If you haven’t heard of Speed’s Famous Hot Dog Wagon, you clearly are not plugged into Boston’s chow grid. Parked inside the unpromising triangle of warehouse-district streets known as Newmarket Square, this truck serves what the Wall Street Journal recently called the best hot dog in America. This was no surprise to local street-food aficionados; we’ve been dragging skeptical friends to this dusty, industrial corner of Roxbury forever. My first visit some years ago was practically a chowhound sacrament, experiencing the wonder of a humble food elevated to magnificence by the craft and care of Ezra “Speed” Anderson, who plied his trade for 30 years without the benefit of a print review.
The ironically nicknamed octogenarian — who conducted his painstaking dog-making process with implacable deliberation, no matter how long the line — retired this year, passing the tongs to long-time apprentice Greg Gale. Devoted fans fearfully wondered whether Speed’s quality could survive without Speed himself there. Then I read that the new guy was tinkering, changing the brand of dog from Speed’s original choice, a gigantic Pearl all-beef frankfurter. Criminy! Could Speed’s cart be headed for a ditch already? Gale wouldn’t reveal the provenance of his new frank, either, which worried me further. Ordering my usual “one with everything” ($7), I felt some relief to note that, although he works faster than his mentor, Gale still follows Anderson’s hallowed recipe: simmer the dog in cider and brown sugar, smoke it on a closed charcoal grill, slash the casing lightly, and cook the dog some more on an open grill while basting it with Speed’s Special Sauce, a sweet, house-made, ketchup-like condiment.
Everything else looked right, too: the grilled split-top bun, chewy and substantial, plus toppings of sweet relish, mustard, beanless beef chili (all house-made), more special sauce, and chopped onions. I stood beside my parked car and, with trepidation, took a bite. The verdict? Hallelujah! The new dog is slightly bigger and slightly better than the Pearl dog, with a similar natural-casing snap, beefiness, and hint of garlic. I felt my nerves subsiding, the stars in my cheap-eats universe clicking back into alignment. The venerable Speed’s legacy appears intact: it’s still the best hot dog in Boston, maybe the best hot dog anywhere.
Boston Speed’s Famous Hot Dog Wagon, located at 54 Newmarket Square, in Boston, is open March through December, Monday through Friday, from 9:30 am to 5 pm, and on Saturday, from 10 am to 4 pm. Call 617.839.0102.