The Newark Style, Italian Hot Dog
Let’s do some quick food math. Take one sausage, pepper, onion and potato sandwich. Subtract the sausage and sub roll. Add two deep fried hot dogs and stuff it into a half a pizza bread and what do you get? If you're from North Jersey, this should be a pretty easy answer... an Italian Hot Dog of course. But elsewhere, this regional frankfurter variety doesn't really exist, so you probably failed the test. 😊
This is my first hot dog story since I started foodigenous a little over 18 months ago, kinda surprising considering my home state has a plethora of unique styles. Whether it’s my all-time favorite Rutt’s Hutt with their signature rippers piled high with an obscene amount yellow cabbage and mustard relish, a dirty water dog or a deep-fried Texas Wiener smothered in a cumin and cinnamon laced Greek chili, they all have one thing in common- they are served on a bun. But not my mans from Newark, that Italian kid has his own style and stuffs his hot dog into a half moon shaped pocket of dough known locally as pizza bread; imagine a Fred Flintstone tire that’s cut in half and opens like a pita.
Did the “my mans from Newark” line make anyone else cringe?
James Racioppi, better known in the neighborhood as Jimmy Buff, is heralded as being the creator of the Italian Hot Dog, but according to Racioppi family lore, it was really Jimmy’s wife who was the true inventor. The story goes that during one of Jimmy’s poker nights, Mrs. “Buff” rummaged through the ice box pulling out a bunch of ingredients that she cooked up with fried hot dogs and served on bread as a snack. It went over so well with his friends that Jimmy put the new dish on his hot dog stand menu when he opened it on the corner of 14th Ave & 9th St in Newark NJ in 1932.
Over 90 years and three generations later, Jimmy’s family continues to serve over a thousand Italian Hot Dogs a week. No matter which location, West Orange or Kenilworth NJ, Jimmy Buff’s family follows the original hot dog recipe. When you walk in to either store, prepare to be hit with the mouthwatering aroma of green peppers, onions and chunks of thick potato chips simmering in a bath of deep-fried oil. Meanwhile Best Provision dogs sizzle to perfection soaking in the flavorful oil soup. But don’t worry, they use cholesterol free soybean oil, so you can definitely order the double. When the hot dogs are done, they are stuffed into half of a mustard lathered pizza bread then layered with the fried veggies.
Back in the day, Newark practically had a hot dog stand on every corner. Many OG’s like Ting-A-Lings and Charlie’s "Famous" have come and gone, but Dickie Dee’s has weathered the storm. They started their storefront in “the Old Neighborhood” in 1958 and over 60 years later, they continue to fry up some of the best Italian Hot Dogs. The big difference, unlike the traditional “thick chip” potato cut, Dickie Dee’s cooks their potatoes like diner home fries. And when you visit, make sure to save room for their Italian cheeseburger. It's the same basic ingredients crammed into an oversized bread, but the combination of burger grease, melted cheese and fried veggies just hits different.
Other spots like Tommy's Italian Sausage and Hot Dog in Elizabeth and Big Blue's Italian Style Sub Shop in Linden offer quality authentic options as well if you are looking to do a tour.
But Be Careful of Fugazzis
No matter how tasty the hot dogs are or how fresh the Garden State peppers and onions can be, the reality is that anyone can make this combination. It’s the locally baked pizza bread that makes this sandwich what it is. Historically these hot dog proprietors like to keep their bakery source close to the vest. Like the one owner I called who told me “I gotta be honest, I really don’t know who we use”. I hear ya buddy, I wasn't trying to pry. But let's just say if you wake up early, I mean like really early, you could probably read the sign on the back of the delivery truck should you happen to be in the area, let’s say at 3am
The pizza bread, opens like a pita allowing you to really stuff it and the dough has an airy, pillowy yet chewy bite to it. There are only a few area bakeries that still make the bread like Sorrento’s Bakery pictured here. They may, or maybe not deliver warm bags of pizza bread to some of these guys. But you know me, I don't like to gossip.
Let's just say I was a "Karen" though, I would feel it necessary to share that some area pizzerias and hot dog spots don't always use a pizza bread. Sometimes you order an "Italian Style" hot dog and it comes out on a sub roll. Unacceptable! Even worse, some booty restaurants stuff their sandwiches with French fries instead of the traditional fried potato chunks. So Buyer beware and call ahead because eating a proper Italian Hot Dog is something to check off the bucket list.