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 Rd. 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.