I was a bit skeptical of Hot Diggity's February special, as I am of many reimagined, fancied-up regional hot dogs. Messing with something like the New Jersey Italian Hot Dog or "NJIHD" —a north Jersey thing, land of the most hard-core hot dog purists in the country—is dangerous. Jersey-style pizza bread made by an organic artisan pizza place in Philadelphia? Fingerling potatoes tossed with fancy olive oil and chives? I could just picture Jim Racciopi of Jimmy Buff's and Hotdoglover marching down Philadelphia's South Street with pitchforks.
Hot Diggity is a year-and-a-half old gourmet hot dog restaurant in Philadelphia with a standard menu of 10 regionally inspired dogs, along with killer monthly specials like Korean chili and "honey dust" topped Corn Dogs, shrimp salad and caviar topped Swedish Dogs, and this month's Jersey-inspired creation.
And guess what? It works.
Aside from a little more cheffy finesse to the ingredients, and a slightly smaller size, the flavors and balance of ingredients are right in line with the real thing. Yes, the slightly blackened pizza bread from nearby Nomad Pizza's wood-fired brick oven isn't quite as soft as the North Jersey original, but it's also delicious. The dogs are all-beef Best Provisions from Newark, deep-fried, the gold standard for authentic NJIHD's. The peppers and onions are slow-cooked rather than deep fried, and the fancy fingerling medallions are crisp and perfectly seasoned. It's also a pretty good deal for something with this much going on at around $6, not far from the standard price in Jersey.
Hot Diggity's NJIHD is a great example of "elevated" regional food done right, with knowledge of proper ingredients, and fancying it up without disrespecting, or being ignorant of, the original. Messing with traditional foods with fanatical followings is always going to piss somebody off. All I can say is, come in and try it before you judge.
If there's any regional dog out there that deserves to be the next big thing, it's this one. It might look like just another gross-out shock value gimmick food, but it's really all about the insane quality and proper execution of a few relatively simple ingredients, and it has a sort of magical jersey comfort food quality to it that still surprises me every time I have one, whether it's from Tommy's in Elizabeth or Hot Diggity in Philadelphia.
About the author: 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/.