Michael D’Antuono starts each day with a hot dog smothered in ground-beef sauce, raw onions and spicy brown mustard. It’s a fitting breakfast for the mastermind and chef behind Maui’s Dog House, a Wildwood fast-food joint that upgrades the ordinary frank.
“This was me going nuts,” he says, gesturing at the picnic tables packed with fans of his wildly creative weiners, which—like his burgers, breaded chicken and shrimp—are served only in dog bowls.
D’Antuono’s hot dogs are all-natural beef, pork and veal wurst dressed with a variety of gourmet toppings, from a freshly ground horseradish mustard to sauerkraut cooked in locally brewed beer. Some top choices are the Soprano, topped with baby spinach sautéed with garlic and white wine under a blanket of extra-sharp provolone; the J-Bell, with bacon, sautéed onions and homemade smoky barbecue sauce; and the Horsey in Chicago, with mustard, raw onions, pickles, hot peppers, tomatoes and celery salt.
“You are only limited by your imagination,” says D’Antuono, nicknamed Maui because of all the years he split after the season down the Shore to “chef it up” in Hawaii. Fifteen years ago, after he decided to settle down in Wildwood, D’Antuono purchased a run-down ice cream stand on New Jersey Avenue for the future home of his dream eatery. “Everybody sells a cheese steak; everybody sells pizza,” he says. “There were no real hot dogs in South Jersey.”
In spite of naysayers who told him people wouldn’t appreciate his dolled-up dogs, D’Antuono followed his heart. Growing up in Syracuse, he had helped his grandparents sell franks and burgers at the New York State Fair. “That was the happiest time of my life,” he says. Now D’Antuono works at Maui’s alongside his wife, Liz, who has always been a big supporter of his entrepreneurial impulses. “He starts the trouble,” she says, “and I have to do damage control.”
At Maui’s, everything is fresh. “Nothing comes out of the freezer,” says D’Antuono, 51. Every day, his team makes the Black Angus beef burgers, breads the chicken and shrimp, and cuts about 500 pounds of potatoes. The Salty Balls, small white potatoes cooked in a brine, are so popular, there’s a neon sign in their honor.
D’Antuono may no longer have time to visit the ocean during the summer months, but that’s fine with him. “You got the boardwalk. You got the rides. You got the carnival atmosphere.”
And you’ve got the dogs.Click here to leave a comment