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Hot Dog of the Week: Memphis Taproom Beer Garden in Philadelphia

"It's looking like this will be a good year for hot dogs in Philadelphia."

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[Original artwork and photographs: Hawk Krall]

The lack of world-class hot dogs in Philadelphia is something I've mentioned here many times. Traveling the country eating the best in the world and coming home to yet another gastropub trying to pass off a boiled, bland skinless hot dog on a baguette with arugula as "gourmet" is disappointing.

There's a handful of great spots here, many outside the city. One of my favorites, Nicky & Pete's, a really good no-frills hot dog joint in far west Philly, recently closed. But Memphis Taproom has changed the game. These might be the best hot dogs I've ever eaten in Philadelphia.

The big shocker are the frankfurters themselves—extra long, Best Provision all-beef natural casing dogs from New Jersey. These are some of the best hot dogs in the country, grilled or deep-fried in peanut oil on a bright green truck that sits in Memphis Taproom's brand new beer garden.

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The Memphis Taproom is a Triple-D approved bar in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. They've been around since 2008 but just opened the outdoor beer garden on a former vacant lot last weekend. Along with the dogs, the truck serves about a dozen varieties of canned craft beer.

I started off with the PA Dutchie, a smart Pennsylvania Dutch riff on the Chicago dog topped with two varieties of pickled cucumber, fresh tomatoes, onions, mustard, celery salt and lots of chow-chow, the vinegary Pennsylvania Dutch cabbage salad similar to pepper hash, which was ubiquitous as a hot dog condiment in Philadelphia thirty years ago.

The chow-chow and the majority of the garnishes are made in-house. Everything was fresh and awesome, not surprising coming from chef Jesse Kimball, who has worked in some serious high-end kitchens.

My only complaint is the dense, bready vegan bun. Practically every place serving hot dogs in Philly puts them on big hoagie rolls, the idea being that the big roll holds in the toppings and makes it more of a meal. More "Philly" or more "gourmet."

But hoagie rolls are for hoagies, cheesesteaks, even sausage sandwiches—not hot dogs. It messes up the frankfurter-bread-topping ratio. I don't want every third bite to be just bread and mustard. I'd pay an extra dollar for a regular old hot dog bun. But everything else on Memphis Taproom's hot dogs is so good it almost doesn't matter.

I also tried the Pølser, a Denmark style, bacon-wrapped dog topped with pickles, dijon, remoulade, and a pile of crispy fried shallots. I've never had the real thing in Denmark but this was mind-blowing.

The menu has 10 varieties of dog all together, from the Korean kimchi Olney dog to a Jersey-esque deep-fried dog topped with potatoes and peppers. Word on the street is the menu will change regularly, but hopefully the Dutchie and Polser aren't going anywhere.

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I'm dying to try the Sun Devil, a Mexican-style dog topped with pinto beans, garlic mayo, and a roasted long hot. Most "modern" takes on Mexican-style dogs can be pretty clumsy, but like everything else here, the creative touches are tasteful and make sense. These are gourmet dogs done right, up there with Crif Dogs, Bark and Senate but still doing their own thing.

It's looking like this will be a good year for hot dogs in Philadelphia. Chef Scott Schroeder of the South Philly Taproom has been hinting at some sort of secret hot dog project. The Dapper Dog cart continues to thrive, despite being shut down by the cops for serving hot dogs past midnight, and there's a brand new hot dog emporium set to open on South Street in the next few months. Looks like I have a lot to eat this summer.

Memphis Taproom

2331 East Cumberland Street, Philadelphia PA 19125 (map); 215-425-4460; memphistaproom.com

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/.

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