FOOD: Philadelphia’s Underdogs, Literally

Philly doesn’t have the same recognition for its hot dogs in the same way that Chicago, New York, and Reykjavik are renown. I suppose it’s just not a hot dog town. But Underdogs is trying to quietly fill that gap in the city. They offer Chicago Style, Coney Classic and other regional variation on the dog, although nothing near Icelandic style.

Nearby Rittenhouse Square, on 17th Street, is Underdogs, a hot dog place with a basement storefront, which prompts the question of whether the location was playfully chosen based on the name. Either way, underdog would certainly describe Philadelphia as it stands in the hot dog world.

Additional puns aside, Underdogs seems to pride itself on being a purveyor of gourmet dogs with such items labelled as “Haute Dogs” and “Haute Sausages” which essentially follows a convention of place plus typical toppings (California Dreamin features avocado, The Adonis offer tzatziki sauce, and the Buffalo Gal is basically a chicken sausage dressed up as a wing).

Underdogs has two things on their menu that come closest to being Philadelphia-style without referring to cheesesteaks, The Back in the Day and The Penn Deutch. The Back in the Day is mustard and chopped onions alongside a house-made fishcake. At the very least, it’s described on the menu as a Philly original.

The Penn Deutch is topped with Underdog’s homemade pepper mash, with a relish-y bite, and spicy mustard. It’s the closest possible item that could be ordered from street carts, like New York’s Sabrett carts, all across the land if that were even a thing here.

Except that it is. I mean, there’s Dapper Dog, which predates Underdog by at least a couple years, having staked its spot in Northern Liberties as the go-to hot dog spot following any instance of late-night revelry northeast of downtown. What Underdog occupies is a casual lunch spot for the 9-5 crowd in Center City (although on Friday and Saturday, it’s open until 4 a.m.), but kind of lacks the charm of getting a hot dog off the street and eating it on the sidewalk or while squatting on someone else’s stoop.

132 South 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103