The New Jersey Italian hot dog had been on my mind for a long time. If you are not familiar with this culinary delight let me just say that it is the holy grail of hot dogs (and that’s saying a mouthful, because New Jersey is the center of the hot dog universe.)
If you like hot dogs, New Jersey is the promised land. New York and Chicago are not even close. New York City? OK, I’ll give them Nathan’s….as it is probably the most famous hot dog joint in the world. But after that, what do you have?
A million street carts serving dreary dogs pulled out of a vat full of warm and salty dogs.
Sorry, I’ll pass.
Chicago? Pickle? Eerie, glimmering in the dark, green relish on the dog and (heaven forbid) a poppy seed roll. Are they serious?
Want more? Just in four NJ counties alone (Passaic, Essex, Bergen and Union) there are more hot dog trucks, carts and storefronts than any comparably-sized area in the U.S.
Center of the universe is far too modest. New Jersey hot dog culture is more than that….
-Birthplace of the Italian hot dog? Jimmy Buff’s, Newark, 1932.
-Birthplace of the chili dog or Texas weiner? Paterson, NJ, or Plainfield, NJ – both cities claim that honor (I don’t have a dog in that fight. Pun intended.)
-Want a Weller, a Ripper, or a Cremator? Only in New Jersey at the fabled Rutt’s Hut in Clifton.
-Sabrett’s all-beef hot dogs are ubiquitous at hot dog carts and food trucks all across the country and is based in Englewood, NJ.
-Best Provision Company, a major purveyor of hot dogs to supermarkets, is located in Newark, NJ.
Now for my ode to one of the greatest tastes you will experience in your life (but with one caveat.) There is nothing like the New Jersey Italian hot dog anywhere else in the world.
And you can only get it in New Jersey (actually only in a small area of New Jersey.) Let me clarify a little. You can only get a classic Italian hot dog at three places in New Jersey.
You can only get a classic Italian hot dog at three places in New Jersey.
Please trust me, I have been eating these dogs for sixty years. I have earned my spurs, there are only three places. However, before I finish I will offer some hope.
The Italian hot dog is the most unique hot dog in the country. It cannot be duplicated. If you ever try the real thing you will understand what all the hoopla is about.
The Italian hot dog was born in Newark, NJ, where big loaves of “pizza bread” (almost like Muffuletta bread but with a hole in the middle) were/are made by local Italian bakeries.
The bread is cut into quarters, sliced down the middle and stuffed with one or two real beef hot dogs with sliced potatoes, onions, and green and red bell peppers which are shallow fried.
The soft pizza bread is a perfect vehicle, holding all ingredients together and soaking up some of the grease.
Everything is gently fried and your hot dog and potatoes will be a little crunchy with very little grease. Choice of mustard, ketchup (yes), or red sauce – doused sparingly.
Sounds simple, maybe a little odd, but the myriad of flavors and textures are deceptively balanced. This is a dish for hot dog aficionados.
Why can it only be made in New Jersey?
Simple! Pizza bread is unheard of and unavailable outside of New Jersey. Only a few old-time Italian bakeries continue to make this bread.
Even in New Jersey plenty of places sell Italian hot dogs and sub rolls, but, really, it’s not the same. It’s like buying a Corvette with an automatic transmission…why?
If you are hankering for an Italian hot dog here are the Big Three….and for all intents and purposes, the only three.
The dog started here in 1932, in Newark. That original location is now home to another hot dog place, but Buff’s still remains in Kenilworth and West Orange, NJ. The West Orange location is a hot dog diner where you can see and hear the hot dogs and potatoes popping in the oil.
60 Washington Street
West Orange, NJ
Busy, boisterous, crowded. Since 1958, cooked right in front of you. And for all of the inquiring minds, yes, there really was a Dickee Dee, aka Dominic D’Innocenzio.
380 Bloomfield Avenue
Tommy’s Italian Sausage & Hot Dogs
To my mind, the most perfectly cooked potatoes – deep fried perfection. The potatoes are so good that they’re also served by the cup. A latecomer to the pantheon, 1969, but still in the game.
900 2nd Avenue
Food is a link to tradition. I had my first Italian dog when I was 10 years old. I had it with my father. It’s a food memory that satisfies not only my taste buds but my heart and soul as well. Any time I have an Italian hot dog I think of my father all those many years ago. Those memories emanate from the food and take on a life of their own.
The Italian hot dog has taken me places. My love affair with the New Jersey icon has allowed me to meet Frankie Valli (yes, that Frankie), Etta James, the great soul/jazz singer, Tommy Amekar, Havard basketball coach, Tommy James (Remember Crystal Blue Persuasion), and many others. I’ve also met cops, firemen, politicians, paramedics, and many local characters. Sizzling dogs, hot oil, spare decor, and theatre.
Happily, over the years, I found you can go home again (despite novelist Thomas Wolfe’s assertions). Not living in the area, I have revisited my old-time haunts and the Italian hot dog is alive and well. I might never understand how food memories have the ability to nourish physically, mentally, and emotionally, but, somehow, they do. The food remains delicious and memorable.
I promised you a lifeline. Here it is: you can get Jimmy Buff’s classic Italian hot dogs through Goldbelly’s (https://www.goldbelly.com/).
One more time – there is nothing like the New Jersey Italian hot dog anywhere else in the world!