This past Sunday I had a chance to visit a new hot dog restaurant. Dino's Italian Hot Dogs opened about 2 weeks ago on Rt 46W in the Franklin Plaza in Rockaway. http://dinositalianhotdogs.com/index.htm
I called last week to ask a few questions about the place and it's product before deciding on whether to take the ride there. I wanted to know if they made what I consider an authentic "Newark Style" Italian Hot Dog. Meaning that it is made the traditional way with pizza bread rather than a sub or hoagie roll, beef hot dogs (preferably Best's) fried in oil (rather than grilled or boiled) along with potatoes, peppers, and onions. Yes on all counts. Not only that, but one of the owners I spoke with had experience working for years at a popular Italian Hot Dog restaurant. She knows the business and the history of the Italian Hot Dog. I figured it would be worth the somewhat long ride and I was right.
The place looks like a small pizzeria on the inside. I didn't ask what it was previously, but it's located in a small strip mall. The store is clean and cozy. The owner I spoke with on the phone wasn't there yesterday, but I got to speak with the 2 guys who were working. One guy was named Danny, and for a young guy, he knew a lot about Italian Hot Dogs, including their history and the places in Jersey that serve them. The people here definitely know the business and how to prepare a first rate Italian Hot Dog. Though only open 2 weeks, there have been a lot of customers who have heard about Dino's and came to check it out and to see how it compares to the Italian Hot Dog they are used to eating.
One thing I've noticed before and that Danny mentioned is that people are partial to what they grew up with. The new customers, most of which are hard core Italian Hot Dog fans, were not shy about declaring their loyalties and describing how Dino's compared to their favorite place. Although a traditional Italian Hot Dog is made with basically the same ingredients and prepared the same way, there are some differences from place to place. Some sandwiches have more oils in them. Think Jimmy Buffs in Scotch Plains. Those customers might consider Dino's sandwich to be dry in comparison. Those who frequent the East Hanover or West Orange Buffs like the drier sandwich at Dino's.
Another big difference is how the potatoes are cut. Some are in chunks, like Dickie Dees. Some are sliced thinner. Tommy's is sliced real thin. There really is no right way. People have different tastes when it comes to the potatoes, the amount of oils in the sandwich, and the softness or crunchiness of the peppers. As I mentioned, Danny said (and I agree) that most of the time, people grew up with a certain style and prefer that. He's had customers so far who are regulars at Jimmy Buffs, Tommy's, Charlies, and Dickie Dees.
Two other factors that makes a difference apart from the variations in potatoes, oils, etc. is the freshness and quality of the ingredients and consistency. For example, Charlies in Kenilworth for a long time made a great Italian Hot Dog. The last couple of years they have been inconsistent. Sometimes the bread they use is stale from being frozen, other times the potatoes are over or under cooked and don't seem fresh. What makes a great Italian Hot Dog is a combination of good fresh ingredients prepared consistenly well by people who care.
Dino's fits the bill. As for comparison, I'd say that their take on an Italian Hot Dog is closest to Jimmy Buff's in East Hanover, which is high praise indeed. They use fresh pizza bread from JC's bakery in Parsippany. This is good, sturdy bread. The same was used at Attilio's Kitchen which is now gone. The dogs are 8 to a pound Best's which is ideal. The onions and peppers are prepared together. I hate onions, but I was told that they would separate them upon request. The green peppers were plentiful, tasty, and soft like I prefer. The potatoes are sliced fairly thin rather than in chunks. Similar in shape to Buffs. Dino's has a tilted steel pan specially made (no one place sells them) where everything is fried in soybean oil. The potatoes are fried in a deep fryer and put in the oil as needed. Danny mentioned that the bread is never frozen and that the ingredients are always fresh. Peppers, onions, and potatoes are cut every day , sometimes every few hours. Nothing is kept overnight. Stuff that's been sitting around awhile is discarded.
The result is an excellent, authentic, Newark Style Italian Hot Dog. Everything blended together well. The sandwich was tasty and fresh. All of the ingredients were very good. I would describe it as dry rather than oily. Despite being new Dino's has their act together. The product is excellent, as is the service. The people working there are experienced, having worked at Italian Hot Dog restaurants before, and extremley knowledgeable about the sandwich, it's history, and the places that serve them.
I would definitely put Dino's in the top tier of Italian Hot Dog restaurants along with Jimmy Buff's and Tommy's. It's that good. My wife had a cheesesteak served Italian style which she proclaimed excellent. I didn't sample it because of the onions. I wish Dino's success. They are located in an area where people for the most part aren't familiar with Italian Hot Dogs. But according to Danny, there are a lot of transplants from Essex and Union Counties as well as Italian Hot Dog lovers who are willing to travel for an exceptional one.