Quintessential New Jersey Locale Not Immortalized by the Boss or the Sopranos: Rutt's Hut
As a transplanted New Jerseyan living in Chicago, I can say that while I enjoy the Chicago-style hot dog, it pales in comparison to the one-of-a-kind dog (aka "ripper") produced at Jersey dive landmark Rutt's Hut. One of the few places I consistently visit whenever I return to my home state, Rutt's remains the favorite of many fast food joints that my father introduced me to during my childhood. While other stalwarts such as the Hearth and the Red Chimney have closed up shop or undergone extensive remodeling, Rutt's remains the same even as ownership has changed hands.
I write about Rutt's today in honor of my late father and his beloved New York Giants who won this year's Super Bowl in most shocking fashion. You see, in our many trips to the Meadowlands to see either the Nets, Giants, or Jets, Dad made it a tradition to stop at Rutt's rather than pay for the inferior, overpriced product at the game. I can still remember standing at the children's counter in the rather minimalist back dining area over twenty-five years ago. Other than the rotating pinball machines, I reckon it remains largely the same as it did in the 1950s and '60s when my dad came here as a Passaic youth.
The fluorescent-lit, white-tiled back room isn't much to look at, but for aficionados it's the only place to enjoy a ripper or two. A couple of words about the ripper (pictures cannot do it justice): the pork and beef hot dog is deep-fried to the point that the skin rips (hence the nickname), which gives the dog an amazingly satisfying crunch upon each bite. The dogs are flavorful enough that little dressing is necessary--some Gulden's mustard and/or house mustard relish do the trick. Anything else on the ripper is excessive, but visitors are heartily encouraged to add a side of onion rings to any order. This New York Times profile adds more detail and historical background.
As much as Rutt's fits the Springsteen milieu, its Clifton location is probably a little too far north of Springsteen's Monmouth County stomping grounds to figure into his songbook. And while The Sopranos left its mark all over Northern Jersey, somehow its cameras never ventured inside Rutt's. No matter, Rutt's remains refreshingly unpretentious and unchanging, without question, a uniquely Jersey experience.