After years of arm twisting—ok, it was over a beer at happy hour last Wednesday—I decided to add an important entry on Hot Dogs. Being true to New Jersey, and having the pleasure of dogs from all over the world (from Chicago Dogs to Nathans, from foot-longs in Texas to Reindeer Dogs in Reykjavik and Anchorage) nothing I MEAN NOTHING comes close to a “Ripper” at Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, NJ.
First, a disclaimer. Hot dogs are hot dogs. Mystery meat rolled in natural or unnatural casings and boiled, grilled, or in the case of Rutt’s Hut deep fried. Yes, you read that right. Rutt’s Hut’s “Rippers” are dunked in a vat of hot oil and cooked until the casings rip open. Hence the name “Ripper”. Two “Rippers”, a white paper plate of oily onion rings, and a Pepsi is a perfect amount of New Jersey dining. I do resist the urge to order French fries (although to hear the cashier yell out “Frenchy-one-a” is almost worth ordering fries instead of the rings).
Rutt’s Hut is obviously not fine dining. There are two parts to this establishment: the counter service in the back and the full-service restaurant in the front. Unless you have an aversion to standing while eating, use the back counters. On a recent visit I found out they upgraded the counters and no longer have the kids counters that were attached to the counters so little munchkins could eat standing as well. This is very disappointing. I remember bringing my own kids to Rutt’s and they ate their “Rippers” from the same counters that I (forty or some-odd years prior) ate from. The restaurant area has a full service bar, so if a couple of cocktails are your thing, head to the front.
Don’t expect much from the counter service area. Some old advertisements and sample Rutt’s Hut T-shirts for sale don the walls. The place is surprisingly clean. Not eat-off-the-floor clean, but clean enough to feel comfortable. The first time I took Elena to Rutt’s Hut we were coming from a wedding in NYC and were decked out in a suit and dress but we still felt comfortable there.
How to dress your dog. Rutt’s makes a homemade relish that is top-notch; however, I am a hot dog purist and settle only for some spicy brown mustard. There is much more on the menu; however, stick with the “Rippers”, frenchy-one-a’s, or onion rings. Leave the pickle wedges, ketchup, onions, and chili to the other guys.