Rutt's Hut - Clifton, New Jersey
There are hot dogs, and then there are rippers. Rippers, if you haven't seen them before on countless Travel Channel and Food Network shows, are deep fried hot dogs that split open and practically tear themselves apart in the fry oil. And if you have seen those shows, you'd know the only place in the country where you should have them is Rutt's Hut in Clifton, New Jersey.
I happened to be in New Jersey last week and I went through a gauntlet of turnpikes, toll plazas, and pothole-covered streets to find it. Rutt's Hut, let me tell you, is in an odd place--kind of perched in an industrial area, overlooking a highway and nowhere near anything else. It has apparently been on this spot since 1928. But parking was ample (a rarity in Jersey, as I discovered) and the rippers were worth the drive.
There are no chairs. It's cash only and it's a stand-and-eat joint. The countermen look like they came out of a Martin Scorsese flick with East Coast accents thicker than the housemade relish you slather with wooden spoons from the communal metal buckets near the register. And man! That relish! It's a sweet wonder gunk made of mustard, and other ingredients I can't begin to decipher--and it counters the richness of the fried hot dog in a way I didn't think possible.
Not unlike In-N-Out, Rutt's Hut also has a secret menu. If you want your hot dog extra well-done, you can ask for a "Cremator", wherein they leave the wiener to soak in the oil until it practically dries out and mummifies. Though I expected it to taste like jerky, it didn't. It's crisp, nearly bereft of juice, but still tender, as though I was eating a hot-dog-flavored fritter.
And oh the onion rings here! It further proves that, in the right hands, deep fryers are magical instruments.
417 River Rd.
Clifton, NJ 07014
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