Monday, July 2, 2012

Trying Not to Get Whacked in New Jersey

Tommy’s Italian Sausage
900 2nd Avenue
Elizabeth, NJ

Sometimes when I’m winding my way through the back woods and alley ways of America, I let my imagination run wild.

Like maybe I’ve been here before. When I know I haven’t.

Or I’ve seen this in a movie. Or heard it in a song.

That’s the fun part of travel.

New places, new sights, new experiences. Seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting a place you’ve only seen from a distance.

I had that sense as I navigated my rental car through the gritty narrow streets of Elizabeth, New Jersey searching for the famous Tommy’s Italian Sausage stand.

Deep in the bowels of North Jersey I had an uneasy feeling. Like I’m WAY out of place here.

I mean, as a Suit in Strange Places, I get that feeling all the time.

But this time was different.

The homeless dudes on the park bench across the street, the litter in the streets, the crooked light poles, the construction cones and pot holes, the rough looking natives eying me and my suit suspiciously while I sat in my Impala rental.

I felt like I might get whacked by Tony Soprano at any moment.

Then, just one block from Tommy’s, I spotted Centanni’s Meat Market.

That’s it! That’s the place they show at the beginning of every episode of the Soprano’s.

Oh man! I really am in Tony Soprano’s neighborhood.

The fact that the famous mobster series was a work of fiction and the meat market the boys hung out at was called Satriale’s on the show, did little to put me at ease.

I mean, this is it. This is the actual spot where they shot the show!

There are probably real life Italian gangsters peering out of the windows of the tenement buildings on Second Avenue right now.

I was hoping to find a place to park my out-of-state rental and duck into Tommy’s for a quick Italian hot dog.

Unfortunately, there is no inside to duck into to.

Tommy’s is a carry-out only store front.

You place your order with the old Italian guy (Tommy, maybe?) behind the glass and wait on the sidewalk uncomfortably for your hot dog to be assembled.

All I could see inside were tubs of homemade relish.

Tommy – or whoever he is – handed me my foil package and a drink.

I stood there on the Elizabeth, New Jersey sidewalk looking around.

Now what?

I wasn’t going to stand there on the side walk in my suit dripping condiments on the concrete.

And I wasn’t about to fight the homeless dude across the street for a piece of his park bench.

That left the front seat of my Impala as the only option.

I knew that was a bad idea as soon as I opened the foil.

An absolute mess.

An Italian hot dog is a giant piece of chewy pizza dough split open like a pita pocket and stuffed with two top notch hot dogs, a mess of slippery sautéed onions and peppers, and a mound of scalding hot potato disks fresh from the deep fryer. All covered in ketchup.

There is no physical way to pick the thing up and eat it. Especially with no table to sit at to catch the falling cascade of ketchup, potatoes, onions and peppers.

Of course I had no utensils either.

So I just started picking it apart with my ketchup smeared fingers, hoping to get more of the ingredients in my mouth than on my tie.

The fried potatoes were thin cut and crispy, perfect under the generous application of salt and ketchup.

Eventually I worked my way down through the potatoes, onions and peppers to where I could actually see the hot dogs.

At this point, I got up the courage to lift the entire contraption to my mouth to take a bite – just like God intended.


The sweet, chewy dough provided a nice textural contrast to the snap of the fried hot dogs. The peppers, onions and ketchup added an ideal zesty kick.

Now this is an over-the-top hot dog! Leave it to the Italians to come up with something this good.

Legend has it that the concept of the Italian hot dog began among poor New Jersey Italian immigrants. They would stuff pizza dough with tomatoes and potatoes as a cheap meal.

Someone came up with the brilliant idea to throw in a couple hot dogs.

Walla! The Italian hot dog.

While my fingers and hands were saturated in ketchup, I somehow managed to keep most of it off my suit.

I was so engrossed in my meal and logistical effort to eat it that I nearly forgot about all the natives walking by on the sidewalk watching this guy in a suit with out-of-state plates.

It turns out, Tony Soprano wasn’t the guy I had to worry about.

An Elizabeth, New Jersey meter maid began making her way up Second Avenue toward my illegally parked car.

In all the excitement of Italian hot dogs and Tony Soprano hang outs, I totally forgot I was in a “No Parking” space.

I hastily rubbed as much of the ketchup off my fingers as I could with my limited supply of napkins, wrapped my greasy fingers around the shifter and jammed the Impala into drive.

I mean, my Tommy’s Italian hot dog was so good, I might risk getting whacked to get one.

But no way am I messing with a New Jersey meter maid.

Bada bing! I’m outa here.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

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