I had a great time yesterday at the Central/South Jersey Hot Dog Tour. Heavy rains and wind made it a little tough travelling, but a good day for eating hot dogs. What better way to spend a rainy day than eating hot dogs and hanging out with some great people? There were between 15 and 20 of us in attendance. Because of the weather, 12 people cancelled.
John Sagi organized this Tour and did a fantastic job of picking the places and putting everything together. He also designed and provided tee shirts. Thanks John. Thanks also to the brave people who attended and helped make this a special day. Thank you to those working at the places we visited for their service and willingness to answer my many questions. Michelle and Jeff, thanks for letting me ride with you. Michelle also posted pictures on Facebook. You can see them here: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/group.php?gid=152217418818&ref=ts
We were joined by a true celebrity, Steve "the Terminator" Keiner, Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Champion of 1999 and the last American champion before Joey Chestnut. Steve also attended the very first New Jersey Hot Dog Tour in 2004.
We started off at the New England Hot Dog Company. Out of the 5 stops, I've only been to Frankly Burgers & More previously so New England and the rest were new to me although I did know a little about each stop from reading posts on this forum and speaking to some of the owners. I was pleasantly surprised at New England. This was because I really wasn't expecting too much from an out of state chain that prepares hot dogs on a roller grill and has so many options with brands of hot dogs and topping choices that it seems to me that they would have a hard time doing everything well and keeping all of the products fresh.
I was pleased to find out that they did away with the roller grill at this particular location. Our dogs were prepared on a griddle and served on split-top New England rolls. You had a choice of having your bun steamed or toasted.
Dogs available here included a half pound Black Angus dog (Farmland brand), footlong natural casing Boars Head beef dog, footlong natural casing Boars Head beef and pork dog, smaller skinless Boars Head beef/pork, skinless Kosher dog (Hebrew National), organic beef dog, turkey dog, and veggie dog. There are a slew of topping combinations. At each stop I ordered my dog with mustard and had chili on half of the dog. This way I could get a taste of the actual dog unencumbered while also sampling the chili. As to the brands served here Hebrew National is a quality dog, Boars Head beef is one of my 3 or 4 favorite beef dogs, their beef/pork is average in my opinion. I've never had the Farmland Angus dog or the organic dog. I will not eat a turkey or veggie dog.
Towards the end of our visit one of the owners was on the phone with an employee. I had her ask about some of the brands. Prior to this the people working there didn't know what they were serving. I had them check the boxes. Some of the brands they didn't have boxes because they discarded them and put the franks in containers. Since I was curious about the brand of kosher dog, this is what I ordered. I could tell it was Hebrew National, and this was confirmed later by the owner who previously used Best Kosher until they were discontinued.
My dog was grilled and served on a toasted New England bun with mustard and chili on half. Excellent bun, good dog prepared well and hot enough. The chili (semi homemade) wasn't great. I would skip it next time. Overall a good solid dog and a nice start to the day. The girls working there were pleasant and provided good service. New England has so many options and choices. I only had one dog, and while it was good and prepared well, I would rather see a place concentrate on a minimum of brands, toppings, etc and do them well.
The biggest negative is that the employees, while pleasant, personable, and efficient, are given very little training/information regarding the brands of hot dogs that they serve. I don't know if this is a result of the company being an out of state chain that's not familiar with New Jersey hot dog culture or what, but there are many customers who want to know a little bit more about what they're eating than "all beef" or "footlong". I do appreciate the owner being contacted and answering questions.
Based on my one experience here, I would say that New England serves good (though too many) brands of dogs and prepares them well. I would return if I was in the area but wouldn't make it a destination spot.
Next was Frankly Burgers & More. I've been here several times and enjoy their hot dogs. They serve Best Provisions natural casing franks (my favorite beef dog) and a Schickhaus beef/pork frank. The beef dogs come in several sizes and you can get them deep fried or grilled. All dogs are served on a New England split-top bun with the choice of having it toasted on the griddle or not. They also serve a very good Italian Hot Dog that I've enjoyed on prior visits.
I had the natural casing 5 to a lb Beef dog (the old Syd's dog) prepared on the griddle. Most places that serve this dog charbroil it like Syd's. You can get it this way here also, but I chose to have it on the griddle as a change of pace. The dogs here are consistently good and mine was delicious as always. Great bun, hot, juicy, and flavorful dog topped with Admiration deli mustard, my favorite.
It was busy when we were there and it took an awful long time to be served. This is in part due to everything being cooked to order. The dogs were enjoyed by the group as a whole and it was worth the wait.
Next up, Boardwalk Hot Dogs in Brick. Here they serve the quarter pound Schickhaus beef/pork dog. This is a quality German style frankfurter that the famous Max's in Long Branch uses. Boardwalk also offers an Italian Hot Dog (on authentic pizza bread) but they use the same Schickhaus frank. While there were many people eating Italian Hot Dogs, I feel that a mild beef/pork dog is the wrong dog. This sandwich goes much better with an all beef (preferably Best's) dog.
The regular dogs are prepared on a griddle and finished off on a grill. While I like Schickhaus franks, I didn't like my dog here. It was too dry. I like my dogs fairly well done, but this was too well done. Too much time on the grill. It also tasted bland for a Shickhaus. The roll was too big and hard for a hot dog roll. Too much bread. It would have been better suited for a meatball sandwich.
I didn't like the chili either. It tasted like the beef in beef a roni. And it was overly spicy.
Our next destination was Zuka's Hot Grill in Toms River. I've heard good things about Zuka's and was looking forward to coming here. It lived up to the hype and then some. They offer a Sabrett dirty water dog, a Thumann's deep fried dog, and an Italian Hot Dog. Let me mention that all of the places we visited offer more than hot dogs. And many of the offerings are quite good. But I come for hot dogs and will focus on them. I did have a taste of corned beef which was excellent. Others raved about the desserts here.
I spoke with Lynn, one of the owners along with another woman (the cook) whose name escapes me. Zuka's is a cozy little place that is immaculate and run by people who truly care and know about what they are serving. They are from North Jersey and are familiar with the many hot dog establishments in the state.
I had the Thumann's deep fryer with mustard and chili on half. The dog is the same as what's served at Rutt's, Hirams, and many North Jersey Texas Weiner joints. It's prepared well here which means that they leave it in the fryer long enough. Many do not. Two chili's are offered. A regular chili and a Texas Weiner sauce. I had a taste of the regular chili. It was meaty and good. The Texas Weiner sauce I had on half of my dog. It was exceptional. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that I liked it better than any Texas Weiner chili served in North Jersey with the exception of Pappy's. Zuka's is in the same league. The two best Texas Weiner (thin, spicy, clove and cinannamon flavor) chili sauces in my opinion. I regret not having it on the whole dog.
Zuka's serves a dirty water natural casing Sabrett. It's small at 11 to a lb, but priced accordingly. Too many places serve an 11 or even 12 to a lb and charge what others do serving a much bigger dog. The Italian Hot Dog here uses pizza bread from a bakery in Staten Island. I did not have it, but it looked good and sturdy. Those who did liked it. They use Sabrett skinless dogs for the Italian. I did sample one of Ellen's potatoes. Sliced thin, it was browned nicely and tasted good. I think I would like their Italian Hot Dog though I prefer Best's hot dogs to Sabrett.
Zuka's was a great stop. Open less than a year, they have everything I look for in a hot dog joint. A great fresh product prepared well, good service, and knowledgeable owners who are there and have a passion for what they are doing. Along with Frankly Burgers, Zuka's is my favorite hot dog joint below North Jersey and one of my favorites anywhere. A standout chili and definitely a place I'd go out of my way for. I know where I'll be spending my time when my family drags me to Seaside Heights.
Our final stop was D.A. Barsch in Toms River. Not a hot dog restaurant, but a true German style butcher shop. While we have many in North Jersey, there are few I know of in Central/South Jersey. John Sagi did a great job in discovering this place. As usual I spent a little time grilling the owner. Mr. Barsch's family has been making sausage for years. His roots go back to Germany and his family even supplied sausage to the Olympics the year they were held there!
They had a nice spread laid out for us with franks, kielbasy, cheese franks, sauerkraut, and a few other items. One of the pots contained some of John Sagi's chili, which happens to be my favorite. It went well with the German franks. Mr. Barsch also gave out samples of his other meats. I tasted kabanosy, metwurst, and andouie; all excellent. Unfortunately they were out of bratwurst. I wanted to take some home. I did buy some of their excellent homemade German frankfurters. These are made with whole cuts of quality pork (90%), and beef trimmings (10%). No fillers and naturally smoked in their smokehouse.
I had one of these franks at the store with John Sagi's chili on half. This is one of the best German franks I've ever tasted. While I never had anything less than good at a butcher shop or pork store, the franks here as good as any I've had anywhere and surpass most butcher shop franks which is high praise indeed. If I lived in the area I would get these all the time. I will be having them for my next dinner.
Mr. Barsch's daughter was there and was very helpful in serving us and answering questions. Many thanks to D.A. Barsch for their generosity.
I look forward to hearing the opinions of those who attended. Thanks again for making this a special day. There are pictures on Hot Dog Nation's facebook page. See here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=152217418818&ref=ts
To sum up, the New England Hot Dog Co. served a solid dog, Frankly Burgers had the best beef dog and was good as always; I didn't care for the dog or chili at Boardwalk Hot Dogs; Zuka's was great; tremendous Texas Weiner chili; D.A. Barsch had the best beef/pork dog of the day and one of the best I've tasted. The company and comraderie were second to none; just wish the weather was better and more could have attended.