We tried to hit as many places as we could; both the "name" places as well as the more obscure ones. There are easily a couple of hundred if not thousand places serving hot dogs in this state, from carts, trucks, restaurants, diners, to little hole in the wall type places. What follows are my observations and opinions, which were not necessarily shared by everyone. We visited 87 places. I had been to 49 of them previously. A few that I hadn't gone to I had known about. The remainder was completely new to me.
There were 3 particular dogs that were served at many places. The carts, trucks, and other establishments that served boiled, or "dirty water dogs overwhelmingly used a Sabrett all beef dog. Since the dog and method of preparation were similar, I had to look at ways of distinguishing between the offerings of the many places that served this dog. Most of the team went by toppings. For me, I place the taste of the dog as most important. I usually got chili on half of the dog and tasted the other half first with just mustard. Or I got 2 dogs, one with a topping, one without. When judging the dirty water dogs, I looked for 3 things. Casing: Some had a casing, some were skinless. I prefer casing. Second was size. Many places served a tiny 12 or 13 to a lb dog. And charged what others charged for a bigger 10 to a lb dog. All things considered, I'll take the bigger dog. Third thing was temperature. Some dogs were served barely warm, others hot, others actually cold. I like the dog hot. Also, some natural casing dogs lost much of their snap due to being in the water too long. These dogs didn't do as well in my scoring.
The second brand of dog that we encountered frequently was the Thumanns dog for deep frying. This dog is popular in the northern part of the state, particularly Passaic County. Used a lot by people who serve the North Jersey style of Texas Weiner. In this case, I looked for 2 things that set these places apart. One, if the dog was left in the oil long enough. The better places cooked the dogs longer. I would suggest ordering your dog "well" or well done. The other thing I judged was the chili, as most of the places that use this dog are Texas Weiner joints.
The third most popular dog was the Grote & Weigel Friddle frank. Used at the places that serve, the Plainfield area style Texas Weiner. This dog is griddled rather than deep fried, with a thicker or coarser chili. This dog tasted virtually the same at every place I visited. The only way to choose one over another was by the chili. The dogs were 6 to a lb and had Thumanns for deep frying (slightly different sizes and variation in frying time).
Another factor to consider is that for the places I had been to many times before, I knew what to expect. But some of them will provide better service and try to provide a better product (more toppings, more attention to how the dog is prepared) when they knew that they were being reviewed. We had no choice but to rate the place based on what we experienced that day. But I can give my opinions of what I experienced in the past.
One other observation, I went to each place with an open mind. Some that I wasn't crazy about in the past, I enjoyed when I went with the team. And vice versa. This isn't an exact science, so certain factors like how you are feeling that particular day, how hungry you are, etc. will affect your taste. I tried to block everything out when judging the dogs. It's also worthy to note that on a few occasions, even though we had eaten a lot, the last dog sampled was judged to be the best of the day.
First outing, 5/18
1) JJ's Hot Dog Truck, Bloomfield Ave. Newark.
They served a 12/lb skinless Sabrett, dirty water style. I've been to JJ's many times in the past. They have a reputation as one of the top trucks in the state. In the past (prior to August of 05) they used an 11 to a lb natural casing Sabrett. Since then, they switched to the skinless version in a smaller size. No doubt to save money. They are open until 3 or 4 in the AM to serve Rutgers college students and other late night revellers. At that hour, anything tastes good, and I doubt that the majority of their customers noticed that they switched dogs. JJ's is highly overrated in my opinion. When we went there, the dog was small and bland from being in the water too long. Again, similar to other places that use the same recipe Sabrett beef dog, what makes this place not as good as many others was the small, skinless, bland, waterlogged dog we had that day. This opinion was shared by most of the team.
2) Dickiee Dees Italian Hot Dogs, Bloomfield Ave. Newark
An authentic Jersey style Italian Hot Dog. They use Best skinless dogs deep fried, as do the majority of places making an authentic Italian Hot Dog. Difference is, these dogs are too small. 12 to a lb. Most use 10 to a lb. Some use 8. 8 is better. But Dickiee Dees uses the tiny dogs. Fried in peanut oil, the dog itself is very flavorful. This place I would rate as top 5 or 6 in the state, but it isn't in the top echelon because of the small size of the sandwich. The potatoes are in chunks rather than thinly sliced which I prefer, but it's a matter of taste. The peppers were hard and crunchy rather than soft. I prefer soft as did most of the team. Pete liked the harder peppers.
3) Amazing Hot Dog, Bloomfield Ave. Verona
A fairly new place known for the wide variety of toppings. They serve a 4 to a lb Best natural casing dog and deep fry it. They call it flash frying, but the dogs are prepared in a deep fryer. They're just fried for a few minutes and taken out before the skin splits open. This keeps the flavorful juices in and works for this dog. Amazing Hot Dog was voted best deep fried dog by the panel. It was also my pick, but I will say that choosing bewteen this dog and a beef/pork dog like Rutt's Hut was like choosing between apples and oranges. Rutt's has my favorite condiment (their relish), but in a tough decision, I picked the tastier dog from Amazing. The dog has a great flavor, but I like the dog a little thinner. Also, I prefer the mustard to be put on the dog, rather than on the bun. One comment made by the team was that there was too much mustard put on the dog. The fries were top of the line, as was the other toppings. The chili was one of the 5 best I sampled. It had a unique flavor. A great place serving a great dog.
Second outing, 5/23
4) Jimmy Buffs, West Orange
Jimmy Buff's is the originator and original Italian Hot Dog. They've had numerous locations over the years. They currently have 3; East Hanover, West Orange, and Scotch Plains. The Irvington location closed recently. This is the one I visited most often. The West Orange location is owned by Jim Raccioppi, grandson of the founder. His uncle owns the Scotch Plains location and owned the Irvington one. The difference is that the locations owned by Jim serve a less greasy product than those owned by his uncle. Again, it's all a matter of preference. Many people like the extra grease. The team as a whole liked the sandwich at Jimmy Buff's. It finished second for Italian Hot Dog. Good bread, red and green peppers, potatoes sliced thinner than Dickiee Dees, but thicker than other places. A good, solid Italian Hot Dog. I went back since, and the dog was just as good, but there was only green peppers. The place to go on Tuesdays, as they charge half price. They call it Fat Tuesday.
5) Frankie D's, Center St. Nutley
A former pizzeria, Frankie D's has only been open a few years. They serve 3 types of dogs. An Italian Hot Dog, a deep fried dog, and a dirty water dog. The Italian dog is similar to Dickiee Dees. Same potato chunks. Good peppers, but way too much bread. The ingredients were buried inside the roll. A decent Italian dog, but not great. The deep fried dog was the Thumanns deep fryer used at many places. It needed more time in the oil. They also serve a dirty water dog that I did not sample. It is a Thumanns all beef frank. They use Best for the Italian Hot Dogs.
6) Galloping Hill Inn, Union
The GHI is one of the more popular joints in the state. They probably serve more hot dogs in the course of a day than anywhere else due to their location and high quality of their hot dog. The Hot Grill may be the only place that serves more dogs, but they are open until 1 AM, while GHI closes at 9PM. They use a 6 to a lb natural casing Grote & Weigel frank. It's important to note that this dog is a different recipe than the G&W franks used at many of the Texas Weiner joints. Originally produced by Gaiser's in Union, GHI took the recipe and had it made at Grote & Weigel. This dog was well liked by the team and the people attending the Hot Dog Tour. It is a tasty beef and pork dog in the German style. It was in the top 3 for grilled dog on a few team member's score cards. I was hoping that there would be a category for grilled beef/pork dogs and a separate one for grilled all beef dogs. Since Pete wanted to limit the categories to five, he decided to have only one for grilled dogs. Two out of the three picks were for all beef dogs. Galloping Hill was easily one of the three best grilled beef/pork dogs. I would have put it right behind the dog we had at Karl Ehmers.
7) Jerry's Famous Frankfurters, Elizabeth Ave. Elizabeth
A walk up storefront serving an 8 to a lb all beef natural casing Best brand frank. It is boiled and then placed in a steel compartment (like a small griddle) to add extra crunch. This is an excellent hot dog and my pick for best dirty water dog. It was also the first place pick of another S.W.A.T. member. Unfortunately, this dog did not place top three. I like the flavor and spicing better than the more common Sabrett dog that we had a million times this summer. I would go so far as to say that it was my second favorite dog of the summer. It tasted so good that night that after having 2 Italian Hot Dogs (Jimmy Buffs and Frankie D's) and 2 regular dogs (Frankie D's deep fried dog and Galloping Hill Inn) I wolfed down 3 of them. Although I love Jerry's, they are not always consistent. You will get a bad dog occasionally.
Third outing, 5/30
8) Tony's Truck, Branch Brook Park, Newark
Tony's uses a 10 to a lb natural casing Golden D all beef dog from the Bronx. This truck is known for their hot onions, which I don't eat since I hate onions. But others rave about them. I had been to Tony's once before and thought the dog was ok. Since then, I've been there once with the Munchmobile, one or 2 other times, and most recently with the 06 Hot Dog Tour. My opinion of Tony's has gone way up. The dog itself is a high quality all beef dog. I asked Tony why he used this particular brand, which is seen at many New York street carts, but not in Jersey. He told me that he prefers a dog with a little less spice and garlic than the more common Sabrett. This dog is served hot and tastes good with mustard or the chili they have which is spicy, but not too spicy, with a slight tomatoey taste. I would put this dog right below Jerry's for a dirty water dog. In fact, it came in second to Donnies Dogs in the voting. When asked at the end for our personal favorite dog of the summer, Pete Genovese picked Tony's.
The owners of this truck requested that both the Munchmobile and the 06 Hot Dog Tour not come to Tony's. I thought this odd, but it was explained to me that they do not want any publicity because they are in a high crime area and fear being robbed. It has happenned before and they don't want anyone reading about Tony's and knowing that they are succesfull and therefore have a lot of money.
One other thing about Tony's. They get very busy, but have 2 windows from which they serve dogs. I would have to say that they are the fastest and most efficient at pumping out dogs. Just great, fast service. Also, on the Hot Dog Tour, Tony's had 13 votes for best dog of the day, finishing just behind Syd's with 14.
9) Rutt's Hut, Clifton
Easily one of, if not THE most well known hot dog joints in Jersey. Known for their deep fried dogs called rippers, their dogs (Thumanns for deep frying) are made especially for deep frying. The dog has a natural casing and comes about 8 to a lb. Many North Jersey dog houses use this particular dog, but what sets Rutt's apart is 2 things. One is that you can get the dogs cooked to different degrees of doneness. Most places that use this dog fry it the minimum amount of time. It tastes better if it is left in the oil longer. At Rutt's you can get an "in and outer", "ripper", "weller", or "cremator". I prefer the weller myself. The other thing that sets this dog apart is their unique mustard based relish. My favorite hot dog topping, this relish goes great with the somewhat mild dog. People are split on this dog. You either love it or hate it. To some, it is the best dog in the universe. To other's it is horrible. May be an aquired taste. This dog came in second place to Amazing Hot Dog for deep fried dog. But they are 2 entirely different animals, as Amazing uses a more well seasoned all beef dog. Hard to say which is better. Depends on your mood I guess. But I voted for Amazing based on just the dog alone, since most of the time I prefer a spicier beef dog. Other times, nothing hits the spot like a Rutt's dog. One member of the SWAT Team voted for Rutt's as her favorite dog of the summer.
10) Hot Grill, Lexington Ave. Clifton
A short distance from Rutt's Hut is The Hot Grill, known for its Texas Weiners. This version is the North Jersey/Hot Texas Weiner, which is deep fried and topped with thin chili sauce. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices are all typical of the chili served in the Passaic County area. Again, this may be an aquired taste. Someone on our panel referred to this type of chili as ginerbread cookie chili. The reviews on the Texas Weiners were usually based on whether the SWAT member liked this particular chili or not. And in the voting, all dogs with chili were lumped into the Chili Dog category regardless of whether they were North Jersey Texas Weiners, Plainfield Area Texas Weiners, dirty water dogs topped with chili, or something else. Most North Jersey Texas Weiner places use the Thumanns deep fryer. Some use the Sabrett beef and pork dog. The Hot Grill uses the Sabrett. It's a little milder than the Thumanns, but goes great with the chili.
Opinions were mixed on the Hot Grill. I love this type of chili, and the Hot Gill has always been one of my favorite Texas Weiners. Quick service and the chili is served at the perfect temperature. This dog was well liked by the people attending the 05 Jersey Hot Dog Tour.
According to the owner of the Galloping Hill Inn, who is friends with the owners of the Hot Grill, the three places serving the most hot dogs in Jersey are: 1) The Hot Grill 2) The Galloping Hill Inn 3) Max's. The Galloping Hill Inn would probably sell more if they stayed open as late as the Hot Grill, which is open to 1 AM.
11) New Corral, Hazel St. Clifton
This was the first time here for me. A diner type place serving, the deep fried Thumanns. Not much to say about this place. The dog was ok, but not left in the oil long enough. The Texas Weiner sauce was average and lacked the complexity of the better chili sauces of this type. If you're in the area, you're better off going to the Hot Grill.
12) Libby's Lunch, McBride Ave. Paterson
One of the original Texas Weiner joints. Opened in 1936, this small old fashioned diner serves what many consider to be the archetypal North Jersey Hot Texas Weiner. They use the Thumanns deep fryer and fry it for the right amount of time. The chili sauce is the clovey, cinammony sauce that is typical of the area. Very similar to the Hot Grill. Until this year, I rated The Hot Grill #1 and Libby's #2 for dogs in this category (North Jersey or Hot Texas Weiner) I've since found one I like better, which I'll name when I get to it, but Libby's and The Hot Grill remain 2 of the three best in my opinion. I like the Hot Gill's sauce a tad better than Libby's, but I like the dog itself a tad better at Libby's.
Service was very good. Great atmosphere and they serve beer.
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 Road, 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 acquired 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 acquired 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.
Fifth outing, 6/13
16) Chris's Truck, Heller Parkway, Newark
The second of many hot dog trucks, carts, and other establishments serving the Sabrett dirty water dog. JJ's was the first. The other truck we visited up to this point was Tony's, which served a Golden D frank. As I mentioned earlier, the great majority of dirty water dogs we encountered were Sabrett. A great beef dog for sure, and in my top 3. But how do you distinguish between all these places that serve the same dog prepared the same way? For most, it was the toppings or condiments. For me it was size, (10 or 8 to a lb being preferable) whether it had a casing, and how hot it was. I should mention a 4th factor. Freshness. Although I believe virtually all of these dogs were not old, many were left in the water too long. JJ's is an example. At least when we went. When left in the water too long the dog loses flavor and snap if it has a natural casing.
The dog at Chris's was an 11 to a lb skinless Sabrett. A little smaller than what I prefer, and without the casing. But it was served hot enough. I had chili on half of my dog, and it was average hot dog truck chili. For me, this place typified what most hot dog trucks were about. A decent, but unspectacular dog. Could have been bigger. Could have had casing. For the rest of the team, this truck did stand out in the sense that it recieved a vote for best hot onions. According to those who eat them, this place and Tony's had the best hot onions. For the top five categories (grilled, boiled, deep fried, chili, and Italian) places were rated one through three. For the miscellaneous categories, (the Coney's) there was only one winner.
17) Callahan's, Rt 46 Little Ferry
As many of you know, the original Callahan's location in Fort Lee was closed and turned into a bank. But there are still 2 locations left. This one and another in Hasbrouck Heights. According to Rick Castrianni, owner of the Fort Lee location, all Callahan's restaurants serve the same hot dog. Which is a beef and pork Sabrett dog. It is deep fried. The small dog is a 6 to a lb. They also serve a quarter pounder, and a super dog which is even bigger. This particular dog is very mild, even considered bland. It does taste better if you put a quality chili on top like the Hot Grill does. Not bad, but not one of my favorites. I've always preferred the Thumanns deep fryer served at Hirams, which is right across the street from where the Fort Lee Callahan's was.
You order the size dog you want and then you put on your own toppings at a fixins bar. They have mustard, ketchup, kraut, relish, onions, and maybe something else. Chili is extra, and has to be ordered. The team was down on this dog. I think part of the reason is that it was bland compared to the all beef Sabrett we had previously at Chris's.
18) Hiram's, Fort Lee
This place is a real Jersey roadside joint. Inside it looks like a small neighborhood bar, which in fact it could be considered. There is a small bar and a few tables. Behind the bar is the open kitchen area where the deep fryers are. Hiram's serves the Thumann's deep fryer. I'm not sure of the size, but I would guess 7 or 8 to a pound. The dog is thicker than what is served at Rutt's Hut and many other places using the same recipe dog. As at all of the establishments that serve this dog, be sure to ask for it well done or at Hiram's, the expression is one "well". Rutt's, Libby's, Hot Dog Heaven, and Pappy's Diner are a few places where you don't have to make this request, since they do prepare them this way.
The Thumann's deep fryer was one of the top 3 more common dogs that we encountered this summer, along with the Sabrett all beef dog (dirty water dogs) and the Grote & Weigel griddle frank (many Texas Weiner joints). The dog at Hirams stood out from most serving this particular dog in a couple of ways. The dog itself was a little thicker. It was served on a quality toasted bun. It was fried for a sufficient amount of time, even if I had to request it. And the chili here was one of the better ones we had all summer. In fact it was voted best chili dog by the team. So in Hirams, we have another first place winner in one of the five major categories. I had my dog with just mustard, but did have a bite of someone's chili dog. It was definitely one of my favorite chili's. A bit on the spicy side as well. This dog, as mentioned previously, was the favorite overall dog of one of our S.W.A.T. members.
19) Johnny & Hanges, Fair Lawn
Johnny & Hanges original location was Paterson, birthplace of the Jesrey Hot Texas Weiner. Some years ago they moved to their current location. J&H is a standard North Jersey or "Hot" Texas Weiner restaurant. Serving the Thumann's deep fryer and topping it with the thin Texas Weiner sauce. Average to pretty good dog and sauce. J&H is one of the very few Texas Weiner joints to also offer an all beef dog. This dog is bigger in size and also a Thumann's. I've had it in the past and enjoyed it, but on this particular night the all beef dog was too dry. Mixed reviews from the team.
20) Goffle Grill, Hawthorne
A fairly popular Texas Weiner joint in the Hawthorne, Midland Park area. Similar in looks to the Hot Grill or Johnny & Hanges; it is a typical fast food place as far as appearance. They serve the Thumanns deep fryer, but here it tastes bland. This has been my experience the 5 or 6 times I've been here. The chili sauce has a harsh taste to it. Tangy, vinegary, and unpleasant. No one on the team liked this dog.
Sixth outing, 6/20
21) Donnies Dogs, Central Ave & 15th St. Newark
Only our 6th outing out of a total of 16, but with Donnies Dogs, we've already been to all 5 first place finishers. Just worked out that way. Still, a lot of great dogs left. Donnies was voted first place by our panel for best Dirty Water Dogs. I think it got one first place vote, but a lot of second and thirds. My first place vote went to Jerry's. Another member also voted for Jerry's for first place, but no one else had them in their top 3. Donnies is a hot dog truck parked on the street next to Fairmount Cemetary. Owner Pete Caggiano serves 10 to a lb skinless Sabrett's. Bigger than many of the trucks serving the 11's and 12's. And served hot and fresh. In my opinion, the one thing this dog lacked that is important to me in a dirty water dog is the snap of a natural casing. Had this been included, Donnies would have been in my top 3. It would have met my criteria of a dirty water dog being served hot, fresh, with a good snap, at a decent size. There were a few that did meet this criteria, but what would have put Donnies in my top three instead of one of the others would have been the variety of toppings and condiments. Not that I use all that many, preferring just mustard most of the time, but Donnies had a big selection of dogs; maybe the most from a truck. Chili, cheese, hot relish, reuben dogs, cheesteak dogs, you name it, it was there along with many that I can't recall. The tasty dog along with the variety of choices accounted for Donnies taking first place. The owner, as mentioned by other posters here previously, gives back to the community and is a genuinely good guy. Congratulations to him, especially after a rough beginning where he was only making $20.00 on some days and seriously considered quitting.
I had 2 dogs here. One with chili, which was liked by the team, but a little too hot (spicy) for my taste. And one with just mustard.
22) Otto's, Bloomfield Ave. Caldwell
Otto's is a small hot dog restaurant that has been open less than a year. Located right across the street from the popular Cloverleaf Tavern. The dog served is a 10 to a lb, natural casing all beef Sabrett. This is the perfect size for a Sabrett dirty water dog. Normally I would prefer 8 to a lb, which I consider ideal, but for some reason the casing isn't tight enough on the Sabrett 8's. I was expecting to like this dog because of the size and the fact that it had casing. But it wasn't to be because the dogs were actually served cold. Not hot. Not warm. Not lukewarm. Cold! And not just mine, but everyone's. It was mentioned to the staff, who gave us a new round of dogs. These were barely warmer. Too bad, because the temperature of the dogs ruined the experience. The rolls were also too big for the dog. I don't remember sampling the chili, but according to my notes it was spicy, tomatoey, and not good. Don't remember why it wasn't good.
23) Boulevard Drinks, Journal Square Jersey City.
A small walkup storefront with perhaps 6 or so stools at a counter. Large neon lights, similar to Papaya King or Gray's in New York. First opened in 1937. In fact, I believe that this place was the forerunner of Papaya King. Although most people think of Sabrett as a New York dog, it originated in Jersey City. The company was there for years before it was sold. It is now owned by Marathon Enterprises in East Rutherford, N.J. although the dogs are made at a Stahl- Mayer plant in the Bronx. Boulevard Drinks uses the natural casing Sabrett and prepares them on a griddle. Some years later Papaya King opened in New York serving the dogs the same way. Later on came Gray's Papaya, Chelsea Papaya, and a slew of others. All after Boulevard Drinks.
The dog served here came in 2nd place for a grilled dog. All on the team thought it was fantastic. I would put it third on my list for favorite dog sampled all summer behind Syd's and Jerry's. I believe if the team as a whole was asked to rate their top 3 overall, this dog would have come in 2nd to Syd's. Later in the summer we went to New York (which I will get into in more detail later) and had the Sabrett dog served the same way at Papaya King, Gray's Papaya, and Katz's. The S.W.A.T. team was unanimous in agreeing that the dog at Boulevard Drinks was better. It was served nice and hot, cooked sufficiently, and tasted fresher. This dog was smaller than 10 to a lb. But it was so good that I'll make an exception in this case. It was also cheaper than what most dirty water places charged for the smaller size Sabrett's. It was under $1.50 although I don't remember the exact price.
To many hot dog lovers in Jersey, Boulevard Drinks is the standard. If you happen to prefer the flavor and spicing in a Sabrett dog to a Best's, than I would say that this is the best place for you to get a hot dog. If you check this place out, be prepared to either park in the nearby garage or wait awhile to get a space. Parking is extremely difficult. But the dogs are so good that I make the trip here often.
24) Petridis, Bayonne
A small restaurant that started out as a pushcart and has been around a very long time. Well known in and around Bayonne and Jersey City. There were 2 young girls working here who knew little about the product being served and didn't seem to care. The dog served was an 11 to a lb natural casing Sabrett prepared dirty water style. Hot enough, but hardly any snap. The dogs we had were definitely in the water too long. This cut down on the snap and reduced the flavor in the dog. Castleberry chili was served here. All in all, the dogs were mediocre as was the service. I would avoid this place and drive to Boulevard Drinks. One of the members of the team was from Bayonne and grew up on these hot dogs. He was really looking forward to going to the hot dog place of his youth. Even he was disapointed. But he assured us that the dogs were better in the past.
Seventh outing, 6/25 Part 1
25) JoJo's, Rt37 Toms River
Our first Sunday trip, and what a trip! Nine different stops, beginning at 11:00 when the first place opened, and ending sometime around 9 PM. JoJo's is a small restaurant that serves primarily Italian Hot Dogs. Originally from Iselin, they moved to Toms River in the early 70's. I lived in Iselin while they were there, but never ate there. Today was the third time that I've been to their current location. They serve what can be considered an authentic Italian Hot Dog. Meaning that they use the circular pizza bread, Best's dogs, and fried peppers, onions, and potatoes. In fact, JoJo's may be the farthest point south where you can get a true Italian style hot dog. I know that Casino Tony Goes in Trenton calls their sandwich an Italian Hot Dog, but to me it isn't. I'll elaborate when I get to that trip.
JoJo's wasn't particularly good. The dogs were tiny, 12 or maybe even 13 to a lb. They had casing, which I prefer on a regular dog, but not an Italian Hot Dog. It intereferes with the synergy between bread, meat, and vegetables. Does that make sense? Anyway, although the dogs were small, I requested only a single because I knew I was in for a lot of eating. The owner refused, and made me a double anyway. And included onions even though I requested that they be left out. From what I remember the potatoes and peppers were ok, the bread wasn't. They get the bread sent down from Calandras, which is one of Jersey's finest bakeries. But they don't make very good pizza bread. I've bought it from them once to use for my Italian Hot Dogs that I make at home. It fell apart then as it did today. Dickie Dees is a stone's throw away from Calandras and DiPaolas, but chooses to use the bread from DiPaolas. JoJo's is ok if you're from this area and crave an Italian Hot Dog. But it wasn't one of the better ones we've sampled this summer.
26) Hot Dog Tommy's, Jackson St. Cape May.
A small walkup stand in the beautiful town of Cape May. It seems that they do a good business as there was a fairly long line on a Sunday afternoon. Tommy's won a Coney for best personality. The guy was funny, spewing forth jokes and one liners the whole time we were there. Two different dogs were served. A five to a lb skinless all beef dog from Berks. This one was short and chubby rather than long and slim like the Syd's 5 to a lb. The other dog was a Berks skinless 10 to a lb beef and pork dog. Both dogs were steamed and then put on a roller grill. Not exactly my favorite way to prepare a dog. But the dogs came out better than I anticipated. The beef dog was solid, if unspectacular. An ordinary all beef dog. The beef/pork dog was tasty and above average. You can get these dogs with diced onions and pickles. There is a sign reading "Sorry, we do not have red onions or cooked onions. Dats North Jersey. So don't ask for them. We serve raw diced onions."
27) Mauis Dog House, North Wildwood.
I had heard of Mauis and intended to go for a long time, but never got around to it until now. Many people said that the dogs here are very good, and I had corresponded with the owner via e-mail previously. He wouldn't tell me the brand of dog used, but I was able to find out. Mauis has 2 locations. The one we visited on a main street near the boardwalk, and one on the boardwalk itself. Sort of similar to a Stewarts Root Beer stand in that you are served at a walkup area and eat at picninc benches. Mauis won the Coney for Most Creative Toppings. I voted for Amazing Hot Dog. But Mauis had a lot including salty balls (potatoes that were brined) extra spicey mustard, potatoes flavored with white wine and garlic, and excellent hand cut fries.
At Mauis, you can get a regular dog or a veal dog. Both about 8 to a lb and prepared on a hot griddle. The veal dog was ok, but a little on the mild side. The regular dog was made of beef, pork, and veal in the German style. In a natural casing. To me, it tasted just like a Hoffmans dog from Syracuse, which I've bought at Wegmans. This is a good thing, as this dog is very good. Mild, but not bland. Originally, the owner claimed that the dogs were made on site. After I asked him where the sausage making equipment was, he told me that his brother makes the dogs at a nearby pork store. I saw an article taped to the wall of the building stating that the owner's family came from Syracuse. To me this was too much of a coincidence. I called Hoffman's and was told that Mauis has bought their products. So what you are eating are Hoffman's German style franks. A quality dog, and one of the better beef and pork dogs. Worth seeking out if you are in or near Wildwood.
28) Windmill, Long Branch.
We went to the original Windmill on Ocean Ave. There are other locations all around, most of which are in Monmouth County. One of the more well known hot dog joints in Jersey along with Max's, which we went to immediately after the Windmill. The dog here is a big quarter pound natural casing beef and pork dog made by Sabrett. The same recipe dog that is used at Callahan's and The Hot Grill, although at those places the dogs are deep fried. Here it is cooked on a griddle until the skin snaps. The Windill took 2nd place in the chili dog category. Unfortunately, I did not taste the chili. It was thick and beanless. The dog itself had a great snap to the casing. You can see the dogs on the griddle and I would advise picking out the one you want, which would be one of the more well done dogs. This dog is another fairly mild beef/pork dog that some consider to be bland. I think it has just enough flavor without considering it bland. The char and casing add to the experience. I had mine with mustard (Gulden's)and enjoyed it. Definitely one of the better grilled beef/pork dogs along with Max's, Galloping Hill Inn, Karl Ehmers, and Mauis.
29) Max's, Long Branch
Right down the street from the Windmill is Max's. Located a block from the Boardwalk, it was originally on the Boardwalk. After a fire, Max's moved to its current location. It is bigger than most hot dog places with a rectangular counter and tables. They serve beer as well. If you look around, you'll see dozens of pictures of celebrities who have eaten at Max's hanging on the walls. From Bruce Springsteen to Cardinal O'Connor. Max's is only open from sometime in March to September. But when they're open they sell a lot of dogs. From what I hear, they're in the top 3 along with the Galloping Hill Inn and the Hot Grill.
The dog is expensive as is the dog at the Windmill. Both going for over $4.00, and more if you want chili. Max's serves a quarter pound Schickhaus frank. Made by Grote & Weigel of Connecticut for the Jersey market, these same dogs are available in many supermarkets including most Shop Rites. Although I was told that they are made from the same recipe as the Grote & Weigel griddle franks that you get at the Texas Weiner joints, I believe this may not be true. I like the Schickhaus dogs better. At Max's, they stay on the griddle a long time. Prepared perfectly, this is one fine dog. I prefer it by the slimmest of margins to the Windmill dog as did most of the panel. I didn't have the chili, but those who did said it was nothing special, while the Windmill's took 2nd place. The service and attitude of those working at Max's leave much to be desired. Right off the bat one of Mrs. Max's daughters or daughters in law starting complaining to Pete about the Ledger's lack of coverage of the place. A guy there was overheard by one of us as saying that he wished we didn't come by. We were given a hard time when we decided to get our dogs to go rather than waiting to be served at the counter. Despite all this, the dog is very good, but I won't go there unless I'm in the area and the Windmill is closed.
Seventh outing, 6/25 part 2.
30) Old Heidelburg, Keansburg Boardwalk.
A popular little place on the boardwalk serving hot dogs and beer. Most people grab a dog while walking the boardwalk, but there are a lot of tables for those who wish to sit. I had been here a few times in the past; last time a few years ago. The dogs served then were very good; all beef prepared on a griddle with a large amount of cooking oil on the surface. The people working here have always been very secretive about the brand used, but it is Haydu. For years made in Newark, but the plant closed down and they are made elsewhere; I think someone told me New York. And from what I hear, they're not as good as they used to be. When we went, the dogs were beef/pork rather than all beef. But still Haydu's. Let me say that out of all the dogs sampled this summer, most were at least ok. Meaning that they were good to eat, if not particularly standing out. We had many Sabrett dirty water dogs, most being indistinguishable from the rest. But all pretty good as Sabrett makes a quality dog. Others were better. And then there were those that were outstanding. Some were bland, but edible. Then there were 3 dogs that I would consider bad. Not bad in that they were spoiled, but bad as far as taste and/or preparation. The dogs at the Old Heidelberg were lousy. Definitely one of the three worst dogs I've had. I'd say there were 2 that I liked even less than these. The skinless dogs (about 8 to a lb) were extremely greasy, salty, and bland. Just a bad hot dog, and to this point, the worst that we've had. This opinon was shared by 7 out of 8 of us. One thought the dog was ok.
31) Tido's, New Brunswick
A fairly new place, Tido's has been open for about 2 years. Located fairly close to Rutgers. There are 3 dogs served here. A Sabrett all beef, a Hatfield beef and pork, and a turkey dog. All skinless, all boiled. I didn't sample the turkey dog. The Sabrett dog wasn't hot and had been in the water too long. Not a good dog. The Hatfield beef and pork dog, which is what they serve most of, and what you get if you come in and order a dog without specifying which one, has the distinction of being the worst hot dog I've ever eaten. It was so bad that I had to have another one just to be sure that it wasn't spoiled. I even went in the refrigerator and checked the date on the package, which was good. The only way I can describe this dog was too salty with a horrible spicing. Ironically, the fries were one of the best that we've had. So, the last 2 stops had 2 of the 3 worst dogs of the summer in my opinion as well as most on the S.W.A.T. Team.
32) Texas Weiner II, Rt. 22 Greenbrook.
One of the oldest Texas Weiner joints in the state, Texas Weiner ll opened in 1924. Being located on busy rt 22, they serve a lot of hot dogs. Probably in the top 6. The dog is the standard Grote & Weigel griddle frank served at virtually all of the Central Jersey Texas Weiner joints that grill, rather than deep fry their dogs. And this dog tastes the same at all of these places. Only difference is the chili sauce used. And even this is very similar among the many places that serve this dog. When I'm in the mood for one of these dogs, I pick a place that is close to me and is less expensive, since in my opinion if you've had one, you've had them all. There is less variation in this type of dog than even the dirty water Sabrett's or the deep fried Thumann's.
I've been here many times over the years, but have stopped going because they were more expensive than the other places and the service has gotten worse. When we went, I noticed that the price of a dog went down from $3.50. I forget what they charge now, but it was under $3.00. The service was lousy. Not only did they get our orders wrong, but it took forever to get served. Most of the team didn't like this dog, but I thought it was ok, although I would rather go elsewhere because of the lousy service. The chili served at these type of Texas Weiner joints is thicker than the Paterson area deep fried or Hot Texas Weiner places. The chili here is typical of the type and not overly spicy. The dog could have spent more time on the griddle.
33) Texas Weiner I, Front St. Plainfield.
This is the original Plainfield Texas Weiner joint. I don't know when they opened, but it was shortly before Texas Weiner ll. Originally owned by the same family, both places now have different owners. Texas Weiner l is a very small diner with a griddle facing the street, and a small counter inside. Same Grote & Weigel dog, but this one spent a little more time on the griddle. Better service and a better atmosphere. The chili, while similar in taste and texture, was much spicier here. Too spicy for me, but I was in the minority. The team as a whole preferred Texas Weiner l to Texas Weiner ll. I liked the quick service at l, but the chili at ll.
Eighth outing, 7/9
34) Stewart's, Lebanon
This particular Stewart's has a reputation of being one of the nicest, if not the nicest looking Stewart's in the state. It's located along a pretty section of rt 22 in the western part of the state. A lot of plants and shrubbery, and a mini picnic grove with benches make this a good place to enjoy a dog outside.
In the past, almost all Stewart's used a Haydu brand beef and pork dog. Some still do, but each individual Stewart's now decides what dog they will serve. The Rahway location uses a Thumann's griller that they deep fry. They used to grill it. Two other locations that we visited later on used the Haydu and deep fried it. This location in Lebanon uses a skinless Dietz and Watson all beef dog that they prepare on a roller grill. There is a foot long dog and a smaller size.
I've been here several times in the past, and found the dog to be just ok. The Dietz and Watson beef dog is the same dog that is called Black Bear in Shop Rites. But that dog has a natural casing, while these were skinless. The dog itself is of decent quality, with a good, but milder flavor than a Best, Sabrett, or Nathan's. This dog would have fared better if it had a natural casing and was prepared on a griddle or grill, rather than a roller grill. But it's still an ok dog usually. Today, it was unusually dry and tough. The chili is homemade and had a fresh, tomatoey flavor. I think the dogs we had might have been old. They're usually better.
35) Bridge Street Dog Pound, Bridge Street, Milford.
Located a block or so from a bridge leading into Pa., the Dog Pound is a relatively new place. It opened sometime earlier in the year. Or late in 05. Owned by 2 twenty something guys, one of whom kept bragging about the place on the Munchmobile forum, continually stating that his dogs were best in the state. I just wanted to see what this guy looked like, but he wasn't there on this day. His partner, a somewhat quiet and accomodating guy, was.
It's a very small place that was uncomfortably hot inside. Everyone ate outside, even though there is no outside seating. One of the girls working there was kind enough to bring out some chairs. The dog served was a 10 to a lb Berks skinless dog that was deep fried. Same exact dog and preparation as Toby's Cup, which, coincidentally, would be our next stop. The Dog Pound had a variety of topping choices. The River Rat, which had fried peppers, barbecue sauce, onions, and mustard, proved popular with the team. The chili was peppery and very finely ground; sort of like a puree. Not sure if I liked it or not. I ordered the basic dog, which I believe is called the Milford. It has yellow mustard, onions, and a pickle slice. I omitted the onions.
I liked the dog. Very similar to Toby's Cup. Out in West Jersey, they prefer milder dogs. And skinless. They come either steamed, deep fried, or on a roller grill. The brand is usually Kunzler, Hatfield, or Berks. Out of these, I like the Berks dog the best. And it's better deep fried. The major thing that I didn't like about the Dog Pound was that it took forever to be served. All told, we only ordered about 8 dogs. There was no line either. It took over 25 minutes for me to get one lousy dog. And it was unbearably hot inside. From what I remember, it wasn't a particularly hot day. If I want this type of dog; I'll stick to Toby's Cup.
36) Toby's Cup, Rt 22, Lopatcong
Toby's is a little shack located right on busy rt 22, right at the Lopatcong/Philipsburg border. There is a clown face on the outside of the building, with a battered flouorescent light inside, and a very low ceiling. Voted best hot dog hole-in-the-wall. Toby's deep fries a 10 to a lb skinless Berk's beef and pork dog. It comes West Jersey/ Pennsylvania style with yellow mustard, pickle slices, and onions. Fast service, in contrast to the Dog Pound. Toby's has been around since the 1940's and is very popular in the area. In my opinion, they serve the best dog in Western Jersey. I like to call it the White Castle of hot dogs. Small, delicious, and your car smells like it for days.
37) Jimmy's on the Delaware, Philipsburg
Jimmy's replaced Jim's Doggie Stand, which was in Philipsburg for over 30 years before moving to nearby Easton, Pa. Three dogs were offered here. A regular Berks beef and pork (10 to a lb, skinless) that was prepared on a roller grill. Average, not nearly as good as Toby's. A Hatfield angus beef dog that was deep fried. Eight to a lb with natural casing, this, in my opinion was the best of the bunch, although this particular dog is better grilled or dirty water style. Hatfield makes a very good beef dog, but a poor beef/pork dog. They also make a beef/pork/turkey dog that you can find in the supermarket. I wouldn't bother. The other dog available here is a 5 to a lb Berks beef and pork dog with a cheese and jalapeno interior. About a year ago the company sent me some of these dogs to sample. A very different, unique tasting dog. Good, but a little too spicy for me. I would definitely have one once in a while. The rest of the team liked this dog so much that it was voted best novelty dog. I can't remember how it was prepared.
38) Hot Dog Johnny's, Rt 46, Buttzville
This place is second to Rutt's Hut in terms of famous hot dog joints. From what I'm told, The Hot Grill, Galloping Hill Inn, and Max's, in this order, sell the most hot dogs. All are popular. But Rutt's and Hot Dog Johnny's are the most well known hot dog establishments in Jersey. Practically everyone in the state has been to or heard of these 2. A big part of the popularity of Hot Dog Johnny's is the beautiful location. It's in a picturesque setting with picnic tables overlooking the Pequest River. A great atmosphere at this old time roadside stand. In my opinion, the most overrated dog anywhere. It's not awful, just mediocre. I don't care how popular it is. McDonald's is popular, but there are much better burgers out there. As, I said, one reason for it's popularity is the atmosphere and location. Another is that generations of people grew up eating here and there is a lot of nostalgia associated with this place. Finally, people in this part of the state are used to milder dogs, bordering on blandness. Bland is the word that was most used by the panel in describing the dogs at Hot Dog Johnny's.
The dog itself is a small, skinless Schmalz brand dog that is deep fried in peanut oil and served with mustard, ketchup, onions, relish, and a pickle spear. I had mine with mustard and pickle. I've been to Johnny's several times. The first time I thought it was awful. I think that in part was because my expectations were too high. I had been back a few times and thought the dogs were better than I remember the first time, but still mediocre. Today, they were clearly not as good as Toby's, the Dog Pound, or Jimmy's, which are all on the mild side. But that's my opinion, and so many people swear by Hot Dog Johnny's. It is far and away not only the most popular hot dog joint out in West Jersey, but the most popular eatery of any kind. The Star Ledger did an article stating this fact about a year ago. I was quoted as a dissenter regarding the dogs at Johnny's.
On the plus side, service is fairly quick considering that there are usually long lines. And the dogs are under a buck. Toby's dogs are also under a buck. No one on the S.W.A.T. Team liked the dogs at Hot Dog Johnny's.
39) Davey's Dogs, Howard Blvd, Mt. Arlington.
Davey's looks like a Swiss Chalet with its A-Frame structure. A nice little place with a walk up window, or indoor seating. There are a few tables inside, which has a sort of homey log cabin feel to it. The dogs are 12 to a lb natural casing all beef Sabrett's. By now you know that I'm not crazy about the small size. Especially here when the dog is put on a bun that is too big. If you order a dog, but don't specify how you want it, you'll get it boiled. Other options are grilled and deep fried. But you have to ask. The chili is the packaged Castleberry brand, which I like, even if it's not homemade. It has a nice mild tomatoey flavor. Other than the dogs being too small and put on a too big roll, they are prepared well and taste fine. I've been here a few times and have had the chance to have them all 3 ways. A good stop in Morris County, which doesn't have too many hot dog establishments.
40) Dover Grill, Rt 46, Dover
This was the first time that I've been to the Dover Grill. Going by the name, I expected a North Jersey "Hot" Texas Weiner joint. A lot of these places have the term "Grill" in there, even though they deep fry the dogs. Not so here. They serve a natural casing 10 to a lb all beef Sabrett dog, which is prepared on a griddle. Excellent dog, done right. In fact one of the best grilled dogs of the summer. For an all beef grilled dog, I would put it behind Syd's and Boulevard Drinks. Easily as good or better than the New York places that serve this same dog. Namely Papaya King and Gray's Papaya.
They offer 2 types of chili here. One is called Texas Weiner chili. I don't remember the taste, but I do remember that I, as well as everyone else didn't like it. The other chili, just referred to as regular chili, not Texas Weiner, was better. I remember it as being tomatoey and very spicy. Pete called it tomatoey and slightly spicy. Admittedly, I have a low tolerance for spice. This chili was liked by the team and finished #3 in the chili dog category. It was Pete Genovese's favorite chili of the entire summer. The dog here was easily one of the best of the summer, and in my opinion, the best of the day.
Ninth outing, 7/18
41) World's First Italian Hot Dogs Inc., 14th Ave. Newark
This storefront is the location of the original Jimmy Buff's. In all probability, the very first place serving the popular Newark Style Italian Hot Dog. Opened in 1932. I don't know how long it was a Jimmy Buff's, but sometime later the place was sold to Lou Biancala. It was then known as Lou's. Sold again to the man who was running the store for Lou. I had heard about Lou's through a year end Munchmobile roundup some years ago. About 2 years ago I went there to find it closed due to a fire. I had thought that it was gone for good. Then someone posted about it opening up again. I had gone there once this Spring prior to being on the Munchmobile S.W.A.T. Team. I was somewhat disappointed because there were no peppers served with the sandwich. At the time, the price of peppers had gone up, and some Jimmy Buff locations weren't including them. To me, this was a mistake. Peppers are an important part of an Italian Hot Dog and shouldn't be left out. Either absorb the price increase or pass it on to your customers. All of the other Italian Hot Dog restaurants continued to include them without a price increase. It's almost like a pizzeria leaving out cheese because the price went up. I didn't ask if they purposely left the peppers out or if they had simply run out that day.
I was happy to find that there were peppers when we went as a team. The set up is similar to Jimmy Buff's and other places that use the tilted steel pan to fry all of the ingredients. The sandwich itself was very good, taking 3rd place in the Italian Hot Dog category. The bread here was especially good; fresh and very chewy. The dogs were the perfect size, 8 to a lb Best's. Green peppers were good, but there could have been more of them. The potatoes were the same as what you would get at Jimmy Buff's although they should have been cooked a little more. All in all, a very good Italian Hot Dog. I would suggest that you use caution if you come here. It's in a very bad crime ridden neighborhood.
42) Charlies Famous Italian Hot Dogs, Michigan Ave. Kenilworth
Charlies was originally a Jimmy Buff's. In the early sixties it was sold to a man named Charlie, who also bought another Italian Hot Dog restaurant in nearby Union that was formerly known as Dees. Dees became Charlies Son's, which is no longer in business. Charlies Famous was sold by Charlie to the father of the current owner.
By way of disclosure, let me state that my daughter worked at Charlies all throughout high school and occasionally in college. I am very familiar with their product, and have eaten more Italian Hot Dogs there then anywhere else. I've often been accused of giving good reviews and saying good things about Charlies because my daughter worked there. This is not true as I always give my honest opinion regardless of whether I know or am friends with the owner, or if a friend or relative works in the establishment. For awhile when my daughter was working there, the potatoes were bad and I mentioned it. The owner also switched from Best to Sabrett, which I felt lessened the quality of the sandwich. And I mentioned it. They are back to using Best.
Let me also say that I am no longer on good terms with the owner. I don't know if it's appropriate to get into it here, but if you would like to know more, feel free to e-mail me.
Charlies was always my favorite Italian Hot Dog. For years I considered it the best along with Tommy's. But I preferred Charlies. Good bread, 8 to a lb dogs (Tommy's used 10's) the best tasting peppers (plenty of them; both red and green) and excellent potatoes. The only potatoes that were better were Tommy's. But until recently, Tommy's put precious few peppers on thir sandwich. And they were hard rather than soft. But Tommy's has improved (bigger dogs, more peppers prepared soft if you ask) while Charlies has gone downhill.
I'm sad to say that Charlies has changed, and for the worse. The owner is looking to sell the business and is very rarely there. When I was going there consistently, service was excellent as well as the product. Young people for the most part worked there, but they were all good employees providing fast and efficient service. Now the service is horrible; among the worse that we have encountered all summer. It took more than 25 minutes to get a chili dog for Pete. The rest of us had single Italian Hot Dogs. You could say that maybe it was an off night, but I've been there many times until recently when I decided to stop going, and service has been bad consistently.
As for the product, let me say that if you go, you may still get a good sandwich. But don't count on it. I know people from work who still go and they complain about the inconsistency of the potatoes. And the bread isn't always fresh. My daughter told me that towards the end f her employment there, they would freeze unused bread. It would fall apart when eating it and of course, wouldn't be as good.
The first time we went to Charlies we couldn't get in. They list their hours as being open untill 8:00 Mon and Tues, 9:00 Wed thru Sat. We went on Tuesday at 7:30 and were turned away. This wouldn't have happenned 2 years ago. Anyway, about our experience there. Service was slow, and there were mixed reviews about the dogs. Some were down on it because the bread was stale. Mine fell apart and was no doubt frozen. The dog itself was fine and the peppers were as good as they've always been. Which is better than any other place. The potatoes were good, but not as good as they've been in the past. At their best, they were almost as good as Tommy's potatoes.
I'm very disappointed that a place that was my favorite has taken a turn for the worse. Hopefully the place will be sold and the new owner can restore Charlies to its former status as the state's premier Italian Hot Dog. It didn't even place top three.
43) Manny's Texas Weiners, Springfield Ave. Union
Manny's has been in Union since the late 70's. It was recently remodeled and has plenty of indoor seating. They serve an excellent breakfast reasonaby inexpensive. A few years ago New Jersey Monthly named Manny's as having the best eggs in the state. My family likes going there more for breakfast than for their hot dogs. Which are fine by the way.
Many of the people like Manny who've opened their own place were former grillmen at the original Texas Weiner l or Texas Weiner ll. The style of dog is known as the Plainfield area Texas Weiner, which is grilled rather than deep fried, and uses a thicker, less clovey/cinammony chili than the North Jersey or "Hot" Texas Weiner joints. The brand of dog used is the Grote & Weigel Griddle Frank. It comes 6 to a lb with natural casing. The chili differs slightly at each place but is very similar overall.
In my comment to the Star Ledger, I said that Manny's is similar to every other place that uses he G&W dog and grills it. I like Manny's a little better than most because it is fairly close to my home, competitive in price to other places serving the same product, and the chili is spicy, but not too spicy for my taste.
44) J&G Texas Weiners, Dunellen
Same type of dog as Manny's, in fact the owner of J&G and Manny are brothers. Each, of course, claims that his dogs are better. Same dog, prepared the same way. Only difference was the chili. I didn't like it here. Too spicy, and there were big onions in it, which I hate. Myself and one other member liked Manny's better, the rest preferred J& G's.
45) Red Tower ll, Rt 22 East, North Plainfield
Another Plainfield style Texas Weiner. Same dog, same preparation, etc. No one liked the chili. It was horrible with a very harsh flavor. Tasted sort of like a thick mustard. Only one person liked the dog itself. Bad service, undercooked dog. If you're in the area, avoid this place and go about a mile or 2 west on rt 22 to Texas Weiner ll in Greenbrook. Better chili, although the service is also bad. Better yet, forget both places, go West on Rt 22 past Texas Weiner ll, go past the White Castle, go around the jug handle for the King Georges Rd. exit, take that to the end of the street, and on your left is Middlesex Texas Weiner. We did not go here with the Munchmobile, but I've been here myself several times. Dog cooked sufficiently, better chili, better service, better price. Although I've said that most of these places are very similar, (G&W dog grilled, thick chili) if I had to pick one that I liked the best, it would be this one.
Tenth outing, 7/21
46) Charlies Pool Room, Alpha
Another marathon day of hot dog eating. We hit 10 places in all. First stop, Charlies Pool Room. Hands down the most unique hot dog place in New Jersey, which it won a Coney for. I voted for J's Beef because I was thinking of the most unique dog. J's is the only place in the state that serves an authentic Chicago Style Hot Dog with the ingredients shipped in from Chicago. But the category was for Unique Hot Dog Place, which Charlies Pool Room has to be. It has an old hardwood floor with one pool table, one table for eating, a tiny kitchen where the dogs are prepared in a frying pan, a pinball machine, a small room where there is a barber shop which is no longer being used, and a jail in the basement! Also no longer being used. Charlies is a one of a kind type of place that has to be seen to be believed. When I go somewhere for a dog, I go for the dog itself and place little emphasis on history, popularity, reputation, atmosphere, etc. I know that these all add to the experience, but for me it's all about the dogs. If there is ever a place that I would go to for the overall experience as much, or more than the dog itself, (which is pretty good, by the way) it would be here. I think everyone should experience it.
As for the dog served, it is a typical West Jersey/East Pennsylvania type dog. A mild beef/pork dog (Kunzler's skinless 10 to a lb) served with yellow mustard and dill pickle slices. I've had the Kunzler dog at a few places in West Jersey and it is ok. Doc's in Alpha (out of business now) served them on a roller grill. Sammy's in Lopatcong deep fried them. Charlies pan fries them. Out of the three, Charlies tastes the best. But what sets Charlies Pool Room apart other than the place itself is Grandma Fencz's secret Hungarian sauce. It consists of onions and tomatoes. I've never had it because I hate onions, but those who have love it. It's considered much better than the Sabrett onions or the other name brands sold in the supermarkets like Thumanns or Boars Head. Brothers John and Joe Fencz are the owners and only people working here. Their grandmother began making the sauce in 1925.
According to the S.W.A.T. Team, it makes for one great dog. Joe told me that without the sauce, the dog would be just an ordinary dog. I disagree. It's fresh and prepared well. I would consider it a cut above most deep fried dogs. And that's without the special sauce. Those who like red onion sauce will probably love Charlies version. The team did. My wife did. And so do the many people who travel from all over the state to come to Charlies Pool Room. Charlies received some votes for best deep fried dog. The owners are friendly, the place is unique, the dogs are good, and the price is under a buck. I highly recommend a visit to Charlies Pool Room. For a great review, check out http://www.HollyEats.com.
47) Hot Rod's, Glen Gardner
Rodney Heft has owned Hot Rod's for the last couple of years. I think it was a hot dog restaurant before he owned it. In my opinion, this was one of the 3 worst hot dogs I've had all summer, coming in between Tido's (the absolute worst) and The Old Heidelburg. Part of the reason is that the dog is a boiled Turkey hot dog. I don't like dogs containing turkey, chicken, or tofu. If you like turkey dogs, you might like this one. I didn't, and neither did most of the team. The one or 2 members who did, liked the dogs because of the chili. I took one bite and threw the rest in the garbage. The owner doesn't volunteer the fact that he serves a turkey dog.
The dogs are served boiled or steamed, but are available grilled or deep fried upon request. Rod the owner is quite the showman (showboat?) and takes pride in preparing and wrapping the dogs with lightning speed. He did, however, make a mistake with mine and wasn't too happy when I pointed it out. The dogs are served with mustard, pickles, and onions. I requested mine without onions. It came with them. I told Rod that I wanted them without onions, but with the mustard and pickles. Not 5 seconds later he threw another dog in my hand. This one was without onions, but also without the pickle, which I wanted. When I pointed this out, he became a little angry and made a face. I guess he realized later that his place was being reviewed and his attitude might be mentioned, so he came running out when we were about to leave and gave us all free t shirts. Which was a nice gesture. But didn't make up for the lousy dogs. I would stay away unless you actually like Turkey dogs. The ones used here are Kunzler brand that you can buy in any supermarket.
48) Sal's Dog House, Clark.
Sal's hot dog truck has been around for a little over 2 years. I've been there quite a few times since it's in the same town that I work in. I remember reading on a forum that the chili was awful. I had never been there, so I ran down to check it out, and it was indeed horrible. They have since changed the chili, and it is quite good. Very spicy, sort of like Father & Son. As for the dogs themselves, they are dirty water Sabrett's with a natural casing. Too small at 12 to a lb, and overpriced. But very fresh, hot, and tasty. I'd rather go elsewhere to get a bigger dog cheaper, but when I'm in the area and hungry, I stop in for a few. If you can get past the small size, these dogs are as good as there are for natural casing dirty water Sabrett's. And better than 4 of the 5 other places we hit today serving dirty water Sabrett's.
49) Petey's Weenies, St Georges Ave. (Rt 35) Colonia
Petey's is a truck located on busy St. Georges Ave. He's only been in business for a year or 2. Small 12 to a lb natural casing Sabrett's. These dogs were bland and had little snap from being in the water too long. Surprisingly, one member had this dog in their top 3 for best dirty water dog. Easily one of the worst in this style. If you're in this area, Sal's and Munce's are minutes away and much better choices.
50) Stewart's Root Beer, St Georges Ave. (Rt 27) Rahway
Minutes away from Petey's (Munce's and Sal's also) is Stewart's Root Beer. This stand has been here a long time, and for at least the last few years has been open year round. We dined on hot dogs, and of course, root beer. There was some grumbling among the team because there were no frosted mugs for the root beer. The dogs served here are the 6 to a lb natural casing Thumann's grillers. Years ago they were prepared on a griddle. If done right, there is no better beef and pork dog. Here, the dogs are deep fried. Some places do deep fry the griller, even though Thumann's makes a dog specifically for deep frying. The dog was ok, but would have been much better grilled. I don't know if the dog spent enough time in the oil beccause it came out fairly bland for a Thumann's. Most of the team didn't care much for the dog, calling it mediocre or bland. One member liked the cheese and bacon dog.
51) Munce's, St. Georges Ave. (Rt 27 Rahway)
Munce's truck has been in the same location outside the Rahway Park for years. Different people working there and a new owner, but the same truck and the same dogs. Many people are glad that the grouchy guy who worked at Munce's for years is gone. The dog here is an 11 to a lb natural casing Sabrett. Average dog, nothing special. This was the opinion of myself as well as the team. The chili was sweet and mild. I liked it. Others were indifferent.
52) Dees Hut, Faitoute Ave. Roselle Park
Another truck. Dee Costanza took over in 1973 when her father retired. I've been here many times as it's the closest hot dog truck or cart to where I live. Dee serves a 10 to a lb natural casing Sabrett dirty water style. This is the perfect size for a Sabrett dirty water dog since the 8 to a lb Sabrett's are mushy. Dee is one of the few people serving the 10's rather than the saller 11, 12, or 13's. The dogs are also hot enough and always fresh. A good snap to the casing as well. This is my favorite place that serves a dirty water Sabrett. There were 2 others that were as good, but both are quite a distance from my home. I get mine with just mustard. The chili here is not good, so I avoid it.
I was surprised to find that the other members of the S.W.A.T. team, with the exception of one other guy, didn't like this dog. The 2 of us who do come here frequently. The others, except for Pete were only here on this day. If you're in Union County, there's no better dirty water Sabrett. In fact, I don't think there's any better in the rest of Jersey.
53) Tommy's Hot Dogs, Roosevelt Ave. Carteret
Tommy's is literally a shack. With a screen door and shingle roof. Sort of looks like the junkyard in Sanford & Son. Tommy Lane started out with a cart in Rahway years ago and eventually moved to his current location. He got the Coney for Most Heart. He puts a lot of heart and soul into his work, and has been serving his loyal customers for years. His wife and son also help run the place. We were there quite awhile as they ran out of hot dogs just before we showed up. We waited patiently for Tommy to return, talking with his wife and son. The team liked the truckstop-like setting and the dogs, which were 11 to a lb natural casing Sabrett's. I thought the dogs and chili were average. Most liked the chili. I don't recall what it tasted like, but my notes said average. Tommy does well in Carteret. I think it's the only hot dog joint in the area.
54) Mr. Dees, Sayreville
Mr. Dees is a small, clean hot dog restaurant that started out as a hot dog cart. The original cart is still there on the front lawn. The dogs are small, 12 to a lb, natural casing dirty water Sabrett's. You can also get your dog deep fried or griddled if you ask. I had mine boiled. In addition to being too small, the dog wasn't served hot enough. The chili was mushy with a very harsh flavor. I would avoid Mr. Dees and go to Bears, which is a mile or 2 away. Or Nagle's, which is also in the area, but unfortunately wasn't there the day we went out because of the rain.
55) Top Dog, Metuchen
Top Dog opened early in the year, and last I heard is already out of business. Too bad, because they served a unique and tasty dog. A nice little restaurant serving a natural casing 8 to a lb Hatfield Angus beef dog. It was prepared on a griddle and was a welcome change of pace to the dirty water Sabrett's that we were eating all day. Unfortunately, Nagles truck in Sayreville was closed, and he too served the Hatfield Angus dog dirty water style from his truck. This dog has a good spicing, with a unique smoky flavor. Made to compete with Sabrett and the all beef dogs served in East Jersey and New York, this is one fine dog, and in my opinion, the best of the day. Too bad Hatfield's other franks aren't as good.
The dog is served on a toasted bun. The chili is ordinary, but the coleslaw was excellent. Some of us put it on our dogs. Overall, this dog was well liked by the team. Too bad Top Dog is gone.
Eleventh outing, 7/25
56) Big Daddy's, Little Falls
A small storefront known for the 100-plus bottles of hot sauce with names like Ring of Fire, Scorned Woman, Colon Cleanser, and Da Bomb Ground Zero. The last one is considered by many to be the hottest hot sauce available. I wouldn't know because I didn't try any of them. In my opinion, these sauces don't belong on a hot dog. They overwhelm the dog itself. But there are a lot of people who like them, and I'm not one to tell anybody how to enjoy their hot dog. Big Daddy's took third place in the Dirty Water Dog category.
To me, Big Daddy's is overrated. Their dog is another miniscule 12 to a lb natural casing Sabrett that is very common. Mine wasn't hot enough and lacked snap. But I will say that I ordered first, and that may have had something to do with it since everyone else had dogs that were hot, and according to them had a sufficient snap. But again, they were tiny and expensive to boot, going for $1.70 plain or with mustard, and more for toppings. As I've stated ad nauseum, if you like a dirty water Sabrett, there are many places where you can get a bigger dog at a better price served hot, fresh, and with a good snap. Trucks are usually better than restaurants or storefronts in that you can get a dog quickly without having to wait. If you want to try something different and like hot sauces then Big Daddy's might appeal to you. I didn't like it.
57) Pappy's Diner, Union Blvd Totowa
This visit was my first to Pappy's. I've since been back a number of times. Pappy's has been around for a long time, and from what I understand, has been done over or remodeled a few years ago. In appearance, it's very similar to The Hot Grill in Clifton. They serve a classic North Jersey Texas Weiner. The Thumanns deep fryer topped with homemade chili sauce.
Before I get into a description of the dog itself, let me tell you about our experience here. There is an older woman who owns the place and is the only person waiting tables. At least she was the only person I've seen in the 6 or so times I've been here. She saw our shirts (S.W.A.T. Team) and thought that we were either looking to open our own restaurant (potential competitors) or were health inspectors. She refused to answer our questions or sell me their chili sauce. I found out the reason on a subsequent visit, where she was quick to apologize when she found out exactly why we were there.
Despite the way we were treated, I decided that I would be going back again because the dogs were so good. I had heard about Pappy's, but never been there before. I was hoping that we would go as part of the team. If not, I would have gone anyway, as it was on my list of places to go to. The dogs were fried long enough, which many places serving this dog failed to do. It makes a difference. The chili was excellent. A zesty chili that had a great mixture of spicy and sweet flavors. Half of the team liked it. The other half thought it was just ok. I liked it so much that I went back to sample it before the final vote. Then a few times after. I voted this dog best chili dog. For a North Jersey Texas Weiner it's definitely in my top 3 along with the Hot Grill and Libby's.
The last 2 or 3 times I've gone, service has been awful because the owner is the only one waiting on people. When the place is empty, like it was the first few times I went, the wait isn't too bad. Last time it took over a half hour to be served. And I had to wait 20 minutes to get my check. I had to run the woman down and ask for it. I did see a help wanted sign in the window, so maybe things will improve. But for the near future, if I want a Texas Weiner, I'll go to the Hot Grill. Chili is in the same league as Pappy's and it is served at the perfect temperature every time. And you don't have to be waited on.
58) McCobb's, Wayne
Another first for me. I had heard of this place, but never been. I knew that it was a Texas Weiner joint. No one at the counter knew the brand of dog, so I had them ask someone in the back. I was told that it was from the Haledon Pork Store. I had seen a box in the dumpster labeled Hatfield, so I thought that they may have used them. But the box didn't say if it contained hot dogs, ham, or anything else, so the next day I called the Haledon Pork Store. The owner said that they do supply McCobb's. The dogs are also nitrate free. One of the team members noticed a sign in the restaurant stating this.
The dog itself was fair at best. Deep fried and about 8 to a lb. From what I remember, it was pale and grayish in color due to the lack of nitrates. As for the chili, it was different than any that we've had all summer. They also sell it go in glass jars that are displayed at the counter. And they claim to sell a lot of it throught their website. It's red in color and looks and tastes more like spaghetti sauce than hot dog chili. Overly sweet and tomatoey in taste, no one liked it except Pete.
59) Falls View, Pequannock
There are a number of Falls View restaurants in Jersey. Their specialty is Texas Weiners, North Jersey style. I had been to the Falls View in Clifton a number of times previously, but never to this one or any other. The Clifton location used to be the Red Chimney until a couple of years ago. At the Clifton Falls View, you can get your dogs deep fried or charbroiled. At the Pequannock location they come deep fried.
The dog is the Thumanns deep fryer. But it is different than all of the other hot dog joints that serve this dog. When I had it at the Clifton location, it tasted different and not as good as the other places serving this dog. I know frying time makes a difference, but the dogs here did not taste like Thumann's, even though the packaged ones that they sell to go in a refrigerator with their own label states that they are made by Thumann's. I contacted the plant manager at Thumann's, and he gave me the skinny. The dogs are the Thumanns deep fryers, but Falls View requested that the dogs do not go through the smoking process. So Thumanns takes these dogs and packages them without being smoked. This is why they taste different, and in my opinion, inferior. This is true of the dogs served at all of the Falls View locations.
As for the Pequannock location, in addition to the dogs not going through the smoking process, they were skinless and not left in the oil long enough. The result was a mediocre dog. Reminiscent of the Goffle Grill, but not as good. At least their dog had a natural casing and was smoked. The chili at Falls View was thin and lacked flavor. I escribed the Texas Weiner here as a "blah dog". The team as a whole did not like this dog. One member stated, "Without the mustard, there'd be no taste at all; it's skinless, tasteless, useless". That about sums it up.
Twelfth outing, 8/1
60) Hot Dog House, Rt 17 Carstadt.
A tiny little place with a counter and a few stools. Hot Dog House served 2 different dogs; an 11 to a lb natural casing all beef Sabrett dirty water style and a 1/4 lb beef and pork Sabrett that was deep fried. This same dog can be found at Callahans prepared the same way. The beef dog was ok for what it was, the standard Sabrett served hot. The chili was meaty, chunky, and mild. The deep fried dog was prepared like and tasted like a Callahans dog. Which is to say ok if you are in the mood for a milder deep fried dog. A decent stop if you're in the area, but nothing to go out of your way for.
61) Hot Dog Heaven, Kindermack Rd. Emerson.
A place in Bergen County that I've never heard of previously. I asked the owner how long he's been in business and I think I remember him saying around 3 years or so. Two main dogs served here. The Thumanns deep fryer and a Sabrett all beef natural casing 11. You can also get an Italian Hot Dog using the Sabrett's. The beef dog was average and what you would expect. Same as the last place. The deep fried dog was exceptional. It came in 3rd place for deep fried dog. I actually voted for it for second place. The dog is a 6 to a lb, which makes it bigger than the more common 8 to a lb dog served at Rutt's Hut and others. And it was left in the oil long enough. The result is a dog that is somewhere between a ripper and a weller at a size that I like better than the smaller dog at Rutt's. The owner says that he purposely leaves the dogs in the oil for as long as he does. As I've stated earlier, it does make a difference.
The chili here was a good tomatoey sauce that I had on half of my dog. My voting had Amazing Hot Dog first in the deep fried category, Hot Dog Heaven second. And Rutt's third. This place was a pleasant surprise. I think that if I had to vote again I might put Rutt's ahead of Hot Dog Heaven only because the relish at Rutt's is my favorite topping for this type of dog. And I might put both ahead of Amazing Hot Dog. When I voted, I was stuck between putting one of the places serving the Thumanns deep fryer ahead of Amazing's more well seasoned beef dog. Voting on the dog itself, I usually am in the mood for a spicier all beef dog more often than a milder pork and beef dog. That's why I voted for Amazing. But most of the time I want a beef dog, I either get one grilled or boiled, which I prefer to deep fried. When I'm in the mood for a deep fried dog, most of the time I run to Rutt's. This is why voting is so subjective. Many times it's easy to pick one dog over another. One may be a quality dog prepared perfectly, while another may be a cheaper dog with fillers where you can taste the difference. Other times it's hard, and you go with what you're in the mood for.
Since the voting, I've been back to a lot of the spots we went to. And although my voting would be almost the same, I would make a few changes. I'll mention them after I cover our last trip of the summer.
62) Stewart's Root Beer, Kearny
A regular looking Stewart's Root Beer stand. I've never been here before, so I had to ask about the brand used. It was a Haydu beef and pork dog. This is the brand that used to be served at almost every Stewart's. Now, each location serves what they want. I've had Thumann's, Haydu, Nathan's, Sabrett, and Dietz and Watson at various Stewart's in Jersey.
The dog here was an 8 to a lb skinless frank that was deep fried in peanut oil. It was well prepared, but fairly bland. Haydu, although once considered a quality dog, is no longer since the Newark plant closed down. Their all beef dog had a reputation as one of the finer beef dogs. It was served at Walt's in Linden, one of the legendary hot dog joints of the past. And from what I remember, Stewart's in the past had a reputation for decent hot dogs. The ones here were fair at best, although prepared much better than the Haydu dogs we had at the Old Heidelburg in Keansburg which were swimming in a pool of oil for what looked like the better part of the day. At least here they were fresh. One of the meatier chili's we've had was at this Stewart's.
Thirteenth outing, 8/6
63) G&G, Shrewsbury Rd. Red Bank
G&G is a hot dog truck that has been in Red Bank for 34 years. Gus Tangalos is one of the few people serving dirty water Sabretts that uses a 10 to a lb natural casing dog rather than the more common 11 or 12's. These dogs were hot, tasty, fresh, and served fast. I voted this dog #2 for dirty water dog, and the next place we visited, Joyce's Place, #3. A little clarification is in order here. Jerry's, which uses an 8 to a lb natural casing Best, was far and away my #1 choice for a dirty water dog. Tony's Truck, (serving natural casing Golden D 10's) would have been my second choice, but I voted it #2 for chili dog. Dees, in Roselle Park would have been my 3rd choice, but I completely forgot about this one when it was time to vote. Since G&G and Joyce's had the same dog served the same way, I voted them 2 and 3. In reality, there is no difference between Dees, G&G, and Joyce's dog. All 10 to a lb Natural casing Sabretts served at the right temperature. I put G&G #2 ahead of Joyce's because the dog was served quicker. I would have put Dees in had I remembered because of the quick service as well as it being closer to where I live. If I had no restrictions on my voting, and were to vote today, it would be 1)Jerry's 2)Tony's Truck and 3) a three way tie between Dees, G&G, and Joyce's.
Most of the team liked the dogs at G&G; the chili had mixed reviews. It was a hard, dry chili that had a sand like texture.
64) Joyce's Place, Rt 88 Brick
In addition to the standout Sabrett dirty water dog described above, Joyce's Place also had a deep fried dog and an Italian Hot Dog on the menu. The deep fried dog was a skinless Nathans, which was flavorful and spicy. The Italian Hot Dog was on a sub roll rather than pizza bread. Nathans dogs are used for this also. It was described by the one member who had it as substantial, but not authentic due to the sub roll and french fries. The peppers were lacking. It's best to stick to the dirty water dog, although the fried Nathans dog was ok. Joyce's Place was also voted Best Fries. I'm sorry that I neglected to sample them here, so I can't give an opinion. I know that they are frozen fries from the Jersey Shore Fry Co. Still, I can't see how they would do better in the voting than a freshly made fry like Syd's or Amazing Hot Dog. One member who sampled fries at almost every place agreed that Joyce's weren't among the best we've had. I didn't sample fries all too often in order to save room for hot dogs. But those who did liked Joyce's best.
65) Jersey Joes, Port Monmouth
Jersey Joe's is a fairly small establishment specializing in Italian Hot Dogs. There are a few tables inside and a few across the street right near the Raritan Bay. Served on decent pizza bread, I found the single to be pretty good. The hot dogs were 8 to a lb Best's that were sliced down the side. Red and green peppers were good, potatoes were good as well, but cut in very small squares. This sandwich had the right amount of grease, and I really enjoyed it on this particular day. I was in the minority however, as almost everyone else didn't like this dog. Comments included dry bread (I disagreed) and soggy potatoes. I thought that there was a possibility that I might have rated this dog higher than I normally would have because I had paced myself and there was a lot of time between stops. I was still hungry and probably should have ordered a double. I have since gone back, and while I liked the dog again on the second trip, I didn't enjoy it as much as the first time. And the potatoes are too small. I would place it in the 2nd tier behind Jimmy Buffs, Tommy's, and World's First (Lous). It's probably the farthest point south in Jersey where you can enjoy a decent authentic Italian Hot Dog. JoJo's is farther south, but I didn't care much for them. Jersey Joe's is quite expensive, costing $7.50 for a double.
66) Jersey Style Hot Dogs, Rt 9 Old Bridge
Located in a large strip mall off a busy road, this restaurant looked like it was a pizzeria in its former life. From what I remember, its only been open a short time. There were 3 hot dogs on the menu. Hebrew National (which they were out of) the Thumanns deep fryer, and the Thumanns griller. The deep fried dog was pretty good; similar to the other places throughout North Jersey that serve them, although it would have been better if it spent more time in the oil. If you are unfamiliar with the restaurant serving this type of dog, you should probably request it well done. The Thumanns griller, which is a favorite of mine, definitely needed more time on the griddle. The chili here was bad. Agreed by all to be bland, it had practically no taste whatsoever. Although the brand of dog served here is very good, the place doesn't seem to be run very well and the dogs could have been prepared better. We had stopped by once before just as they were closing. And it was before the posted closing time. In my opinion, not worth coming back. Fourteenth outing, 8/25
67) John's Texas Weiners, Newark
A small old fashioned luncheonette serving the smallest Texas Weiner I've seen. Smaller than even a 12 to a lb dog. It was a skinless Sabrett all beef dog prepared on a griddle. The chili was unbalanced and had an overly cinnamony flavor. Underwhelming.
68) Karl Ehmer's, Hillsdale
Karl Ehmer's is the name of a butcher shop in Queens. It has been there a long time and eventually expanded and opened up other stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Some have since closed, but you can check their website to find their current locations and other places that sell their franks and sausages. Everything is made in the Queens location and sent to their stores.
The Hillsdale Karl Ehmer's has a cart outside of the store that serves hot dogs, bratwurst, weisswurst, and other sausages. This cart has a griddle, a grill, and a compartment for water. You can get your dog or sausage any way you like, but if you don't specify, it will come prepared on the griddle. As for the hot dogs, you have a choice of all beef or German style beef and pork. Both are excellent. I had been here once previously. I had both dogs and bought some at the store to bring home. On this particular visit I discovered that the German frank sold for take home and served at the cart is not produced by Karl Ehmer, but rather by Kochers Meats in Ridgefield. All of the other products are made by Ehmers.
The all beef dog was excellent. A typical New York/New Jersey Jewish style all beef dog well spiced. 6 to a lb with a tough natural casing. Definitely one of the better beef dogs available in the area. But the German style dog from Kochers that was served at the cart was a standout. It took 3rd place for best grilled dog. Unfortunately there was only one category for grilled dogs rather than 2; I tried to get one for all beef and one for beef/pork. Had there been a beef/pork category, this dog would have taken first place. The 2 that finished above Ehmers (Syd's and Boulevard Drinks) are both all beef dogs. It is also 6 to a lb, with a natural casing. The mix here is 70% beef, 30% pork. No garlic or paprika. Similar to many of the better European butcher shop or pork store hot dogs in that it is fresh, high quality, tender, and loosely packed. I've compared this dog to others in this style and it is better. It is right up there with Thumanns griller. You can get this dog to take home at this location or at Kochers. I was to Kochers and was told that their dogs are sold at between 30 and 40 different stores, delis, and hot dog restaurants. Definitely one of the best hot dogs tasted all summer.
69) Hank's Franks, route 46 Lodi
Hank's is a small hot dog restaurant located on busy rt 46. One of the more well known places in Jersey, although it was my first time there. The dog is a 12 to a lb natural casing all beef Sabrett served dirty water style. There was a line when we went, but service was fast and efficient. They have enough people working there and they prepared the dogs quickly. Although small, they were served hot and had a decent snap. Above average spicy chili.
70) Danny's Dogs, Garfield
Tiny little place serving 11 to a lb boiled Sabretts. Run of the mill. A thick chili that was too spicy for my taste.
71) Teddy's, Paterson
Teddy's is a converted bar that is located in a dingy industrial area. An obscure place that I had never heard of before, and am sure that not too many people know of. We went here based on an e-mail recommending it. The women on the team complained about the dirty restroom and were reluctant to eat here. It has the atmosphere of an old neighborhood bar, which it was in a previous life. As for the dogs, I was glad to discover that Teddy's served something a little different. I was expecting another small dirty water dog. What we got was a natural casing 6 to a lb Sabrett beef dog that was deep fried. And a great deal at $1.50. This seems to be the going rate for a dog half the size. I liked the dog. Sabrett is a tasty dog, and this one was fried long enough. Good and different. I don't remember what the chili tasted like, but my notes said thin, tasty chili. One of the team members called the chili "mushy, bland, baby food chili."
72) Hot Dog Hut, Wayne
Nice cozy little place off the beaten path. Back to the small dirty water Sabretts. 12 to a lb natural casing served fresh and hot enough. Like Big Daddy's, you could get a variety of hot sauces. I passed. They have 2 kinds of chili. One was hot, the other mild. I don't remember if I sampled the hot chili, but I did like the mild. It was beefy and tomatoey. A little like beefaroni.
73) Circle Grill, Netcong
The Circle Grill has been at this location for a couple of years. It used to be the Cozy Drive In, and was a well known landmark in the area. A nice looking clean restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. It was a nice day so we ate outside. The dog here is a natural casing Boars Head beef/pork frank (about 7 to a lb)that is deep fried. Average dog; I would have preferred the Boars Head beef dog. Thin Texas Weiner sauce that was ok. Decent place, nothing worth going out of your way for.
74) Big D's Dogs, Dover
A truck parked in the back of a huge parking lot. 12 to a lb natural casing Sabrett. Same as most others. The chili was tasteless and had a lot of onions in it. Some liked the hot onions served here. If I was in the area, I would pass on this place and look for the Dover Grill which had much better hot dogs.
75) Stewart's, Rt 46 Rockaway Township
This Stewart's served the same skinless 8 to a lb Haydu beef/pork frank that the Stewart's in Kearney did. And what all Stewart's locations served years ago until recently when the owners started serving what they wanted. According to someone I spoke with, these dogs were better when they were made in Newark before the company was sold. Fairly bland dog, average chili.
Fifteenth outing, 8/27
76) Nathan's, Coney Island
Although we set out to judge and evaluate New Jersey Hot Dogs, we decided to make a trip into New York. I was anxiously awaiting this day as I hadn't been to New York for hot dogs in a long time, and believe it or not had never been to the original Nathan's in Coney Island.
The dogs served at Nathans are their own brand produced under contract by a company called SMG Meats. Supposedly from the original 1916 recipe created by Nathan Handwerker's wife. The dog is an 8 to a lb natural casing kosher style dog prepared on a griddle. As mentioned elsewhere, there are many Nathans locations, some good, some not. Many claim that none are as good as the original, which is considered the ultimate hot dog shrine. Probably the most famous hot dog restaurant in the world. I was glad to finally see it for myself.
I've had the dog served here many times at home. It is available at certain supermarkets. Most only sell the skinless version. I've also had it at other Nathans locations, mostly the Menlo Park Mall, which serves a great dog. It is prepared perfectly. I was curious to see how it would compare to the Original. Well, I found out what I had suspected all along. Using the same dog prepared the same way produces the same results. Which is a terrific hot dog. Prepared well on the griddle, the dog was hot, crisp, and bursting with flavor. Nathans is one of the best all beef dogs you can get (definitely in my top 5) so I enjoyed this one. But I will say that it is no better than what I get at Menlo Park. In fact, the mall location is always crowded and the dogs are served very hot. But you can't beat the Coney Island Nathans for ambience. Great dog; I had mine with just mustard. According to the rest of the team, the chili was thick and had beans, but was not distinctive. The fries (which are usually great at Nathans) were soggy. All in all, a great experience. I'm happy that I finally got to visit the ultimate hot dog shrine.
77) Katz's, Houston St. Manhattan
If Nathans is the ultimate hot dog joint, then Katz's is the ultimate deli. According to many, they make the best pastrami sandwich in the world. But we were here for hot dogs. The place itself is huge, with a great atmosphere and pictures of celebrities all over the place. The dog served here is a natural casing all beef Sabrett that is prepared on a small griddle in the front, all the way to the right of the counter near the window. These dogs are slightly bigger than the 10 to a lb dogs served at Papaya King and Gray's, but a little smaller than the natural casing Sabretts you can get in the store, which to me, are a little mushy. I would say about 9 to a lb. On this visit the dogs were done right. This isn't always the case, as I've had them undercooked. Sabrett is also in my top 5 for beef dogs, and in my opinion, taste best grilled. The dogs we had today were exceptional, both at Nathans and here. I like the spicing slightly better in the Sabrett dog that we had at Katz's. Everyone else liked the dogs as well. I had mine with mustard, those who had the chili said it was awful, with one member calling it the worst she had.
78) Crif Dogs, St. Marks Place, Manhattan
Crif's is a small, narrow little restaurant that you have to walk down a flight of stairs to get to. Dimly lit, it's like being in a cave. But I liked the atmosphere. The guys who opened Crif's about 6 or 7 years ago modeled it after Rutt's Hut in Clifton. One of the former owners told me so in an e-mail several years back. The Thumanns deep fry dog is used here. They were smart enough to anticipate that this dog might not catch on with New Yorkers who are used to a bolder, more well seasoned beef dog, so they also offer one that they call the New Yorker. It is an 8 to a lb natural casing all beef Thumanns. Micro brews are also available on tap.
Crif's has a variety of toppings including bacon. I didn't have any on my dogs, but those who did liked the bacon and other toppings. The beef dog was prepared on the griddle and spent a sufficient amount of time there. It was a very good dog. But a notch below all of the other fine beef dogs we had this day. The basic Crif Dog (deep fried Thumanns) was a decent Rutt's Hut knockoff. For those in New York looking to get a similar deep fried dog to what we have in Jersey, Crifs is the place to go.
79) Papaya King, 14th St. and 7th Ave. Manhattan
Depending on who you speak to, either Nathan's, Katz's, Papaya King, or Gray's Papaya serves the quintessential New York Hot Dog. Each has its devotees. All are very popular. While Nathan's and Katz's have a big menu, Papaya King and Gray's serve mainly hot dogs. Service is quick, and there is no seating. This Papaya King is a fairly new location. The dogs here are 10 to a lb Sabretts that are prepared on a griddle with foil on top. The team didn't like this dog. It was called too salty. I disagreed. The dog was fine. In fact, there is little to no difference in the dogs served at Katz's, Papaya King, and Gray's. All serve the same recipe griddled natural casing Sabrett. Depending on what day you go, one may be better than the other in terms of freshness of the bun, time spent on the griddle, etc. I haven't been to these places enough times to gauge their consistency. I do know that you should specify well done at Katz's because sometimes they are under cooked. My dog at Papaya King was tasty and well prepared, but the bun fell apart.
80) Gray's Papaya, 8th Ave. 37th or 38th St. Manhattan
Same set up and dog as Papaya King, which Gray's is a knockoff of. Nicholas Gray opened his first location in 1973, which was actually a Papaya King. There are a few spread out through Manhattan. Very similar, as I said to Papaya King, but the drinks aren't as good. The prices are cheaper, though. I don't recall the exact amount, but for 2 or 3 dollars and change, you get 2 dogs and a Papaya drink. Another great dog, and here the bun didn't fall apart.
These dogs were very good in my opinion. In Jersey the Nathan's in Menlo Park is as good as Coney Island, minus the atmosphere. And Boulevard Drinks in Jersey City was considered to be better than Katz's and the Papaya places by most of the team because the dogs seemed prepared better and fresher. Dover Grill also serves the same dog as these places. I can now add Papaya King in Clifton, N.J. I would prefer this place to those mentioned because the owner/manager is there and is a stickler for detail, which means there should be more consistency to the product. The dog itself is bigger than Boulevard Drinks (12 to a lb), prepared as well, and is more convenient to get to.
Since my favorite beef dog is Best's, I do like places such as Jimmy Buff's in E.Hanover, Syd's, and Jerry's that serve this brand of natural casing dog a little better than those mentioned above. But again, sometimes I'm in the mood for a spicier dog. Both Nathan's and Sabrett are a little spicier. It was definitely a fun experience taking the Munchmobile to New York.
Sixteenth and final outing, 8/29
81) HotDog Arena, Hamilton
This marks our final trip. Because the final wrap up in the Star Ledger was the most comprehensive article, Pete Genovese had to devote a lot of time to it. On top of that, he had to go to the 5 winners in each category to interview them for the article. With the deadline fast approaching, our final trip was not covered in the Ledger. But you can read about it here.
The HotDog Arena is a fairly small luncheonette with a few tables. This is an example of a place that tries to do too many things, and as a result doesn't do a great job with any of them. On their menu, they have a description of a number of different dogs, each with their own name and description. Some that were on the menu have been discontinued. The 4 that were available on this day were: 1) a Nathan's skinless dog that was prepared on a roller grill. A tasty dog even prepared this way, but a natural casing Nathan's on a griddle would have been much better. 2) A Fiesta Dog. This is a big Berk's beef/pork dog filled with cheese and spicy jalepeno pepper. We had the same dog at Jimmy's on the Delaware. This dog may have also been prepared on the roller grill, but I'm not sure. 3) Hatfield beef/pork dog (8 to a lb skinless) boiled in beer. Bad, but not as bad as the dog at Tido's. This particular dog just has a weird spicing. 4) Hebrew National 1/4 lb footlong, prepared on the roller grill. Again, a decent dog, but prepared like they do a baseball stadium rather than a hot dog joint. The young woman was quick and efficient. She was also helpful and had a knowledge of the different dogs served there.
82) Casino Tony Goes, Trenton
They call their dog the Original Italian Hot Dog. It is not. Jimmy Buffs was selling Italian Hot Dogs at least three years before Casino Tony Goes. But they are allowed to call theirs the Original, but not the Originator. Only Buffs can call theirs the Originator. To me it is semantic mumbo jumbo. Casino Tony Goes is popular in and around Trenton. In fact, they are looking to expand. They have already opened a location in Pennsylvania. On a side note, the strip mall where they opened in PA has a restaurant that serves their version of an Italian Hot Dog, which they called a Jersey Italian Hot Dog. Casino Tony Goes actually threatened legal action, so the PA place started calling their product a Pennsylvania style Italian Hot Dog. And their version (the PA restaurant) is more authentic in my opinion because they use a flavorful all beef dog, while Casino uses a beef and pork dog. I also think it's a little hypocritical to threaten legal action when they falsely claim to be the original.
All that aside, what Casino Tony Goes serves is not what I consider an authentic Italian Hot Dog, which is served on circular Italian pizza bread (not a sub roll) stuffed with all beef hot dogs that have been fried in oil (not grilled) and topped with peppers, potatoes (not french fries), and onions. Their version is common in the southern half of Jersey and many pizzerias both north and south that really don't sell a lot of Italian Hot Dogs. Some of these sandwiches (most notably Mijos in Colonia) are quite good. Casino Tony Goes isn't.
Here they put a grilled beef and pork Dietz and Watson frank on a torpedo roll and top it with a few big chunks of green pepper and home fries. You can see it on http://www.casinotonygoes.com. It doesn't even look appetizing in the pictutre. The dog itself tasted good but is all wrong for this sandwich. You need a spicy, kosher style all beef dog whose spices blend in better with the oils and vegetables. This type of dog is popular in and around Trenton, but I consider it a different version of the true and original Italian Hot Dog invented in Newark, N.J.
83) Patty Wagon, Spotswood
A truck owned by a woman named Patty. The dogs were small 12 to a lb Sabretts that weren't served hot enough. Average chili. Very forgettable.
84) Bear's, Rt. 615 and Jernee Mill Road, Sayreville
Bear's is a hot dog trailer serving dirty water dogs since 1971. Bear also uses natural casing Sabrett 12's, but these are always fresh and served piping hot. Better than average dog with a good, hot, spicy chili.
85) Freddy's Dogs, Scotch Plains
Another truck located on either North or South Ave. in the Fanwood section of Scotch Plains. A tiny 12 to a lb Sabrett which could have been served hotter. Run of the mill dog with a very spicy chili.
86) Majestic Lunch, Elizabeth Ave. Elizabeth
An old luncheonette that's been around since the 1920's or 30's. Owned by an older Greek couple. Their son, who also works here, makes the chili which is a decent Texas Weiner sauce that's thicker than most. I buy it occasionally to take home. The dogs are natural casing Sabretts (10 to a lb) that are prepared on a griddle. Good dogs, good chili. Only thing that prevents this dog from being considered very good to excellent is inconsistency. Since I live nearby, I've been here more than a few times and notice that often the dogs have been left on the griddle too long and become dried out as a result.
87) Smooth Dog, Morris Ave. Union
Located in a tiny storefront on a busy street, Smooth Dog opened a few months before we went and closed for good shortly after. Not many people knew about them and there was hardly any parking. They served smoothies and hot dogs, hence the name Smooth Dog. Three choices for dogs; dirty water natural casing Sabrett, skinless Sabrett on a roller grill (which wasn't available when we were there) and a turkey dog. I had the boiled Sabrett (11 to a lb) which was served hot enough with a good meaty, tomatoey, mild chili. A decent dog. The teen working there was a nice kid, but seemed overwhelmed. It took an eternity to get our dogs. I was hoping Smooth Dog would be succesfull as it was very close to my home and I liked the chili.
So, that concludes my journeys on the Summer of S.W.A.T. I was thrilled to be a part of a team that spent the summer sampling and reviewing hot dogs. I don't think there was a more comprehensive or in depth tasting of hot dogs held anywhere. It was an experience that I'll remember and savor for a long time.
When I go out for a hot dog I get one that fits the style I'm in the mood for. Tastes and preferences change; mine certainly do. I've since gone back to many of the establishments that we visited as well as some that we haven't and some brand new ones. I'd like to go over the five styles of hot dogs that we judged plus one that I've added which I felt should have been included all along, and to give my current opinions on my favorites in these categories.
Grilled pork and beef. Not included as its own category, but lumped in with all grilled dogs. The German style frank at Karl Ehmers was the highest rated in the style and my favorite as well. The quarter pound Schickhaus dog at Jimmy Buffs E. Hanover would have done well here had we gone. Griddled, then charbroiled, it was delicious. Frank & Fries had a quarter pound Thumanns griller that was prepared the same way. Unfortunately, Frank & Fries did not reopen until after we finished for the summer and then was sold and became a Mexican Restaurant shortly after opening again. This would have been my first choice. Wee Nee Wagon might have done well as they served a grilled Thumanns dog that I've heard was outstanding. Too bad they were not open when we went despite us arriving well within their posted hours. My current favorites in this style are Jimmy Buffs quarter pounder, the Kocher's dog served at Karl Ehmers, and the Galloping Hill Inn.
Grilled all beef. Syd's was the overwhelming favorite. I've since found a dog I like even better than Syd's. It's the footlong dog at Jimmy Buffs East Hanover. Same 5 to a lb natural casing Best Provision dog, but here it is heated in oil and finished off on a real charcoal grill. The result is a fantastic tasting dog that is juicy with a great charcoal broiled flavor that retains its perfect snap.
Papaya King recently opened a new location in Clifton subsequent to our tasting. In my opinion, it is the best place to get a grilled Sabrett. Tastes as good as Boulevard Drinks, but at a better size (10 to a lb rather than 12). Nathan's in the Menlo Park Mall makes an excellent grilled all beef dog as does the Dover Grill. If New York was included, I would have to add the charbroiled foot long at World's Best Hot Dogs and Hamburgers in Newburgh as a favorite. My top dogs in this category are Jimmy Buffs, Syd's, and Papaya King.
Deep fried. Although I listed Amazing Hot Dog as my favorite, I would change it to Rutts Hut. Their relish is unique and my favorite hot dog condiment. It compliments a "weller" perfectly. I like the footlong at Buffs that you can get deep fried. I prefer the size of this dog to the short andd thick dog served at Amazing. But I also like Amazing for their considerable variety of toppings. I enjoy the Reuben Dog in particular. Also add the pan fried dog at Charlies Pool Room as a favorite fried dog, though it can't be considered deep fried.
Dirty water dog. Jerry's remains my favorite. It is an 8 to a lb natural casing Best's that is boiled then finished off on a steel griddle for extra crunch. Despite liking the grilled dogs at Syd's and Jimmy Buffs better, Jerry's is the place I frequent more than any other hot dog joint. It's close to my home, serves great dogs at a good size and price ($1.50) quickly and efficiently. Tony's Truck and Dees are my other favorites.
Italian Hot Dogs. Tommy's in Elizabeth was my favorite and the favorite of the team. I've since found one as good at the E. Hanover location of Jimmy Buffs. It is better [than their Scotch Plains and Irvington locations. These 2 are my top picks followed by Joe's in Vauxhall and Mijos's in Colonia.
Chili dogs. There are many kinds of chili to top hot dogs with. You have Tewas Weiner style, which features spices such as cinammon, nutmeg, cummin, and cloves. There's also hot, spicy chili, tomatoey chili, mild chili, etc. My favorite kind is the Texas Weiner chili. I picked Pappy's Diner as my favorite , although on subsequent visits I was
turned off by having to wait much too long to be served. The Hot Grill's chili is just as good and the service is much better. The best thing about the Hot Grill is that they are most consistent. The dogs always taste great and the chili is always served at the perfect temperature. My three favorites are the Hot Grill, Pappy's, and Libby's. There is a chili dog outside of Jersey that I like even better. It is from the Coney Island Restaurant in Middletown, N.Y. which opened in 1924. It's a Texas Weiner chili that's thick and balanced containing just the right amount of spices without being cloying or too intense. I wish they would open another location in New Jersey.
I hope you enjoyed my reviews and descriptions of hot dog establishments almost as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Edited by - John Fox on 8/29/2006
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Somerset, NJ 08873
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