July’s hot dog hysteria

Na­tion­al Hot Dog Month is a city-sanc­tioned tra­di­tion, and loc­al his­tor­i­an Joel Spivak is try­ing to make it thrive.

Pho­tos by Tina Gar­ceau

Joel Spivak loves a good hot dog. Who doesn’t? Ve­gans and ve­get­ari­ans, per­haps. But Spivak, a res­id­ent of the 600 block of Car­penter Street, has taken his love for hot dogs to an im­press­ive level. Ju­ly is of­fi­cially Na­tion­al Hot Dog Month, and he has a slew of pro­gram­ming that’s in­spired by hot dogs and gives back to the city in a vari­ety of ways.

Even May­or Jim Ken­ney’s in on it. Ken­ney signed a cita­tion on Ju­ly 1 that de­clares Phil­adelphia home to a month-long cel­eb­ra­tion of the hand­held back­yard bar­be­cue staple.

“Al­though not a Phil­adelphia in­ven­tion, the good old-fash­ioned hot dog con­tin­ues to be a staple item with cit­izens of all ages. Dat­ing back to 1894, loc­al saus­age man­u­fac­tur­ers sup­plied vendor push­carts along city streets with hot dogs,” reads the cita­tion. “Sev­er­al of those early Phil­adelphia vendors are still do­ing busi­ness… in­clud­ing Old Ori­gin­al Levis Hot­dogs and Lenny’s, now loc­ated in Feasterville.”

Spivak’s had them all. He and his fath­er, a trav­el­ing car parts sales­man be­fore WWII, took his son around the city selling and col­lect­ing in­stall­a­tion pay­ments (a quarter down, a nick­el upon sub­sequent vis­its). He re­mem­bers lunch­eon­ettes on every corner where cheesesteaks, hot dogs, ho­agies, and cheese­bur­gers were staple lunches.

“If we were on the east side of town we’d go to Pat’s [King of Steaks, 1237 E. Passy­unk Ave.] or Nick’s Roast Beef [2149 S. 20th St.] or A.P.J. Texas Wein­er on N. 13th St. near the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter,” he re­membered fondly, and re­minded that Texas Wein­ers, 1426 Snyder Ave., rivals A.P.J. for old­est in the city.

But how does the ex­pert like his dogs?

“I like mine split and grilled, and I like the onions that look like rice; they come in a can and they’re minced and they have a really nice fla­vor. Very few places have them,” he said. “Then brown mus­tard if they have it, no yel­low mus­tard for me. But I’ll eat them any way they come.”

Spivaks’ Na­tion­al Hot Dog Month cal­en­dar is full. He’s already es­tab­lished a win­dow ex­hib­it with the His­tory of Hot Dogs at 703 S. Fourth St. Just this week, he vis­ited the Vet­er­ans Multi-Ser­vice Cen­ter in Old City and fed nearly 600 vets with donated dogs. On the 19th, he’ll vis­it a sum­mer camp at Hero Com­munity Cen­ter at 17th and Tioga streets to provide a free lunch. At Lucky’s Last Chance in Manay­unk, he’s con­vinced over­seers to donate $1 for every dog sold to PAWS. On the 22nd, he’s or­gan­iz­ing a 2 p.m. vis­it to “Phil­adelphia’s old­est hot dog stand,” Texas Wein­ers. He’s also go­ing to Queen Vil­lage to provide lunches at the Philips Temple Chris­ti­an Meth­od­ist Church’s, 754 S. Third St., bible camp.

But the kick­er is a Pat’s al­li­ance – between Ju­ly 22 and 29, if you donate blood at the Amer­ic­an Red Cross at Sev­enth and Spring Garden streets, you get a free hot dog at Pat’s Steaks, ori­gin­ally a hot dog stand.

“My friends say I’m cre­at­ing something out of noth­ing,” the novice his­tor­i­an and phil­an­throp­ist said. Hot dogs may not be the health­i­est lunch, but as he puts it, “if you’re happy, then that’s half your health – you’re healthy if you’re happy.”

South Philly artist Hawk Krall, a res­id­ent of the 1000 block of Tree Street, could chal­lenge Spivak for res­id­ent hot dog ex­pert in part be­cause of a month-long tour of Amer­ica that in­cluded around-the-clock dog con­sump­tion. His fa­vor­ite Philly dog is in South Philly.

“Def­in­itely my fa­vor­ite at the mo­ment is Mike’s truck at S. 24th St. and W. Passy­unk Ave. He makes his own pep­per has from scratch,” says Krall, singing the praises of the pickup truck that parks around lunch time near the South Phil­adelphia Shop­ping Cen­ter and I-76. “I love a guy on the corner that takes the time to make it at home, and it’s really good – there’s not that many places left that do that in Philly.”

South Philly res­id­ents have likely seen Krall’s food il­lus­tra­tions and not known it. The line cook-turned-artist has a monthly il­lus­trated column with Saveur magazine, in­clud­ing a re­cent thor­ough in­vest­ig­a­tion of New Jer­sey’s hot dog cata­logue. For three years, he il­lus­trated a hot dog of the week for Eat­er, and that got him in touch with the late, great Hot Dig­gity, a hot dog des­tin­a­tion that used to thrive at 630 South St. If you ever ate a dog at Hot Dig­gity, you wit­nessed his menu draw­ings of all the beau­ti­ful vari­ations – Chica­go dogs, Texas dogs, De­troit dogs, you name it.

He also re­com­mends RJ’s Hot Dog Stand in Ess­ing­ton, two miles west of the Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port.

“It’s a really in­ter­est­ing place and one of my oth­er fa­vor­ite hot dog places,” he said. “The dogs are good and he does a reg­u­lar and a spicy chili made of beans that’s pretty unique.”

Krall grew up in Jen­k­in­town and re­mem­bers sled­ding fol­lowed by hot dogs at a Levis out­post when “potato cod cheapo fish cakes were smashed onto the hot dog and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever had in my life.”

Spivak prefers his dogs as­sembled be­fore his eyes, which is a lux­ury at Cit­izens Bank Park, 1 Cit­izens Bank Way. He misses catch­ing games in Trenton, N.J. but fondly re­mem­bers dogs at Vet­er­ans Sta­di­um.

“It used to get con­struc­ted in front of you,” he re­membered and shared what used to be the rare mo­ment of base­ball hot dog beauty. “It’s a base­ball mir­acle when the soda man and the hot dog vendor show up at the same time – maybe you could save half of a soda for the hot dog man, but, to­geth­er, it’s a mir­acle!”

Spivak, a nat­ive of West Philly and West Oak Lane be­fore join­ing the mil­it­ary in ’59 and re­turn­ing to Cen­ter City, then South Philly, says “when I moved back here I found South Street, or it found me. I found an apart­ment from an old friend and paid $25 a month.”

He helped design and build places like Lick­ety Split, formerly at 401 S. Fourth St. and Black Ba­nana, which used to be at 534 South St. He re­mem­bers when food carts were pushed off the street and in­side for san­it­ary reas­ons, but he’s pre­par­ing a one-off Pop-Up Ex­hib­it at 2 p.m. Ju­ly 15 at Fifth and South streets where des­cend­ants of hot dog her­oes will tell stor­ies about their par­ents and grand­par­ents.

Con­tact Staff Writer Bill Chenev­ert at bchenev­ert@south­phil­lyre­view.com or ext. 117.


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You can reach at bchenevert@southphillyreview.com.