Almost every state or region is associated with some type of specialty dish that they can call their own. These foods spawn dozens if not hundreds of restaurants that boast the best blank in town, which causes crazed fans to damn near kill each other. Philadelphians quarrel over cheese steaks; Marylanders dig their claws into each other over crabs, Texans try to slaughter each other over their steaks, New Yorkers hem and haw about their Pizza Pies, and of course New Jerseyans berate each other over their beloved Hot Dogs.
As the warm weather approaches and the brown drab tree limbs left behind by the coldness of the winter begin to fill in with an inviting shade of green, my mind begins to wander. I think of Baseball and my beloved Mets, I attempt to decide where I want to go hiking this year, and of course most of all I salivate at the thought of all the great foods associated with nice weather. For me the impending climate shift means a multitude of BBQs with friends and family complete with Hamburgers, Ribs, Chicken, various salads, and New Jersey’s favorite red headed step-child, the Hot Dog. In order to prepare for the upcoming assault of smoked and grilled protein I decided throw a couple of briquettes on the fire that is the debate of who sells the BEST DOG IN TOWN.
I for one cannot be impartial when discussing this topic. I am a Rutt's Hut fanatic and no amount of debate can change this. Rutt's Hut, is located at 417 River Road, in Clifton NJ. I cannot truly remember the first time I took a bite of my first Ripper -- this is what they call their deep fried hot dogs -- but ever since that day I have been hooked, like zombies to brains. Rutt’s Hut is by no means the fanciest or prettiest restaurant in town, I think it's held up by the years of deep fried oil that coats the walls, but that is just part of the charm. Like all things in life, fond memories can sway ones opinions and with Rutt’s I believe this may be the case for me. My grandfather brought me to Rutt’s Hutt on special occasions; money was tight in those days, and we would order a pair of rippers together. To this day when I bite into the crispy skin of one of their dogs covered in their famous mustard relish, a must try, I can remember those simpler times.
As with most Jersey-born Hot Dog fanatics, we all had back up joints. Sometimes driving all the way to Clifton was not an option, other times instead of a plain dog you wanted a Texas Wiener, a hot dog with Chilli Sauce, Mustard, and Onions. For me and my family when the latter craving struck, there was only one place to venture to, which used to be located in Paterson and which now can be found in Fair Lawn, at 23-20 Maple Avenue. Johnny and Hanges Texas Hot Dogs are still good but the original recipe, which was lost when the new owners bought the name in 1999, was the stuff that dreams are made of. Nothing to this day -- and I have searched -- has compared to the amazing Texas Hot Dog of Ye’ Olde Johnny and Hanges. With that said, nostalgia and a close but no cigar attempt to reproduce this amazing Texas Sauce, has kept me going to Johnny and Hanges since they reopened.
The best Texas Dog on the market today in Zoe’s -- my lovely wife who until she moved to North Jersey did not even know what a Texas Hot Dog was thanks to her South Jersey roots -- opinion resides in Paramus, NJ at the Fireplace Restaurant, located at 718 Route 17 North. Now as I stated earlier, fond memories may skew certain opinions and since not only was this Zoe’s first experience with a Texas Wiener (That's what she said), but we also worked our way through college serving these fine dogs to thousands of Bergen County residents. I must admit though the Texas Hot Dog that the Fireplace serves is among the finest in the area. The combination of the thick homemade sauce, spicy mustard and fresh onions all on top of a quality grilled hot dog does leave you wanting just one more for the road. Every now again we like to take a walk down memory lane at the Fireplace after a long day of shopping at one of the 25 malls located in Paramus.
While on the topic of Texas Wieners, I would be remiss to not mention, The Hot Grill, located at 669 Lexington Avenue in Clifton, NJ. The Hot Grill and Rutt’s Hut are like the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, cross town rivals through and through. There are a few things that are bound to start an argument with your friends, discussing religion, politics, or in this area the great Hot Grill Versus Rutt’s Hut feud. I for one believe that they offer two slightly different variations of the classic New Jersey Hot Dog, but others seem to think that liking both establishments is nothing short of heresy. The choice is simple, if I want a Texas Wiener I go to Hot Grill, seeing as Rutt’s does not serve a true Texas, but if I want a plain old hot dog, as I mentioned before, the Hut is the only place for me. With that said, the Hot Grill serves up a great Texas Wiener and you can get these wonderful treats until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday or 1 a.m. every other night of the week. Believe me nothing is better than ending a good summer night by celebrating the early morning hours with a few Texas Hot Dogs at the iconic Hot Grill.
Since I grew up in Elmwood Park, I would be thrown out of the guild if I did not bring up Elmwood Park’s famous River View East. Now, I for one am not a huge fan of their Texas Wieners. I am going to get punched for that sentence by at least three people so I hope you all enjoy my honesty, but they are not bad either. Each place I discussed has brought something unique to the table: Rutt’s deep fries, The Fire Place’s chunky sauce, the Grill’s late hours, Johnny and Hanges' rich history. But River View does not really excel in any category. With that said, River View East does not fail at anything either. It is the difference between the student that gets all A’s in Math but C's in English and the student that gets straight B’s. River View is the straight B student that you can be proud of Elmwood.
Something to keep in mind when dining at any of these establishments is that they all have their own languages and subtle nuances that make them memorable. Don't just walk in grab a dog to go and walk out if you have never been before. Have a seat or in some places take a spot at the counter and enjoy the history these eateries ooze. From the barker at the counter, who will contort your order into some secret code that only the true regulars and the cooks can understand, to the pictures on the walls, these restaurants tell the stories of each and every city they are located in the only way they know how, through tradition. And remember a true foodie can appreciate the finest of foods as well as the arses and elbows of the food world, so go have a hot dog and welcome summer in a true New Jersey fashion!
These are merely a few of my favorite hot dog purveyors in Northern New Jersey. Before you delete me as your Facebook friend for not mentioning your stomping ground, post a comment about your favorite place. Upon discussing this article with a few of my friends, I already caught a rash of crap for not including a few places such Jimmy Buff's, located at 60 Washington Street in West Orange, and Libby's, located at 98 McBride Avenue in Paterson, NJ. Although I have never been to either of these popular Hot Dog spots I have been told great things and they have been added to my list of places to venture to.