With the release of the Newark Star-Ledger’s 2006 Jersey hot dog ratings, which will send seismic waves throughout the hot dog universe for some time to come, the Jersey Dog again finds itself in the spotlight of hot dog lovers everywhere. Perhaps the Jersey Dog will now become the subject of some form of blue-collar gastrotourism, and that’s just fine as far as I am concerned — I’d much rather that our Garden State be known as the Hot Dog capital of the world instead of the butt of “She told me to kiss her where it smells, so I brought her to Jersey” jokes.
Yet with the release of those ratings I still feel like something was missing. There was some unfinished business, a recognition unfulfilled. And I knew exactly what it was. Callahan’s.
Yes, there’s one other Callahan’s restaurant left in Little Ferry, and purportedly it still makes the same good hot dogs and Italian sausage and big juicy Callahoony burgers, and I know for sure I will be visiting it soon. But it just isn’t the same — there was this certain air of nostalgia about the place, the ever-present ghosts of decades of summers at the Palisades Amusement Park, the wonderful ephemera all over its walls, something which made it a landmark. And the food was the finest of its genre, without a doubt. I have to think if the place was still standing today, it would rank highly on the Munchmobile’s list.
In November of 2005 I wrote a short eptiaph of the restaurant for the New York Times only a few months before it finally closed down in February of 2006. I had one of my last meals there and documented my experience. At the time I wished that I had more space to show people the photos I took and to vent my overwhelming sadness of watching Fort Lee’s equivalent to Nathan’s in Coney Island in its final days. But given the recent spike in Jersey hot dog interest, I think its a good time to bring this stuff to the foreground again.
Now, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like you to share my pain.
What you’re looking at is how Callahan’s appears now, from the perspective of Hiram’s parking lot. Hiram’s (which got top honors in Chili Dogs in the recent Munchmobile survey) and Callahan’s enjoyed a hot dog rivalry spanning over 55 years. Both had their devoted fans, and some of us even enjoyed going to both places in sequence to compare and contrast, over and over again, much like the Pat’s and Geno’s cheese steak rivalry in Philly. The site is now being developed for a Bank of New Jersey branch. Yeah, like we need another bank. There’s one across the street, and another Bank of New Jersey a mile away.
Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to see photos of how Callahan’s was, before it was demolished.
Callahan’s, seen at the height of its glory in November of 2005.
The storefront as viewed from its parking lot.
A closeup of the famous sign. Many a juvenile laugh occurred over the slogan with the giant phallic hot dog in full view — but it was a truthful slogan at that.
The Fort Lee Callahan’s menu.
The Fort Lee Callahan’s had a lot of old-timer customers, many who had come to eat there since their teenage years when Palisades Amusement Park was a major attraction. Callahan’s retained much of the original historic ephemera from the 1950′s, 1960′s and even earlier. As I understand all of this stuff was saved for possible future use for a new branch.
The unique Callahan’s hot dog lamps. I really want one of these.
An original Palisades Amusement Park poster from the turn of the century.
Artie Castrianni, who purchased the restaurant from the Callahan sisters in 1950. He died in December of 2000.
Rick Castrianni, the final owner of Callahan’s.
The Callahan’s Superdog, with an assortment of condiments. The Superdog was/is at least a quarter of a pound in weight and a full twelve inches long. Callahan’s pork and beef dogs are deep fried and are produced by Sabrett (Marathon Enterprises) and are similar to the dogs sold at Windmill down by the shore, although the Windmill dogs are grilled instead of deep fried.
Another view of the Superdog.
A happy customer.
The Italian Dog, which has fried potatoes, onion and peppers.
A comparative view of the Italian Dog and the Superdog.
The Callahoony, the half pound juicy burgers are no slouch either. This one had Swiss and Bacon.
Callahoony after applying lettuce, tomato and onion.
Callahan’s Italian sausage was dammed good too.