March 6, 2012

Underdogs

I don't like hot dogs.  They're spongy, chewy logs of random meat pieces mashed together with a million preservatives, tons of salt, and served in flat, dry buns.  Right?!  Well, no, apparently not.  At least not at Underdogs, Philly's newest hot dog restaurant.  I've mentioned this place to a few friends now and received mostly a reaction along the lines of, "A hot dog RESTAURANT?"  Yup, this isn't just a stand in a ballpark, it's an actual "fast casual" spot with plenty of seating.



The name is actually spot on, since you must descend several steps to enter.  However, its location right off of 17th Street just north of Walnut makes it prime for Rittenhouse and shopping crowds.  (PS We recommend the nail salon upstairs..).
With our parentals up for their quarterly visit, we received a request for something inexpensive.  And, even though we don't like hot dogs, the Underdogs menu floating around the internets had us curious.


The menu stretches the entire length of the restaurant, giving you plenty of space to stand and study it.  You've got the American Classics- versions of the dog you might find in any niche or neighborhood around the country, and the Haute Dogs- a smattering of other American-based offerings as well as several ethnic inspired variations.  With twenty-three total options, you might find yourself needing to order more than one.


The good thing about Underdogs is that if you DON'T like the classic beef hot dog, you have tons of other options.  They focus on sourcing their meat locally, buying dogs from Dietz & Watson, but also chorizo, lamb sausage, spicy Italian sausage, and kielbasa, to name a few, all purchased from local vendors.

Speaking of which, our favorite "dog" of the night was The 9th Streeter, smartly ordered by our dad ($5.25).  Fiorella's (located in the Italian Market) spicy Italian sausage is thinly sliced, grilled, and layered with roasted red peppers and sauteed onions.  The quality and flavor of this sausage is unbelievable ("the best Italian sausage I've ever had," to quote its consumer), and the simple toppings added a tiny bit of textural contrast without smothering it.  The steep price tag reflects the fact that the sausage is made from whole pork parts, not the leftover scraps.

Another reason why we liked this so much?  The bun.  Soft, fluffy, just the right size to hold everything together and keep us clean, and with just a touch of wheaty flavor to complement each and every filling.

The 9th Streeter
Our mom was a little less adventurous, but being a lover of the classic hot dog, she stuck with The Underdog ($3.25).  Sticking with this simple beef dog keeps your price down, and you get your choice of several free toppings- she chose sauerkraut, onions, and mustard.  To the disappointment of our dad, you CAN get ketchup as well (anyone else deeply passionate for or against the hotdog + ketchup combination?).  A quality, filling little meal-- and have you ever seen such a carefully constructed hot dog?

The Underdog + Kraut/Onions/Mustard
I went with the Chicago Style dog, based off a classic combination from the Windy City ($3.75).  I think they do it right- fresh tomato slices, relish, chopped onions, whole pickled spicy sport peppers (the KEY to the Chicago dog), an entire dill pickle spear and a smothering of mustard.  The combination of pickled ingredients, the spice from the peppers, the tang of the onion and mustard and the coolness of the tomato make an incredibly tasty combination.  I'd like another, please.

Chicago Style
The one thing I found a bit strange was the neon color of the relish.  I'm used to a dull green (similar to a pickle), but the version served here is extremely bright.


In between tastes of each of the sandwiches, we were attacking the huge bag of fries ($2.75 for an enormous bag that easily served four).  Skin on and freshly fried to just-under-crispy perfection, they were super addicting (as all good fries tend to be..).  However, it would be great to see a sweet potato addition.  Underdogs seems to be accommodating for different clientele, offering gluten free buns as well as veggie dogs, so I imagine we might see the ever-so-slightly-healthier option available in the future.


What stepped the regular potato version up a notch was the array of dipping sauces we chose.  Technically, each order of fries should come with only one sauce, but the owner graciously let us try four of the dozen offered- the sriracha mayo, the harissa aioli (a must have after ordering it at Sketch), the Thai spicy peanut, and the Georgia Mustard BBQ sauce (his recommendation).  

I'm a big fan of any mayo-based dip for fries, so the harissa and sriracha were my go-to choices.  However, they could have been a little heavier on the non-mayo component- the sriracha was light enough for our mom to enjoy, and that says a lot considering her sensitive palate.  The other two were both unique and well-balanced, with the Georgia Mustard being particularly interesting- I wouldn't mind taking a pint of that home!


Even though I don't count myself as a fan of the classic hot dog, I still ordered one and enjoyed every bite.  On the other hand, J still found herself pulled more towards the alternative dogs.  The cleverly named Chihuahua, one of the "Haute Dogs," consists of a chorizo sausage, again sliced lengthwise and grilled, along with sauteed onions, chipotle mayonnaise, and queso blanco ($4.50).  She again found the mayo topping to be light on the chipotle flavor, so the heavy application was not as appreciated.  Overall, this was our low point of the meal- on paper, a seemingly delicious combination of ingredients, but in reality, a little boring.

The Chihuahua
In this case, the bun again was a highlight- even after a few bites, it wasn't squished to oblivion.


Since one of us had a hard time narrowing down the choices to just one, we ended up with five sandwiches among the four of us.  The Brats was the odd man out, a sliced and grilled Martin's pork sausage (based out of Mickleton, NJ, but available at Reading Terminal) with sauerkraut and horseradish mayonnaise ($4.50).  Again, this is a classic sandwich combination, not just a regular ol' hot dog, and the quality of the ingredients pushed it several notches above average.

The Brats
The owner (Robert Amar, also head of the house at Fare off of Fairmount Avenue) was manning the cash register, bringing out orders, and chatting with customers, and you could tell he was just having a great time.  We talked food blogs briefly, and after checking in on us later, he brought us a sample of the Czerw's hot sausage (whew, HOT!) used in The Smoker (it certainly earns its name).  The little touches of personality and service definitely made our visit extra enjoyable, and we hope that continues to each customer beyond opening week.

I'm already excited to bring back my hot dog loving man, and I find it almost comical that I'm THIS excited about hot dogs.  The classic American meat-in-a-bun has been predicted to be the new "it" food this year, and I believe it!  It also makes me acutely aware of several other hot dog-focused restaurants around town- they might be next on the list.

Underdogs
132 S. 17th Street

8 comments:

  1. Great review! I work around the corner on Walnut; 2 coworkers and I have already been there 3 times. Definitely hooked!

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  2. Recurring dreams of the Italian sausage

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  3. Loved your write up! It's on our list to try very soon! :)

    And I like ketchup on my hot dog!!

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    1. illegal in 47 states

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  4. Great minds... love hot dogs! just at different places ;-) While you saw we weren't fans of the hot dogs here, we are glad to read a positive review of the sausages because we would like to go back and try them. It all just goes to show that different people can have different experiences based on preference, day, menu choices, etc.

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  5. Y'all are the first to mention that Underdogs has veggie dogs. Do they really? I've seen so many write-ups about them, and nary a mention of veggie dogs, not even on their on-line menu.

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  6. Yep! It said on the wall that any dog could be replaced by a veggie dog, and the bun could be replaced by a GF-bun.

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  7. chicago vendors always use the neon relish. it looks weird to me too, but it is good at least (and props to underdogs for not overlooking that detail).

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