The Foodie Bucket List: 6 Classic NJ Meals That Will Fill You With Pride and Pleasure

You can't call yourself a True New Jerseyan until you've tried all these iconic Jersey dishes.

Hero, Hoagie, Sub: By Any Name, a Mighty Mouthful
Italian Deli Sandwiches

The Vito's Hero.

The Vito’s Hero. Photo by James Worrell

You can buy fresh mozzarella in any supermarket these days, but it might as well be joint compound next to the whey-dripping lushness of the best fresh mutz, handmade each morning in the classic Italian delis of Hoboken, such as Biancamano’s, Fiore’s and Vito Buzzerio’s Vito’s Deli. Several times a day since he opened the deli 31 years ago, Hoboken native Buzzerio, 55, has been plunging his hands into hot water to massage the curds and weave them into braided loaves. “Ten times a day on weekends,” he notes. “We sell a thousand pounds a week.”

While no one could fault you for simply gobbling glistening bites of Vito’s milky, faintly salty cheese, it would be like listening to Verdi’s immortal quartet from Rigoletto with only the tenor singing. What you want is the full concert that is the Vito’s Hero. Its chassis is half a loaf of crusty-yet-chewy Italian bread from Hoboken or Jersey City, tunneled out to tailor the bread-to-filling ratio so that every ingredient is fully voiced.

The $8.95 Vito’s is judiciously assembled from boiled ham, hard salami, fresh mutz, lettuce, hot or sweet peppers, sliced tomato, onion and Italian dressing. We recommend the sweet peppers, which provide an animating, vinegary accent without overwhelming the other flavors with heat.

Of course, in a state as endowed with Italian cred as Jersey, Hoboken does not have exclusive bragging rights. Sergio Sciancalepore opened Sergio & Co. in Denville in 1999, and the people who line up for his family’s subs (with fresh mutz) never seem to mind the wait.

In South Jersey, the White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City is as famed for its wall of signed celebrity glossies as for its sandwiches. Dino’s Sub Shop in Margate City has its own more local wall of fame and a roster of bulging subs to match.—JK

Manna From Heaven
Sliders at White Manna in Hackensack

White Manna in Hackensack.

White Manna in Hackensack. Photo by Lara Pollitt Rodriguez

Small on price, big on flavor, the sliders at this glass-brick shoebox transport you to burger heaven. Grab one of the 12 counter seats and watch the all-beef patties sizzle on the flat-top grill. Rings of hand-cut onions steam atop the burgers, releasing sweetness into the pillowy  potato buns. Go for the double cheeseburger, just $2.65.—KS
358 River Street, 201-342-0914

Speaking Frankly
Hot Dogs

Rutt's Hut hot dogs.

Rutt’s Hut hot dogs. Photo by James Worrell

One look at the fissured surface of a deep-fried Rutt’s Hut hot dog explains its nickname, the Ripper. German immigrant Abe Rutt opened a roadside stand by the Passaic River in 1928. Now people line up to order $2.20 dogs (an exclusive beef-pork recipe made by Thumann’s) slathered with Rutt’s equally iconic mustard relish. Don’t leave without revelling in the plebeian mid-century time capsule that is the adjoining wood-paneled dining room and bar.

A cousin of the Ripper is the Italian hot dog, a Newark-area delicacy still epitomized at Jimmy Buff’s in West Orange and Kenilworth. It stuffs fried peppers, onions, potatoes and one or more hot dogs into half of the flat-round loaf called pizza bread.

Meanwhile, the classic grilled dog survives at many places. In Long Branch, two titans, Max’s Famous and the original Windmill-shaped WindMill, face off just half a mile apart, both boasting real beef-pork flavor and a satisfying snap.

Finally, if you want scenery with your grilled dog, head to Hot Dog Johnny’s on Route 46 in rural Buttzville, Warren County. Order a mug of buttermilk with your frank and enjoy it at a picnic table near the burbling Pequest River.—JK

Wild In The Wee Hours
Sobering Up at the Chicken or the Egg in Beach Haven

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Chegg, as the colorful eatery is known, operates 24/7. But it becomes a Bucket List item between 2 am, when local bars close, and sunrise, when revelers stagger out, stuffed with egg sandwiches and chicken and waffles. “Whether you’re drunk or sober, you know it’s going to be an amazing time,” says one ardent fan. “The food is incredible and the people are just…wild! I’ve seen girls get up on the tables and start dancing. Sometimes you’ll see someone fall asleep in their food. The scene’s hilarious. It’s just bumpin’. Always bumpin’.”—ND
207 North Bay Avenue, 609-492-3695.

Eggs Italiano
Pepperoni Frittata at Nicolo’s Deli in Montclair

Photo by Eric Levin.

Bridging the gap between scrambled eggs and an omelet, the Italian frittata is a plush pleasure–especially as made for the last 50 years at the Zecchino family’s deli. Joe Zecchiono (pictured), son of founders Nicolo and Mary Ann, is the master, sautéeing meat or vegetables in olive oil before adding batches of beaten eggs, gently folding them until they just begin to set, then turning them onto a sheet pan to be snapped up for $6.49 a pound. He makes five (pepperoni, potato, spinach and mushroom, green pepper, crumbled sausage), but it’s the opposites-attract marriage of creamy eggs and spicy pepperoni that gives birth to perfection.–EL
6 Baldwin Street, 973-746-1398

Half Orders? Fuhgeddabout It
Chicken Savoy at Belmont Tavern in Belleville

Photo by Andrew Ogilvie

The lines can be long, the tables tight and the waitstaff brusque, but that’s all part of the experience at this retro joint straight out of The Godfather. Chef Carlo “Stretch” Verdicchio died decades ago, but his Chicken Savoy remains the signature dish. Order it family style in a big, heaping bowl. The chunks of succulent, herb-crusted chicken are served on the bone, glistening with a pungent wine-and-vinegar sauce. Chase it with the house red, offered (mercifully) on the rocks.—KS
12 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-759-9609

Jersey’s Best Slice of Life

Photo by James Worrell

At Santillo’s in Elizabeth, Al Santillo moves pies around his 16-by-10-foot brick oven like a chess grandmaster moving pieces, working the temperatures to achieve the most toothsome crust in pizzadom. His sauce and toppings are superb, too, and he’s picky about both. “I could give you the same ingredients,” he says. “That don’t mean it come out the same way.” His father opened the take-out-only pizzeria in 1957, and Santillo, 60, has been there virtually every day since he was five. His ultimate is the Grandpa, which aims for a different combination of ingredients on every square.

We could devote pages to great pizza (and often have). But no bucket list would be complete without the progenitor of all Jersey pizza, the Trenton tomato pie, in which sauce is eschewed, and crushed plum tomatoes top the toppings and cheese. The two famous family-owned businesses, DeLorenzo’s and Papa’s, are now in suburban Robbinsville. Of the two, our nod goes to Papa’s. Its crust is still thin and well browned, the tomatoes fresh and tangy. And the regulars, on their way out, still shout, “See youze next week!”

For meaningful improvement on a classic topping, we would send you to Star Tavern in Orange for their white clam pie. It’s not a case of scattering chopped clams on an otherwise standard pie. It’s a white clam sauce, created years ago by owner Gary Vayianos’s father, and it creates a tangy salty creamy-topped slice not quite like any other.

For fine 21st-century artisanship, our pick is Talula’s in Asbury Park.—EL, KCM

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Comments (12)

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  1. Dori Peldunas

    Come on no Star Tavern or, mention of White Castles…Two classic NJ joints…

    • Gary Slodowski

      agree – star is the best thin pizza in NJ

      • Joe Ahearn

        White Castle Springfield – 1st stop coming back from a night in Staten Island….back in the 60’s

  2. MarquinhoGaucho

    no taylor ham and egg sandwich?

    • Gary Slodowski

      agree – its our state sandwich!

    • Joe Ahearn

      Best in Union County – Summit Dinner …..Summit NJ

  3. BarPieNJ

    No Star Tavern? Takes away from the credibility of this (otherwise great) list.

    • stereoken

      There are two types if Pizza in New Jersey..The Star Tavern, and everything else!

  4. CabosGirl

    All good choices, but what about a Sloppy Joe from Town Hall Deli in South Orange, a true Jersey original?

  5. Name

    No mention of the deep fried hot dogs with sauce at Libby’s Lunch, the Hot Grill or the Corral? And no pizza from Pizza Town USA?

  6. Gary Slodowski

    with all due respect to the authors…..they have got to be kidding about the Hot Dog Johnnys choice. Having lived my whole life in the northeastern part of the state and loving Libby’s, Rutts Hutt, Callahans, Etc….I recently moved out to warren county and heard all these great things about Johnnys….well here’s the deal: they serve soggy undercooked dogs on cheap rolls and get this: no kraut, and the mustard is only FRENCH’S ! Are you kidding me? the place is a dump and the food is horrible(I can live with the atmosphere from 1956 – I love Rutts Hutt) but here Its like eating lousy food at the bates motel. You hear so many great things about this joint because of the buttermilk – but its not a quality hot dog joint –
    maybe it was 50 years ago.


  7. David A. Morgan

    Bruni’s in Hammonton !!! da bestest !!!!