V For Veg: Frankly, try a vegan dog

Keith Garabedian, owner of Hot Diggity, proffers his handiwork, a veggie Windy City dog.
Keith Garabedian, owner of Hot Diggity, proffers his handiwork, a veggie Windy City dog. (Vance Lehmkuhl / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 03, 2011

FOR A TOWN WITH A dairy-slathered steak sandwich as its main food icon, a town whose name signifies "cream cheese" to many Americans, Philadelphia certainly has more than its share of vegan surprises.

Now, I'm not talking about the "surprise" that all-veggie foods can be decadently delicious, but rather those dishes that show up where you wouldn't necessarily expect them.

Case in point: While walking down South Street recently, I saw a sidewalk sign advertising a new joint devoted to creatively topped hot dogs. What caught my eye was the tagline, "All dogs can be made vegetarian."

As it turns out, Hot Diggity (630 South St.) just opened in June, and after sampling one of the vegan dogs (they're Worthington Linketts) with a side of fresh hand-cut fries, I chatted with Keith Garabedian, the man behind it all.

"I love hot dogs, and in general I think they're getting better and better, [but] I felt like they weren't getting the credit they deserved," he explained. "All these cities have their own version." So he launched a restaurant celebrating hot dogs as they're eaten in various regional cuisines. Hot Diggity does a Chicago dog, a Bronx dog, plus Cincinnati, Southwest and Saigon varieties, to name a few, all with different collections of toppings.

Garabedian proudly noted Hot Diggity carries "five mustards, including a house mustard," and the toppings mix includes 30 different elements. "We try not to repeat ingredients" from one hot dog to another, he said.

Fair enough, but what about those vegan varieties? In planning the store, "the veg option came up almost immediately," Garabedian said. "As soon as we knew we'd be in Philly, we knew we had to do it for vegetarians and vegans."

Hot Diggity's inclusive menu puts it at the head of a veg-friendly curve: "We didn't want to be the kind of place that just has the one 'vegan option,' " said Garabedian. The fries are always 100 vegetarian (and cooked in trans-fat-free oil). Plans are already afoot to add vegan versions of chili and cheese as the weather turns colder. Once winter arrives, "we'll probably be doing a vegetarian chili."

It's great to see comfort foods rethought for a wider market and with wider applications: Garabedian noted that the Veggie Links, with four grams of fat (vs. 10 grams for regular dogs) make for a relatively healthful option. Although he's no vegetarian, "I sometimes indulge in them myself, because, you know, I can't eat [beef] hot dogs every day."

He joins many Philly folks who may dip into meat- and/or dairy-free eating on occasion for various reasons, and finding these surprise options has largely been a scattershot enterprise. While dedicated venues like Grindcore House in South Philly have a prominent "Vegan" sign hanging over the sidewalk, not all the veg offerings around town are that obvious.

Within the past week, a friend told me about Fu-Wah, a convenience store/deli at 47th and Baltimore that not only serves a legendary tofu hoagie (and the legend is true - yes, I confirmed with my own mouth!) but stocks tons of veg products on its shelves, including Tofurky slices, coconut-milk ice cream, Tofutti frozen pizza, Daiya cheese and vegan hot dogs.

Dave Phat, the owner, said the store, in existence since 1982, started leaning into a veg emphasis about nine years ago and has had continuing success. But why here? "It's the diversity of the neighborhood," he said, a lot of overlap among different local types. Over time "there seem to be more and more [people] coming through here" looking for these staples and treats.

V for Veg is a column for those people - vegetarians, vegans, the lactose-intolerant or just adventurous eaters - who seek out these foods and enjoy them around the Delaware Valley. After all, everybody eats plant-based foods sometime, and both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the United Nations say we could stand to do so more often.

But I don't have all the veggie info or answers, so please let me know about your surprise finds and your existing faves, and we'll all share the news about dishes and trends for health, flavor and peace. With a side of fries.

V-News to Use: Curious about dairy-free desserts? Fran Costigan, who literally wrote the book on same, will be at the Devon Whole Foods (821 Lancaster Ave., Wayne, 610-688-9400) for a "desserts diva" cooking demo and book signing starting at 2 p.m. Aug. 6.

CORRECTION: This column originally misstated the exact product name of the Worthington vegan hot dogs used by Hot Diggity, which is "Linketts."

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 10-year vegan. "V for Veg" celebrates and chronicles the growing trend of plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. Send your veg tips to VforVeg@phillynews.com.

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