As a hot dog aficionado, the encased meat situation in my home base of Philadelphia has always been a challenge. Sure, we have awesome, obscure old school traditions like the fish cake combo and a handful of newer spots like the Dapper Dog Cart and Yo Dogs in the suburbs. I'm a firm supporter of Philly hot dog traditions, but after eating hot dogs from Maine to Alabama, it's hard to find anything here that can compete with what's going on in the rest of the country. So every time I hear about a new hot dog place I'm excited that it might be the one to put us on the map.
Fork & Barrel is a beer-centric gastropub out in East Falls, a few miles from center city, from a team that have made a name for themselves with malt braised short ribs and hand pumped cask ales at Tap & Table in northeastern Pennsylvania. Looking over recent reviews gushing about Fork & Barrel's wild game menu and insane beer selection (on par with the best in the city), what really caught my attention was the brief mention of a separate hot dog menu.
Upstairs from the candlelit dining room is the more casual, peanut shell-crusted second floor with a giant American flag, a separate domestic beer list, and sixteen different regional-themed hot dogs. The dogs range from the semi authentic Flo's-esque Maine Dog, to more gourmet, free form, and downright weird concoctions like the crumbled sausage and baked bean Montana Dog and the blue cheese and caramelized onion Philly Dog (huh?).
Fork & Barrel's dogs all start out with steamed, jumbo Nathan's skinless all-beef franks on short hoagie rolls. Hoagie rolls seem to be everyone's answer to "Philadelphiafying" a hot dog, but more often than not it's too much bread. Most of these had enough toppings to keep a good weiner-bread-topping ratio, but I'd still rather see places like this using traditionally sized hot dog rolls from a local bakery.
The New Orleans Dog came first, piled with ham, Gruyère cheese, Mornay sauce, and a fried egg. Not quite up to the level of the similar, epic Croque Madame dog I had at Senate in Cincinnati last year, but pretty damn good for six bucks.
Despite my initial dismay at the fancy rough cut red slaw, the Carolina Dog was one of my favorites. The dry, mildly Greek-spiced chili was almost exactly like what you would get on a dog down south, and the rough cut cabbage gave the dog a crunchy texture that it wouldn't have had with creamy slaw.
The Maine Dog, topped with a dark onion sauce, mayo, and celery salt, is a take on the "special" from Flo's on Route 1 in Maine. If I had never been to Flo's I might enjoy this, but it's hard to ignore that it's not even close to the original. That secret sauce is tough to crack and you really need to have natural casing dogs and New England buns.
My favorite was the simple Lancaster Dog, piled high with braised cabbage and drizzled with a Stoudt's beer syrup. The kraut was slightly caramelized and the use of beer really fit with the spirit of the restaurant. Makes me think I should have also tried the beer-fondue and Worcestershire sauce Green Bay Dog.
So is Fork & Barrel the holy grail Philadelphia hot dog emporium that I've been waiting for? Probably not, but it sure might be one of the best places for craft beer in the city, with a terrific menu and some decent, reasonably priced gourmet hot dogs. And one of the few places in the world where you can order a chili dog with a side of goose liver and wash it down with a 25-ounce bottle of 9% abv Belgian ale.
For more about Fork & Barrel check out Craig Laban's recent review at Philly.com.
Fork & Barrel
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/.