Past Weeks' Dogs
One of my favorite things about Philadelphia, aside from the acclaimed restaurants and traditional favorites, are all of the neighborhoods overflowing with undiscovered food gems. Far-off corners of the city with things like the "Pizzazz," a pizza with American cheese and yellow peppers unknown to most people outside of the area.
So, flipping through the phone book, I was excited to find a listing for "Nicky And Pete's Famous Hot Dogs" on 64th Street, in a tiny, dwindling Italian neighborhood consisting of about four blocks in the middle of West Philadelphia, an area more known for Caribbean and soul food. How famous could it be? Was it even still there?
The other day I ventured up there, expecting a 75-year old lunch counter with a few old timers drinking 50-cent coffee and talking about plumbing, eating sad burgers and cheap hot dogs with greasy chili. But what I found was a brand-spanking-new hot dog stand, doing more than 13 different hot dog styles.
Nicky & Pete's is down the street from an Italian social club and next-door to an old-school cafe, complete with guys out front smoking cigars, drinking espresso and speaking in a Sicilian dialect, who seem to make up a good part of Nicky & Pete's business. They do the whole nine yards as far as Philly sandwiches go—hoagies, cheesesteaks, breaded chicken cutlet with longhots and sharp provolone, homemade meatballs. Sides of pepper shooters (cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto-wrapped sharp provolone), crab fries, and wings.
But what really knocked me out is the serious hot dog menu. They're cooking them up Philly-style with Dietz & Watson dogs split and grilled, served on club rolls (the short, double-wide size is perfect for a split hot dog).
They have the classic Philly pepper hash and even the famous "Philly surf and turf" fish cake and hot dog combo. Then there's the signature Nicky & Pete special with Cheez Whiz, onions, and "special sauce" that tasted like a cross between red onion sauce and mild chili (they also have a thicker standard "chili").
They also have a Chicago Dog, Baltimore Dog with slaw and bacon, and even a Jersey Dog with peppers, onions, and potatoes. Not deep-fried, or on pizza bread—heresy to the North Jersey Italian hot dog purists, I'm sure—but it was damn good, and pretty rare on Philadelphia hot dog menus.
Also on the menu is a New York Dog with kraut and mustard, South Beach with American cheese and tomatoes (the Pizzazz Dog?), Pete's Dog with pickles, and The Godfather, piled with pretty much every topping in the house. I'm sure if you requested, they could even whip you up a "South Philly Dog" (they have all the ingredients) but Nicky & Pete's dogs beat anything coming from Citizens Bank Park by leaps and bounds.
Nicky & Pete's is pretty much a take-out only joint, although there is a steak shop-style stainless steel ledge with a few stools if you want to eat in. Everything is cooked to order with some serious care, and I'm betting the steaks and homemade meatball sandwiches are worth making another trip for. The prices are ridiculously low—the dogs are all $2.10, except for the Godfather ($2.70) and the combo ($3). The rest of the sandwiches all hover around $5, and a cheesesteak is only $3.75.
There's some other good stuff in the neighborhood (known as Overbrook) including the original location of Jim's Steaks and a pizza place that might be worth checking out, but I don't think I'll be able to go all the way up there without grabbing a few hot dogs to-go.
They've been in business for only eight months. The only downside? That it isn't closer to Center City. I'm not going to say it's officially my new favorite place in Philly, but the next time someone asks me where to go for hot dogs here, I'm sending them on a trip to 64th street.
Nicky & Pete's Famous Hot Dogs
349 N. 64th Street, Philadelphia PA 19139 (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/.