Hot Dog of the Week: Italian Hot Dog from Tommy's in Elizabeth, NJ
I don't know if it's possible to convey how good a New Jersey Italian Hot Dog is with words and pictures. It tends to get lumped in with the world of shock value fat-on-fat concoctions like grilled-cheese-donut burgers, New Brunswick fat cats and deep-fried bacon-wrapped-bacon. But from the right place, a real New Jersey Italian Hot Dog is a seriously mind-blowing totally unique regional sandwich that tastes like nothing you've ever had before, and is made with a lot more care than you might expect.
I ended up at Tommy's on a recommendation from Jersey Hot Dog historian John Fox, a.k.a. hotdoglover here on Serious Eats. It's a walkup window in busy Elizabeth, New Jersey; a fascinating place with a cool mix of Italian sausage shops, Latin American food and Portuguese restaurants.
There is nowhere to sit, and unlike Jerry's—another hot dog place two doors down the block—not even a ledge to rest your elbow and your drink as you devour your Italian Hot Dog. I ate mine on the hood of the car.
Tommy's Italian Hot Dog starts out with fresh pizza bread, a unique product only found in North Jersey that looks like a giant bread donut about the size of a hubcap, cut into halves or quarters before being stuffed with a deep-fried dog (or two, or three). Tommy's bread was some of the best I've had, fresh and similar to the less crusty styles of Philly hoagie bread. Next comes the Best Provisions brand skinless all-beef frank, scored with a knife either for texture or to prevent blowout.
On top of that is a pile of soft onions and peppers that seem to have been cooked slowly in lots of oil. Then, the potatoes. At some places they are more like fries, thick cut medallions fried to a crisp, but Tommy's are of the thin-cut, soft non-crisp variety. I didnt't think I would like them much but WOW, they were great, sort of like the most carefully made diner home fries you've ever had.
The whole thing is much less greasy than you think. If a cheesesteak has a heartburn factor of nine, the Italian Hot Dog is only around a four.
If you like crazy food, hot dogs, or interesting regional stuff, the New Jersey Italian Hot Dog is not one to miss, and Tommy's is a great place to try it.
Tommy's Italian Sausage
900 2nd Avenue, Elizabeth, NJ 07201; (map)
About the author: Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.