After working in restaurants forever and spending the last year eating and thinking about hot dogs pretty much 24 hours a day, it's been a rumbling in the back of my mind that I should just open up a damn late-night hot dog stand already. Philadelphia's lack of eclectic, gourmet, or late-night hot dogs (or basically any mobile vendors open after 5pm at all) is a giant hole just waiting to be filled.
Too bad these guys beat me to it.
The Dapper Dog cart comes out for lunch a few days a week, and every Friday and Saturday night on the bar-choked corner of 2nd and Poplar Street in the city's Northern Liberties section. The menu is total drunk food, the kind of thing I might try to make at home after 12 beers and maybe a funny-tasting cigarette: hot dogs topped with pepperoni, tomato sauce, asparagus, mac and cheese, fried eggs. They also do all sorts of specials, such as the mashed potato dog above or a "Greek hot dog" which is basically the contents of a Greek salad piled onto a hot dog.
The Dapper cart's dogs are all-beef, split and grilled and served on halved hoagie rolls. You can go with the wild creations on their menu or build your own from a variety of toppings, even add an extra hot dog for a buck. I didn't try the Chicago Dog or the Jersey dog with potato, peppers and onions—both things I'd rather eat on their home turf—but went right for the mashed potato dog with grilled green onions and oozing with American cheese. I was actually surprised at how good it was. The mashed potatoes weren't half bad and great with a squirt of mustard.
The "Mack" was up next, a big heap of mac and cheese piled onto the hot dog, another carb-on-carb stomach bomb. I feel like I've seen a lot of mac and cheese dogs lately (Moe's Hot Dog House also in Philly has one). The purists might cringe but it's actually not half bad, and sort of makes sense if you've ever had a trashy meal of cheap mac and cheese from a box next to a hot dog or two.
The next exercise in hot dog heresy was the "Coney Island Express", a slight nod to the meat sauce / chili topped Coneys that are sold pretty much everywhere but Coney Island. Except this "Coney" had beans all over it, and bright yellow banana peppers, the same you might find on a Wawa hoagie. Sorry guys, you lost me with this one. This is the kind of chili I made when I was in college and drunk out of my mind —canned beans and tomatoes, some ground beef and every spice in the cabinet—but maybe that's the idea.
I'm a bit on the fence with the local trend of hot dogs on giant hoagie rolls. I appreciate it as a Philly-centric spin, but it's too much bread unless you're serving a bigger dog, two dogs on one bun, or have a lot of toppings, which Dapper Dog does. These suckers are loaded and you get your $3.50 worth. It definitely makes a more substantial sandwich, but if you're like me and order four or five different hot dogs at each place, these things will put you in a food coma before you're halfway done. The solution? Bring friends.
Regardless of the beans in the chili, I give these guys kudos for breaking the seal on late-night hot dogs in Philadelphia. Our street food scene is mostly old-school: breakfast and lunch trucks, and some killer Caribbean, Chinese, and taco trucks near University of Penn and Temple, but the whole chef-driven, modern street food scene has been slow catching-on here, which seems odd to me given the amount of disgruntled sous chefs wandering around this city.
I thought maybe it had something to do with Philly's arcane health and licensing regulations, a hot mess of corruption and 200-year-old Quaker blue laws—where we end up with delicacies such as luke warm roast beef served out of a warming tray at every corner bar so they can stay open on Sundays. But these guys seemed to get this cart up and running without too much hassle.
Dapper Dog's version of "gourmet" is far from the boutique hot dogs of Brooklyn's Bark and more like Seattle's late night stands or New Brunswick's infamous Grease Trucks. Along with their regular corner, Dapper Dog is also setting up near Temple University a few days a month as well as outside local concerts and festivals on a regular basis.
The Dapper Dog
thedapperdog.org Open for lunch Wednesday and Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Open late Friday and Saturday 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
2nd and Poplar Street, Philadelphia PA 19123 (map)