After two years of writing this column, I get asked fairly often if I'm sick of hot dogs. But there's so many regional nuances and new places opening that, no, it doesn't ever get boring. One thing that definitely keeps it exciting is discovering super bizarre old-school hot dog stands that I've never heard of tucked away in some forgotten neighborhood at the bottom of Philadelphia.
RJ's is just that kind of place, a side-of-the-road shack in Tinicum Township, in the shadow of the Philadelphia Airport and a few blocks from the supposed (and disputed) birthplace of the Stromboli. I had actually never heard of RJ's, which is known for their "World Famous Chili Sauce," until driving down here for a visit to the city dump.
About a year ago, on my first RJ's visit, I made the mistake of ordering the standard dogs off the menu before realizing that everyone in line behind me was ordering them "grilled, all the way!" The Dietz & Watson skinless dogs were OK steamed, but coming back to try them split and grilled on the flat top was definitely worth it. While the franks themselves aren't anything special, split and semi-charred on the grill they go really well with RJ's two unique styles of chili.
The mild chili is more like a loose, meaty baked bean sauce flecked with bits of ground beef in a tomato-based sauce. I'm normally against beans in hot dog chili but this was actually pretty good and really different. With the butterflied dog every bite has a consistent bun-to-dog-to-topping ratio although they use the chili rather sparingly. It's worth noting that these dogs are super cheap at $1.40 to $1.75.
The finely ground, orange-brown hot chili is surprisingly spicy, even sparingly spread on the dog with a bit of mustard my eyes were watering. The complete package being somewhat comparable to the dogs served at Philly's few remaining Texas Weiner stands but with a sturdier bun and insanely hot sauce.
Also, for the low price of $99, you can get married at RJ's by owner Ronnie Jones who is an ordained minister of the Church Of Spiritual Humanism. Personally I think Rutt's Hut would be a better location for a hot dog wedding, with the large dining room and bar area. Maybe get married at RJ's and take a bus to Rutt's for the reception?
RJ's also does burgers, hand-cut fries, cheesesteaks and a garbage plate-esque "fat bastard" breakfast platter consisting of hash browns, three eggs, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, two meats, pepperoni and cheese melted on top.
RJ's Hot Dog Stand
47 Wyandotte Street, Lester PA 19029 (map); 610- 521-5511
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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