northern Liberties.
They've got the Tuscan Tony, a split and grilled dog wrapped in soppressata, provolone, buried in bolognese sauce and served on seeded roll. They also have a brand-new, yet to be named Philly uber-dog loaded with scrapple and long-hot peppers.
39 E. Oregon Ave, Philadelphia PA 19148 (map)
Nick's Charcoal Pit
1242 Snyder Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19148 (map)
219 S. 17th Street, Philadelphia PA 19103 (map)
152 W. Girard Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19123 (map)
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.