I had the chance to sample hot dogs from 2 places that I haven't heard of previously. On another forum, someone mentioned that the best hot dogs come from a place in East Brunswick called Continental Provisions. I called and spoke with the owner to find out if they were open Sunday. They are, so I went last Sunday.
Continental Provisions is owned by Karol Elsner. It was started by his family in 1961. All the recipes are from his grandfather, who learned his craft in Poland. There is a small store in the front and sausage making equipment and a smoke room in the back. The German style franks are made from beef and pork and come either natural casing or skinless. They are about 7 or eight to a pound. I've found that the best tasting beef and pork franks come from butcher shops such as these. They are superior to what larger commercial producers make. With a few exceptions, such as Thumann's. I've never had a subpar frank from any pork store.
Mr. Elsner explained to me that many hot dog makers use trimmings, while he uses whole cuts of beef and pork supplemented with trimmings. And old world recipes going back decades. I expected his franks to be good and they were that and more. They are up there with Liehs & Steigerwald and Karl Ehmer's as my favorite dogs from a butcher shop. Good, tender meat with a good blend of spices. Mild, but not bland. I compared them blind a few days later next to 2 other franks from local butcher shops in Union. My wife and I both picked the dogs from Continental Provisions as being the best. Definitely check out this place if you are near East Brunswick. It's on Main St. just over the border from Sayreville. They also sell bratwurst and other German and Polish sausages. They were out of bratwurst when I was there, so I didn't get to try it. They are well known for their kielbasy also, which they did have, but I didn't try. I did have a few kielbasa franks which were very good. Beef and pork franks, with extra spicing.
The other place I tried is called Ricci D's Front Street Cafe. Located at 124 W. Front St. in Keyport right across from the Ocean. I went today after reading a review last Wednesday in the Home News Tribune. They've been there 3 or 4 years, but I only learned of them when I read the review. The restaurant is owned by Mike Ricciardelli and his father Richard. They serve breakfast and lunch items, but their specialty is Italian Hot Dogs. The family has been in the restaurant business since the 1930's (4 generations) when it sold Italian Hot Dogs at the Chapel Street Market in Newark.
Again, I was expecting a good product, and again it met or exceeded my expectations. The double I had was an authentic Newark style Italian Hot Dog. Quality pizza bread, Best brand hot dogs, peppers, potatoes, and onions. Of course I skip the onions. The potatoes are sliced thin and fried twice. First blanched in a deep fryer, then fried a second time in a big pot with the dogs, peppers, and onions. Everything cooking in the same oil, causing the flavors to blend together. When the sandwich is being prepared, the peppers and onions are taken out of the oil and thrown on the griddle for a little while. The peppers, red and green, are also sliced thin.
The end result is a great Italian Hot Dog. Right up there with Charlies and Tommy's. The dogs are smaller; 10 to a lb rather than 8, which I prefer. But everything is done right, and you can tell that the family has been making these dogs for a long time. You don't normally find an authentic Italian Hot Dog south of Union County. There is Jo Jo's who moved to Toms River from Iselin. Good, but not a standout. Mike the owner of Ricci D's told me that he has many customers who have moved from North Jersey. When they hear about his place, the first thing they do when they walk in is ask about the bread. When they hear it is the same pizza bread used in North Jersey, they stay. They were prepared to walk out if they would have been told it was served on a sub or hoagie roll, as are the bastardized versions served at many South Jersey places and pizzerias. The best feedback he gets from these transplants is that they don't have to travel to North Jersey to get a top notch Italian Hot Dog.
Across the street near the water is a flea market with quite a few vendors. Makes for an excellent day trip. But make sure you get there before 4:00 on the weekend or 2:30 during the week.