Open since June of last year, Joe & Nemo’s is actually a reincarnation of a Boston fast-food chain that dates back to 1909. Thriving through the ’50s, revived in the ’80s, and revamped for the ’00s, Joe & Nemo’s puts the all-American hot dog back in the spotlight. The menu also features hamburgers — little sliders without much heft or flavor — clam chowder, grilled-chicken sandwiches, and plenty of other lunch fare. But the various natural-casing tube steaks, cooked and prepared in a variety of ways, are the real highlight.
According to owner Jeff Earp, the vintage Joe & Nemo’s chain once had more than 40 locations throughout the Hub, and it’s looking to expand — watch out, Nathan’s! But for now, there are only two spots — a small stand squeezed next to Filene’s at Downtown Crossing, and a corner store on Cambridge Street near Government Center, close to the original Scollay Square location. With a green pressed-tin ceiling and vintage photos on the wall, the Cambridge Street store plays up the retro feel, complete with cutely named combo meals — " The Westender, " " The Pilgrim " — and old-fashioned prices.
The 89-cent " Lil Nemo " is a somewhat bland all-beef, finger-size dog, so upgrade to " The Original " ($1.67), a light-pink, pork-and-beef dog with a mild hammy flavor and that all-important snap. The steamed version is plenty tasty, but for those who like to indulge, the Joe’s Deep Fried ($1.90) ups the crispiness quotient. In both cases, a slightly steamed bun ensures that the hot dog will have a warm, pillowy bed to lie in.
Transplanted New Yorkers will probably gravitate to the more intense, garlic-spiced Big Dog ($2.86), a quarter-pound all-beef hot dog provided by the Boston-based Pearl Meat Packing Company. A slightly charred Italian sausage came with the Westender ($5.95) combo meal, which also provided a taste of pleasantly crispy fries and the refreshing house-brand root beer, which has a nice caramel ring.
Mustard and onions should be fine for the traditionalists, but frankfurter experimentalists can dabble with chili-cheese toppings, baked beans, coleslaw, and even — gasp! — a veggie dog ($2.38). Some things, it seems, do change.
Joe & Nemo’s, located at 138 Cambridge Street, in Boston, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call (617) 720-4342.