FANWOOD, NJ -- The 15th annual Hot Dog Nation Tour of New Jersey will bring a coach bus filled with more than 50 connaisseurs to the Fanwood Grille for the eatery's foot-long Shickhaus hot dogs and famed toppings including sauerkraut, chili, bacon and cheese, and "Cowboy Tony" (spicy meat) topping.
"It's a huge honor to be selected for the Hot Dog Nation Tour of New Jersey," said chef Paul Watterson, who also plans to showcase his award-winning soups that were voted Best in New Jersey by foodie website The Daily Meal earlier this year. "We are going to make our Italian Hot Dog soup, which we invented here at The Grille."
The motor coach bus tour is organized by Erwin Benz and John Fox, who is one of the country's best known hot dog experts. It grew from a school bus to two motor coaches as the Tour gained popularity. Attendees have come from New York, California, and over 30 states, as well as Canada and Ireland.
"Before there was a Hot Dog Nation Facebook page, I posted about hot dogs on various food websites: Chowhound, E-Gullet, Roadfood, and roadfood.com," said Fox, who has been approached to organize tours of hot dog places in other locations.
"In 2004, one of the readers posted that he was coming to New Jersey and asked if he could meet me and travel together to a few of our state's finest hot dog establishments. Soon afterward, a few more people asked to be included," Fox added. "Eventually, we had about 20 people. We decided to meet at the Galloping Hill Inn in Union and carpool... the annual New Jersey Hot Dog Tour was born."
The following year, the hot dog lovers agreed to get together and do it again. One of our members suggested we rent a bus. Erwin Benz, who has experience organizing bus trips, made the travel arrangements, while Fox picked the stops.
Union's famous Galloping Hill Inn is once again the starting point for the annual tour, which starts at Noon. The next stop will be Jimmy Buffs Italian Hot Dogs of Kenilworth ("the originator of this born-in-New Jersey specialty"). Third along the way will be the Fanwood Grille, which expects the bus to roll up to the front door shortly after 1:00 p.m.
Other stops include Hot Dog Louie's, a truck located on Route 35 in Woodbridge, and Little Buffalo of Cranford, which also makes its debut on the tour. The eatery features several types of hot dogs, including a "red hot" and a "white hot" that is similar to a bratwurst, along with several types of meat sauces. Apple's Deli in Springfield, another relatively new place, is owned by Matt Appelbaum, the former owner of Amazing Hot Dog and former manager of Cioffi's Boardwalk, both of which were on past Hot Dog Nation tours.
"This year will be our 15th tour," Fox says. "Each year gets better and better."
Editor's Note: TAPintoSPF publisher John Mooney is owner of Fanwood Grille.