Relishing a Ripper
Updated: May 1
I’m not sure I properly thought out my New Year’s resolutions, what’s a food blogger supposed to write about in January when road trips for regional pizza have been replaced by sensible portion control and no carb options. I gotta be honest, I think dieting has given me a little bit of writer’s block. But then it came to me. I should spotlight my favorite style of hot dog, unique to one stand in New Jersey. Something I’ve enjoyed so many times, I know it like the back of my hand. That is, if my hand was deep fried in oil and covered in the most delicious homemade relish you’ve ever had. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about my favorite Jersey food, a Rutt's Hutt Ripper.
I’m no anthropologist, but I tend to believe we are all influenced by our surroundings. More times than not, we cheer for the sports teams of our parents, worship the God of our flock and chances are that one of your favorite foods is something grandma made for you as a kid. But did it really taste better or was it what you learned to love? I’ve been questioning this exact thing when it comes to my love of the Thumann’s pork & beef frankfurter that's literally deep fried until its casing rips. Does the non-descript, bricked restaurant, perched high above Route 3 in Clifton New Jersey really make the best hot dog, or have I just been conditioned to think so?
I get it, favorites are personal and subjective. But sometimes things are just universally true. Like no matter if you are straight or gay, I think everyone can agree that young Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise was a handsome dude. And would anyone dare disagree that Cherry Valance in The Outsiders was absolutely stunning? So, when the Daily Meal awarded Rutt’s Hutt with the top prize in their latest list of America’s Top 75 Hot Dogs for the third year in a row, I’m pretty sure saying the Ripper is the best isn’t me being a product of my environment, it’s just stating fact!
I Get Passionate About My Foods
A plain deep fried Rutt's Ripper all by itself is very good, it's crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside. But if you want to tell me that you grew up in Fort Lee and prefer Hiram's, okay. We're all allowed our own opinions. And if you're from Passaic County and have enjoyed eating Texas Weiners all your life and like them better, fine. I'm not mad at you. But if I watch you take your first bite of crispy hot Ripper, piled high with a scoop of their homemade neon yellow relish and you don't instantly recognize the greatness...well then, I'm not sure I can ever trust your life decisions again. Like if you drove me to Rutt's, I might decide to take an Uber home for fear you might hit the gas pedal instead of the break. And if after that second bite you are not immediately addicted to the sweet and savory chew of their top-secret cabbage and what-I've-always-assumed-was-mustard condiment, I'm going to assume you are dead inside. Their relish is INSANE! If you ask them, they'll tell you only one person knows the recipe. I wonder if that's really true, but it sounds cool. I've seen some internet sleuths guessing at the ingredients, but none of us really know for positive. I'm pretty sure I taste onion. I see specks of carrots and maybe celery seed. And according to a recipe for German Cabbage Relish courtesy of Mrs. Anne Fedorchak Rutt in an old newspaper clipping I found, the yellow appearance of the relish is courtesy of turmeric,not mustard. 🤯 I've had my Hot Dog dragged through the garden in Chicago. I've enjoyed Blackies in Connecticut's with their unique hot pepper relish and have consumed jars of Flo's chutney like relish from Maine. But I have never tasted a more satisfying combination of savory and sweet relish anywhere else in my life. If you don't agree, I don't believe you.
Rutt's Hutt was started by Royal "Abe" Rutt and his wife Anna in 1928 in Clifton New Jersey, approximately 12 miles from the Lincoln Tunnel. They maintained ownership until 1974 when they sold it to George Petropoulakis, Louis Chrisafinis, Nicholas Karagiorgis, and George Sakellaris. I was born in 1974 and didn't try Rutt's until the mid 1980s so I am not sure how much changed after ownership, but it's believed that the relish recipe was created by Abe's mother Nellie.
It took me several visits to realize that Rutt's Hutt was not just a hot dog shack. I say that because it was impossible for me to try anything other than a Ripper, but I eventually did. The restaurant is divided into a standing only take out service where you can order a Frenchy with gravy and hamburgers half dipped. But you can also sit down in their unironically retro style dining room with a full bar and menu that boasts items like Roast Long Island duck and orange sauce, Taylor Ham, egg and cheese and one of my favorite's spaghetti and fishcakes. If you can only go once, get the aforementioned hot dogs with French fries and gravy and I suggest a birch beer. Pay attention to their carny-like language and hear names like "in and out", "weller" and of course the ripper as they yell back your order but don't linger to long at the counter. They're not exactly soup nazis but then again, they're not exactly NOT soup nazis either.
Eating Rutt's makes me a better person. This needs to be on your bucket list, and if you ever try a Ripper and don't pile on the relish, you're dead to me. Currently they do not bottle their relish, but you can order it to go in takeout soup containers, so don't hesitate to pick some up and be the coolest person at your next backyard bbq.