Saturday marked the 9th Annual NJ Hot Dog Tour, and for my fifth year, I was on it. The Tour, conceived by retired NYC police officer Erwin "Benzee" Benz and noted hot dog authority John Fox, who hails from Union, NJ, is the one of the best gatherings of food nerds I've ever met. The folks on the Tour are something beyond hot dog aficionados; they are fanatical in their love of tube steak. Some, like John Fox, are as interested in the provenance of their dog (where it was made, the meats used, the style and seasoning of the meat, the relative size per pound, the nature of the bun, the cooking process) as anything else. It makes for fascinating conversation along the Tour, and spirited debate and discussion, post-Tour.
TWO busloads of the fanatics assembled at the traditional starting point for the Tour, the famous Galloping Hill Inn in Union. Big hot dogs here, with large (too large, in my opinion) custom buns and a variety of toppings. I won't get into those nerdy details here; you can visit www.roadfood.com and the Hot Dog Nation page on Facebook for all the picayune details. I'm gonna post some tasty pics here and a little bit of commentary, and that's all. Below: my dog at Galloping Hill, with mustard, chili and onions.
This year's Tour featured stops at some old favorites from previous Tours, as well as a couple of new stops. I tried to tweet live from each stop, but you can get caught up in the joking and sheer gastronomic fun of it all, and perhaps miss a few shots, but I think I caught most of everything sampled by the group on Saturday.
Case in point with the photo at the top of this post: that what's left of my hot dog from Marcie's Dog House in Clark, a well-equipped truck stationed in a municipal park, dispensing a natural casing Sabrett hot dog, topped with a special sauerkraut, a blend of mustard, relish and cabbage, a terrific topping and a terrific dog.
Marcie's also turns out an excellent version of the North Jersey style Italian hot dog (pic below), a deep fried dog tucked into a half-moon of pizza dough ("pizza bread" in the local lingo) hollowed out to fit the dog, onion, peppers and fried potatoes. My tablemates thought highly of Marcie's version:
Next, we hit another hot dog truck, Uncle Petey's Weenies in Colonia, with a tasty chili dog and a special quarter-pound German-style dog, pictured below. I went for the chili dog, pacing myself and trying to hew as close to my low-glycemic-index diet as I could. But this was a popular choice among a lot of the Tour-goers:
We headed to Elizabeth next, and two classic hot dog vendors virtually next door to one another. Jerry's Famous Frankfurters is as old-school and low-tech as it gets, just a simple walk-up window, strictly takeout, but for me, they make my favorite hot dog on this year's Tour, a grfilled, natural casing dog with a good snap, with mustard and red sauced cooked onions. Simply spectacular:
Just a few doors away sits Tommy's, serving from a similar walk-up window both Italian sausage and hot dogs, and specializing in the North Jersey style Italian dog. Tommy's serves the best version of the genre I've ever had. Diet notwithstanding, I ordered one, pretty much passed up on the pizza bread and potatoes, and enjoyed the dog, onions, peppers, mustard and ketchup:
Our last stop is an appropriately raucous and fun place, Manny's Texas Weiners in Union. It's a fun place in part because owner Manny Niotis is a gregarious, back-slapping host and showman. It's also because he serves up righteously good dogs and a huge menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner favorites. The pick here is the classic texas weiner, with mustard, onions and "Greek sauce", an earthy, dark, spicy ground meat sauce with noticeable clove, cinnamon and nutmeg in the mix, in the traditional Greek sauce tradition. "We open in 1979, and we've been busy since then," Manny told us as he greeted us in the parking lot of his busy restaurant. No doubt due in great part to this terrific dog:
So I've been on 5 of these NJ Hot Dog Tours, and this was the first one on which I didn't feel stuffed, bloated or otherwise uncomfortable. I avoided as much bun as possible at each stop, drank water instead of any beer (I had permission from my doctor and dietician to eat on the Tour, but had to pick my indulgance; it was a hot dog tour after all), and didn't finish but a couple of dogs. We also only hot 6 stops; previously we had hit as many as 8.
But it was great fun, in no small part to Benzee and Fox, who timed and mapped the Tour flawlessly, briefed us on the busses about our choices at each stop,and kept an even keel and good humor from start to finish.
Next year's Tour has already been scheduled: September 21, 2013. You should be a part of this bunch next year. You'll have a blast.