Over one hundred years after the original Levis opened near Independence Hall selling hot dogs, fish cakes, and cherry fountain soda, the downtown classic has come to the suburbs.
In late January, an article in the Inquirer describing the long history of Levis -- pronounced “LEV-iss”, not “lee-VAI-s” -- piqued the interest and desire for nostalgia in suburban customers. Even respected Montgomery County District
Attorney, Risa Vetri Ferman (who knows good food in her own right, but also is the sister of celebrated chef Marc Vetri) tweeted that she was “…going to the new Levis for a hot dog.”
And so, it was with great expectation that we headed to Levis’s Abington location in mid-February. Unfortunately, it still had some kinks to work out.
We arrived at 6:45 p.m. on a Friday night, and it wasn’t particularly crowded.
Only two or three other families sat waiting for their food. We approached the counter, and after repeating ourselves a few times while ordering we found an empty booth and began our own wait, with little confidence that the staff actually understood what we wanted.
When the food was brought to our table, the order was disastrously incorrect.
Rather than suffer through another encounter with the flustered staff, and assuming that our order simply wasn’t entered correctly, we chose to just grin and bear it and eat what arrived.
As the family next to us continued to wait and wait, we realized what had actually happened: that family’s order had been delivered to us, and we were eating it while they sat, understandably growing rather impatient.
Eventually everything was made right, for us and the family next to us, but the hassle hardly seemed worth it.
On a subsequent visit in early March, there was a printed 8x11 paper sign hanging in the window insisting that the last order must be placed 15 minutes prior to [the 7 p.m.] closing. Having been warned, we arrived around 5:30 p.m., and were treated to a significantly smoother experience.
Our food arrived quickly, and correctly. And rather than hustling around behind the counter, speaking sharply to his employees, and soothing ruffled customers, owner Elliott Hirsh was seated quietly at an unoccupied table reading a newspaper.
When the customer service runs smoothly, the food is worth ordering.
The Hawaii Five-O specialty hot dog ($4.50) was topped with ham, American cheese, pineapple chunks, and shredded coconut. The sweet tang of the pineapple was a nice contrast to the greasy snap of the all-beef hotdog, and the cheese, ham, and thick south Philly roll made it a filling choice.
The Weiner von Braun specialty hot dog ($4.50) topped an authentic German wurst made from pork, veal, and beef with ham, mustard, grilled onions and sauerkraut. All these savory additives left a greasy mouth-feel, but isn’t that a hot dog’s signature?
The Learners Permit ($1.65) – a smaller version of the Levis dog served on a regular hotdog bun – satisfied the kids and came topped with their choice of any of the free toppings: ketchup, a variety of mustards and relishes, raw or grilled onions, sauerkraut, horseradish, sweet or hot peppers, hot sauce, barbeque sauce, tartar sauce or ranch dressing.
Round and warmed knishes ($1.85 each,) came in cheese, potato, and sweet rice varieties. I preferred the potato pocket to the cheese, despite its slightly pasty interior, as the dark shreds of onion on top added an extra dimension of flavor. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I will admit to dabbing the knish with ketchup, despite golden mustard being the classic condiment of choice.
We washed it all down with Levis’s own Chocolate Champ Cherry soda ($1.75 for a 12oz glass bottle.) According to the sign hanging by our table, the original cherry-flavored soda, brewed by Levis founder Abraham Levis in 1895, was given its nickname “Champ Cherry” in 1950 when the Phillies won their first championship in 35 years. I chose the diet version, which was without that saccharine aftertaste of most diet sodas, but with sweet and subtle chocolate undertones that complimented the hot dogs like a fine wine.
It is my hope that my first visit to Levis simply illustrated the glitches inevitable in all new restaurants, and that my March experience is the one that endures.
When I get the hankering for a good hot dog, though, I also hope I can make it to Abington before the fifteen-minute-prior-to-closing cutoff.
Levis Hot Dogs earns 2.5 out of 5 Whisks for snappy flavorful wieners and endless condiments.
Second Helping of Information
Location – 966 Old York Road, Abington PA 19001 (York road has a low concrete divide here with no left turn from the northbound lanes. Turn left after Larmon photo and wind around the back of the buildings to get back to Levis.)
Hours – Monday through Thursday: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sunday: noon – 6 p.m.
Phone – 215-572-1895
On the Kids Menu – Highchairs available, no changing table in the ladies room