Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jersey Dogs! Clifton NJ - Hot Dog Mecca

New York has some great Hot Dogs but New Yorkers are fickle. We give up eating comfort food for decades at a time in favor of alfalfa sprouts or sushi or wheat grass juice or whatever the latest culinary/health food fad is. Thus the Hot Dog fell out of favor for many years here in the Big Apple. Sure, you could find the dirty water dog on many street corners but those are not really worth discussing. And of course there are some hold outs like Gray's Papaya and Katz's Deli on Houston Street, but that was about it unless you wanted to trek out to Coney Island and visit the original Nathan's. The low carb fad of the past several years has definitely lessened peoples qualms about eating fatty foods. Soon people that had adhered to strict low fat regimes were suddenly wolfing down bun-less burgers and dogs at alarming rates. Many, once reacquainted with such comfort foods, reincorporated them back into their diet when they started eating carbs again, simply adding the buns. This, at least partially, explains the resurgence of both the Hamburger and to a somewhat lesser degree the Hot Dog on the NYC culinary scene.

New Jersey tends to not get caught up in fads in quite the same way as New York, thus the Hot Dog has remained a staple of the comfort food diet there. New Yorkers may boast what is arguably the most diverse culinary landscape in the world, some of the top restaurants anywhere and the best pizza this side of the Atlantic but when it comes to Hot Dogs New Jersey has the Big Apple beat hands down. The town of Clifton alone boasts some of the finest Dogs I have ever eaten.

The most renowned Dog in Clifton is found at Rutt's Hut. Dating back to 1928 this ramshackle structure located on River Road serves up fried Hot Dogs that are utterly superb. The Dog itself is expertly constructed by Thumann's and contains a delectable mix that is 60 percent beef, 35 percent pork and 5 percent cereal filling. It is then deep fried in scalding oil. As with many similar establishments a specific vernacular has evolved for ordering at Rutt's. Most people order a"Ripper" which is a Dog the has been fried long enough for the skin to split or rip open. A "weller" is a well done ripper and a "cremator" is totally burned. You can also order medium or "in and out" which is rare.

The Ripper

"in and out"

Served on perfect white buns that soak up the grease from the deep fat fryer, the only condiment that will not immediately brand you as an outsider to regulars is the delicious home made mustard relish. A tangy, sweet crunchy concoction with a kick, it perfectly compliments the crackling flesh of the dog.

A ripper with mustard relish

Biting into a ripper for the first time is a wondrous experience. The soft bun gently nestles the sausage in a pillowy embrace, the grease from the rippers flesh adhering to the bread, softening it slightly and providing varying degrees of texture and compliance. The ripper literally bursts with flavor when bitten in to, the rip in its flesh causes the casing to become taught and crunchy. The character of this Dog, despite its incredibly violent method of preparation, is actually more subtle than a NY style Kosher Frank since the latter is obviously made from 100 percent beef. The pork in the Rutt's Dog adds sweetness and smooths out the palate. The garlic and heavy seasoning of a beef dog is lessoned here as it would most assuredly over power the delicate balance of flavor.

Rutt's ranks at the very top of my list of great Hot Dogs along with Walter's in Mamaronck, Westchester County, NY. It really is a timeless classic, well worth a visit.

Rutt's Hut
417 River Road, Clifton
(973) 779-8615

Also in Clifton, although ironically, not as famous as Rutt's Hut, is the Famous Midtown Grill, once known as simply the Midtown Grill and the home of what was once a tremendous "Texas Weiner" but now, sadly it is a shadow of it's former self. Located on Main Ave in the middle of town the appropriately named Midtown Grill was a classic lunch counter but has now become a fairly generic diner type restaurant selling everything from gyro's and salads to eggs to burgers. They still sell "Texas Weiners" a method of Hot Dog preparation popular in Jersey that features chili, onions and mustard slathered over a Dog. The Texas Weiner is actually not from Texas at all but originates from neighboring Paterson NJ. There is an excellent history of the Texas Weiner here. Unfortunately the Texas Weiner at the Famous Midtown Grill are totally lackluster these days and are done with far more passion elsewhere.

A sad Texas Weiner

Famous Midtown Grill
1218 Main Ave
Clifton, NJ 07011
(973) 546-0121

Fortunately Clifton is also the home to the Hot Grill, purveyors of irresistibly scrumptious Texas Weiners. They have been making them since 1961 and the taste is pure classic. Spicy mustard coats the crispy fried pup, pungent diced onions and a dark complex chili, with strong hints of cinnamon, cascades over the weiner and bun. The Texas Weiner is an admittedly sloppy sandwich to eat but somehow the bun just barely holds everything together and becomes wonderfully soggy from the flavorful chili. There are very few authentic Texas Weiners left in the world but they are well worth seeking out.

669 Lexington Ave
Clifton, NJ 07011-1234

1 comment:

qshipbottom said...

Have you been to Libby's near the Great Falls in Paterson? Their dogs "all the way" are the only way to go!