RE: New Jersey Hot Dogs
Fourth outing, 6/6
13) Tommy's Italian Sausage & Hot Dogs, Elizabeth & 2nd Ave. Elizabeth
It seems that a large number of places we visited that placed in the voting were in the beginning of the summer's tasting. That was certainly the case here, as 2 of the offerings sampled this night took first place in the voting. Tommy's is a walk up up store front located 2 or 3 doors down from Jerry's Famous Frankfurters. They have had a reputation since opening in 1969 as serving one of the best, if not the best, Italian Hot Dog. Our panel, as well as myself, voted this dog #1. In the past, Tommy's has been inconsistent. Sometimes serving a good amount of peppers, many times just a few. On more than one occasion, I have been told by friends that they had one lonely pepper on their sandwich. This also happenned to my wife. Tommy's has gone back and forth between 10 to a lb dogs and 8.
The last few months, though, Tommy's has remained consistent. Which is why they got my vote. Decent bread, although softer in texture than a lot of other Italian Hot Dog joints. They now use a special long, thin, 8 to a lb dog (Best's). They've increased the amount of peppers (perhaps due to criticism) and their potatoes remain the best you can get for an Italian Hot Dog. One thing I make it a point to do is to request the peppers cooked so that they are soft. Some places, like Dickiee Dees, prefer to leave them crunchy. Make sure you specify how you want them done if it makes a difference to you. Otherwise they will probably come crunchy. Being that an Italian Hot Dog is made up of several different ingredients, it's hard to get one that does everything to your liking. One place may serve good hard chewy bread that you might prefer to softer, Philadelphia style bread. The potatoes are sliced either thin, thicker, or in chunks. One place may have great vegetables and bread, but too small dogs. There are a lot of variables. That's why, when I'm in the mood, I prefer to make my own Italian Hot Dogs. This might sound like bragging, but I make everything to my liking, and the result is an Italian Hot Dog that I like better than any that I've bought out, including Tommy's. It's easier than you might think. I use quality bread from a bakery that used to supply many of the Italian Hot Dog joints until the owner stopped making a large quantity; 8 to a lb Best dogs (in my opinion the perfect size), a good amount of red and green peppers cooked the way I like, and potatoes that I slice thin with the use of a mandoline. The peppers come out as good as Charlies (the best for peppers IMO) the potatoes are on a par with Tommy's, only slightly less greasy, (my wife and others actually prefer mine over Tommy's), the bread is top quality and as good as any I've had, as are the dogs. Combined, it makes for one great sandwich. You can do the same at home provided that you have a deep fryer, a mandoline, and the ingredients for an Italian Hot Dog.
14) Syd's, Millburn Mall, Vauxhall Rd. Union
Taking into consideration the many types and styles of hot dogs, (we voted on 5 categories; there could have been more) if our panel had to vote on just one dog that is the best in Jersey, Syd's wins. In fact, we did have an informal vote among the 8 of us. Although we visited 87 places, some served more than one type of dog, so we easily had over 90, and maybe 100 different hot dogs. Five out of 8 people picked Syd's as best overall hot dog of the summer. Out of the three dissenters, one picked Rutt's Hut, one picked Hirams, and Pete picked Tony's Truck. In it's category of grilled hot dog, Syd's got 7 of 8 first place votes. The person not voting for Syd's for first place had them for second. This person prefers pork based dogs and picked Karl Ehmer's for first place in the grilled category. No other hot dog got as many first place votes in their category.
Syd's serves a long, 5 to a lb natural casing Best's all beef frank. The dog can be ordered grilled or boiled. Grilled is actually boiled first and then put on a gas grill and char broiled. The result is a dog that is damn close to perfection. Excellent flavor, a great spicing, perfect snap to the casing, perfect size for a dog. I can understand someone preferring a German style pork and beef dog to this one, since the two styles are considerably different, but for an all beef kosher style dog, none comes close to Syd's.
As for the place itself, today was the last day at the current location. It was in a luncheonette in a strip mall. One thing many people didn't like about Syd's is that you couldn't just walk in and get a hot dog. You had to sit and be waited on. And recently the service has gotten bad. We had to wait a very long time to be served the day of the Hot Dog Tour. The last few times, including today, the service has been subpar, even when not crowded. But the dogs are fabulous.
I've mentioned it in the past, but you can buy these same dogs to make at home. They are available at Best Provisions on Avon Ave. in Newark. I get them all the time and prepare them like they do at Syd's.
15) J's Italian Beef & Sausage, St. Georges Ave. Linden
Jack, the owner, is from Chicago and serves sandwiches that are popular there such as Italian Beef and sausage. He also serves great barbecue. And Chicago style hot dogs. In fact, this is the only place in New Jersey where you can get an authentic Chicago style hot dog. Vienna beef franks, neon green relish, sports peppers, etc, shipped in from Chicago. The dog is a 6 to a lb skinless Vienna Beef brand dog that is served on a poppy seed bun and topped with mustard, neon green relish, onions, tomato slices, a dill pickle, celery salt, and sports peppers. The dog itself is made from bull meat and brisket. It's a quality beef dog, but milder than what many of us are used to, such as Sabrett, Nathan's, Best, or Hebrew National. For a plain dog, I would prefer these four to the Vienna, but the Vienna dog goes well with all of the ingredients on a Chicago dog. The preferred method of preparation is boiling. They call it steaming, but the dogs are put in a compartment with hot water and the lid is shut, creating steam. If you order a regular dog instead of Chicago style, you can get it boiled or grilled. The grilled dog is called a char dog, and is pretty good. You get more flavor this way than boiled. But get the Chicago dog boiled, which is the traditional way. The dog, being milder than what we're used to (but still spicier than a beef/pork dog) mixes well with the other ingredients and doesn't overpower them.
This dog didn't really go over well with the panel. I believe the Chicago dog is an aquired taste. I am a minimalist when it comes to hot dogs, usually preferring just some mustard on mine. I did like the contrast between hot meat and cool vegetables though. And since we reviewed this place on June 6th, I've been back a number of times. I can honestly say that I've aquired a taste for this particular dog. I do, though, have to be in the mood for it. I voted for J's for first place in the Creative, Original, or Unique category, being that they are the only place serving an authentic version of a hot dog that is wildly popular in and around Chicago. To many people, this is what a true hot dog tastes like. While I wasn't crazy about it, I have become a fan and now see why so many people rave about Chicago hot dogs.