Have you ever liked something so much you wanted it to be better? You know that feeling when your favorite writer puts out a mediocre book? That’s how I feel about Peacock Alley—a tiny brick-box of a building on 17th Street, housed amongst older and more industrial structures. It specializes in hot dogs, with a dozen house combinations of toppings, as well as the option to build your own. The menu expands a little beyond hot dogs, but let’s start there.
The dogs themselves are boiled. Boiled hot dogs have their place, namely on street corners served by vendors out of pushcarts. The dirty-water dog is an American staple and I won’t speak against it, but brick-and-mortar operations like Peacock Alley have better options. Boiling blanches the hot dog and drains it of flavor, not to mention it does nothing for texture. Grills, griddles, broilers, and fryers all make tastier dogs than hot water does. I am a fan of the steamed New England style buns the kitchen uses, but, again, steamed buns combined with boiled hot dogs does not make for great textural integrity.
Peacock Alley does a lot better when they start adding ingredients to top off their dogs. Fifteen toppings spread over 12 signature options—available in any combination you can imagine—create some interesting mixes of flavor and mouthfeel. Over two visits I sampled The Stetson, Fedora, Sombrero, Jamaican, Old Fashioned, Ray’s Way and Mailman. That’s a fine cross-section to cover most of Peacock Alley’s toppings.
The Stetson remains a favorite. Mayo, melted cheese, chili and crunchy fried potato sticks make a potent combination. I recommend against the mayonnaise. Never have I eaten a hot dog and thought to myself, Well, that needs egg white. But the other three toppings were well placed.
First of all, I’m always thrilled when hot-dog joints use real cheese instead of cheese sauce. I don’t know how that soupy cheese-flavored product became so common as a hot dog topping, but I applaud Peacock Alley for eschewing it. The chili, rich with tomato and ground beef, provides a substantial boost to the flavor of the dog. Admittedly, the potato sticks are a childhood favorite of mine, and they nicely handle the texture problem of the boiled dogs.
I also give a big thumbs up to the peppery relish on the Jamaican. The spicy kick adds interest to the norm. As well, the diced tomato and jalapeño on the Sombrero offers some acidity and spicy heat of a different sort.
Ray’s Way, a pimiento cheese dog, proves quite tasty. The sharp cheddar easily overpowers the mild hot dog. It’s only big flaw is that the bun falls apart quickly under the weight of the cheese concoction. To be fair, that’s a consideration with most of Peacock’s dogs—so, eat quickly and guard your shirt.
And this brings me to the Mailman. Once again, the chili tastes fantastic. On this variety, fried onions provide a different texture backed by a bit of sweetness. Still, the Mailman has a tragic flaw. I take no side in most of the great food debates. I see the merits of both New York- and Chicago-style pizzas. I like fried and baked donuts. I eat both the white and dark meat of poultry. I’m the foodie equivalent of Switzerland—except on one topic: Yellow mustard is an abomination. Tangy and overpowering, with a color that doesn’t occur in nature, yellow mustard is a fast-food condiment that real restaurants shouldn’t touch. In the case of the Mailman, it cuts through the rich and hearty chili with a grotesque acidity. If I could change only one thing about Peacock Alley, I’d bring in a case of brown mustard and ship the yellow stuff off to McDonald’s where it belongs.
During another visit, I strayed from the hot-dog mainstays to try the two options of beef brisket, namely the bread or the bowl. I went with a classic brisket sandwich with cole slaw and a brisket bowl with spicy marinated slaw.
The beef itself is properly smoked, and offers a nice mix of juicy interior meat along with a chewier outer portion. The barbecue sauce is heavenly—far and away, the best thing on the menu. Molasses-based, its smooth flavor balances the tomato, the brown-sugar sweetness, and a smoky spiciness. It’s one of the better barbecue sauces I’ve ever tried, and that sandwich is reason enough to make your way over to 17th Street.
The bowl isn’t quite as good. The marinated slaw tipped the balance and added too much vinegar to the dish; however, on its own, the slaw is quite good. I’ve already expressed my adoration for the brisket, but, like ahi tuna slathered in hot fudge, these two tastes just don’t belong anywhere near one another.
One interesting little offering not found everywhere: Peacock Alley sells both Coke and Pepsi in glass bottles. I’m sure it’s psychological, but somehow they taste better that way. The restaurant also serves BBQ, soups of the day, pimiento cheese, chicken salad, and more.
I admit I might be getting old. I’ve reached the point that prices surprise me. I was momentarily shocked that I’d spent nearly $50 in two trips to a hot dog joint. I feared I might be reaching that age where I think prices should be set to when I was 12 years old and anything higher is a rip-off. But I took a deep breath, redid the math in my head, and realized how much food I managed to buy for that half yard. Peacock Alley is a pretty good deal.
I’ll be back if for no other reason than to buy a pint of that barbecue sauce. I’d like to see a couple of changes. A new cooking style for the dogs and a better brand of mustard would go a long way, but it’s a good meal made quickly for a reasonable price. And is it really fair for me to ask for anything more than that?
702 S 17th Street
Mon. – Fri., 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.