Smothered in their cryptic, bright yellow relish, a Rutt’s Hut frank is a sacrament of the season.
“I never eat franks,” a friend exclaimed, “I don’t know what’s in them.” But when our party arrived at Rutt’s Hut, founded by Abe and Anna Rutt in 1928 in Clifton, NJ, she quickly relaxed her standards.
Rutt’s Hut is a complex of buildings that also includes a barroom.
Located on a wooded bluff in Clifton, NJ overlooking the Passaic River not far from Highway 3 (though not visible from it), Rutt’s Hut is tough to get to, so bring your GPS. You have to exit on Highway 21 going north just west of the river, take the first exit from 21, cross the highway, then come back on River Road. The brown wood and red brick complex will loom up on your left.
While New York franks are either rolled on a griddle or immersed in filthy water, most Jersey wieners are deep fried. This leads to them tearing on the side, hence the Rutt’s Hut nickname for a frank, a “Ripper.”
You can put grainy mustard or even ketchup on your hot dog at Rutt’s, but there’s also a house-made relish, whose composition is a matter of some controversy. It seems like mustard with semi-pureed onions, with a little sweet pickle relish thrown in.
The fast food part of the establishment — which seems like it originated in the ’50s — also features hamburgers, fries, onion rings, fried seafood, and plain white-bread sandwiches. (Though who these days would order something called a “boiled ham sandwich”?)
French fries with gravy and cheese, the cheese sauce nearly eclipsing the gravy. (Don’t worry, there’s plenty of gravy in the bottom of the boat.)
The order counter, where you can also get three types of pudding washed down with a Bud or Coors.
The hot dogs are delicious. Artificial-skinned, they have a pronounced smoky flavor, and the house relish is a great asset, further lubricating what is already a nice greasy frank. The fries are just fries. As with all Jersey fries, you’re gonna need them to be squirted with cheese and gravy.
The onion rings are surprisingly good; and so is the fried calamari, though this is the last place you might want to order seafood.
Consume your food standing up and looking east over Highway 21 toward the river, or sit down and order in the woody, memorabilia-caked barroom, where the entire menu of the fast food establishment is available, plus a few specials that sometimes include roast duck(!). We’re right next to the Passaic River, after all.
The relish is fantastic…
…and the creamy cole slaw ain’t too bad, either.
417 River Road
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 27, 2012