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Hot Dog of the Week: 24th & Passyunk Truck
"The dogs are your standard Deitz & Watson, but what really makes them stand out is the steamed buns and homemade pepper hash."
Tucked away in a corner of South Philadelphia, right around the corner from Philip's, one of my favorite cheesesteak joints, lies what just might be Philly's best kept hot dog secret. Hollyeats.com calls it the best hot dog in Philadelphia, and I think I might agree.
I parked in a nearby half-abandoned strip mall near a guy selling bootleg Phillies t-shirts, found a battered newsstand and a cart selling fish sandwiches, but that couldn't be it. Maybe this legendary hot dog man had disappeared, or simply went home at 2 p.m. or "when the bread runs out" like many of Philly's working class lunch spots.
Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a green truck with about 25 people lined up beside it and knew that this was the spot. Looks like a custom-built rig he's got going on—a pickup truck with a gleaming silver food service station built onto the back, serving hot dogs and sausages from steam trays.
The dogs are your standard Deitz & Watson, but what really makes them stand out is the steamed buns and homemade pepper hash—an old-school Philadelphia cousin to slaw made with cabbage, green peppers, vinegar, a touch of sugar, and maybe some celery or mustard seed.
His signature dog is the 1/3 pound hot sausage served on a fresh New Jersey Del Buono's long roll. The combination of sweet pepper hash, tangy mustard, and spicy sausage totally blew me away. No wonder people are lining up 25 deep.
The 24th & Passyunk Hot Dog truck has been around since at least 2001, Monday through Friday. I would assume he's gone by late afternoon when that area becomes a ghost town. The vendor was a great host—knew half the people in line by name, and was happy to let me snap a few photos and chat for a second while he furiously whipped up dogs and sausages for the growing line of customers.
An old recipe popular in Pennsylvania German cooking, pepper hash was a common side dish in Philadelphia's early 20th century fish houses. Early recipes were really more of a pickling technique, some calling for cloves and mustard seed, but today tend to use more sugar and carrots for color. The secret seems to be really pulverizing the cabbage and green pepper and letting the mixture soak in vinegar so the juices and flavors all run together.
Another great discovery here is the bread from Del Bouno's Bakery in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. Not only are the rolls terrific but this place looks seriously worthy of a trip to South Jersey.
Somewhere along the line, pepper hash got mixed up with hot dogs. It's a great combination and probably Philly's biggest contender for a popular signature hot dog. Sure we've got my favorite the Philly Combo, but for most people a bready fishcake on top of a hot dog is just too weird, and will probably remain an obscure forgotten relic.
But the pepper hash hot dog? It's close to a slaw dog, yet unique enough to stand on it's own. Lots of Pennsylvania German and Philly street cred, plus the hash is relatively easy and cheap to make. Whether or not "pepper hash dogs" spread across Philadelphia and the world like wildfire, this guy and his makeshift truck has the best around.
Hot Dog Truck
Passyunk Ave between 23rd & 24th Street, Philadelphia Pennsylvania 19145 (map)
(Usually in front of Dunkin' Donuts. Look for the line.)
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/.