Ode to Callahan’s of Fort Lee


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.

18 Responses to Ode to Callahan’s of Fort Lee

  1. ChrisPowers says:

    Man, do I miss this place.

  2. Felice De Ruggiero says:

    Oh, how I loved Callahan’s, even after I moved to Massachusetts in 1990. Whenever I go back to Jersey to visit the family, I had to stop at the place for a SuperDog. The best birthday present of my life was when my brother had a half dozen frozen dogs with the buns, relish, & kraut airmailed to me. I think I cried. But not as hard as when I just saw the empty demolished lot in Ft. Lee. RIP.

    I go to the Little Ferry location now and it’s still damn good.

  3. Ilya says:

    Although I only worked in Callahan’s for about a year, I came to love the place very much. Every time I pass by the new bank where Callahan’s stood, I always have memories and regrets that it closed. You are missed very much, Callahan’s, along with the fine workers!

  4. Angel Elf says:

    Good Grief! What a shame. When I was a youngster I would go to Callahan’s at least once a week. My order was always Two Dogs, well done, TR (toast the roll) and a Yahoo. Callahan’s back then was a shabby hangout with the men’s room entrance, sans door, was outside in the parking lot. Then the daughter took over the business and did some much needed remodeling. The results are in the photos above. Believe it or not I once saw a wedding reception being held there. People in formal dress, limousines and all. I move out of New Jersey back in the ’70s and vowed to have a Callahan dog once again before I die. I never found anything like a New Jersey splitter anyplace else that I have traveled to. Now I’m in my late 60′s and thousands of miles away and I see now that it’s too late baby. Well at least there is still Hiram’s and I’d better get back to N.J. before that place as well as me are gone too. RIP Callahan’s.

  5. Beverly G. McDonough says:

    Remember the 70′s, summer heat, slamming screen door, fan, flies, smoke, grease and all – God, I loved that place! I miss Cliffside, Pal Park and Fort Lee. I feel lucky having been born and raised in that area, and have many wonderful memories.

  6. Jim Harris says:

    Hello:

    I have seen several postings about people getting the Callahan dogs shipped to them. Does anyone know how to do this or who you have to contact?

    Thanks,
    Jim Harris
    MedJimRN@aol.com

  7. Vince Rickey says:

    Hello: Some interesting details about Callahan’s. In the early 60′s as a child I lived in Cliffside Park. My family’s apartment was so close to Palisades Amusement Park that I can remember falling asleep in the early evening to the periodic screaming lullaby, every five minutes or so, of thrilled roller-coster riders as the Cyclone roller coaster took them for a plunge down its wood-supported tracks. A trip to Callahan’s was a real family treat, usually on a Saturday afternoon, for lunch. After one’s dog and beverage was purchased, the meal would be eaten in the car as I do not recall their being much, if any, interior seating in Callahan’s at that time. When finished with a soft-drink beverage the empty glass bottles would be placed in stacked-on-an angle wooden, square beverage-box trays located in the parking lot. Each wooden tray container had about 24 holes in which to fit the empty glass soft-drink bottles. My beverage of choice was Yoo-Hoo which had to be shaken vigorously before opening. At that time in the early ’60′s, the brand of hot dog served was a Shickhaus griddle frank. To me, the Shickhaus frank was crispier and better tasting than the brand served in later years at Callahan’s up to its closing in Fort Lee. I know the brand serrved at Callahans in ther early 60′s was Shickhaus as my grandfather worked for the Swift’s meatpacking company in Kearny/Harrison at the time (which made the Shickhaus hotdogs) and he would purchase the dogs in 10 pound or so boxes (unfrozen) at the plant; we grilled these at home and there is no doubt in my mind they were the identical hot dogs served at Callahan’s. They were also great on an outdoor BBQ grill. The Swifting Company became Swift/Eckrich which is now Armour/Eckrich, and one can see a reference to the hot dogs on their website at http://www.armour-eckrich.com/shickhausnewjerseyhotdog.shtml. so they are still available for purchase. There are also hot-dog related recipies on the Armour/Eckridge website. One caution is that I have read on the Internet that if the Shickhaus franks are purchased frozen, the end result will be a mushy griddled frank. According to my review of some Internet materials, an entity in Connecticut called Grole (Grote?) and Weigel may have had or has a license to manufacture the Shickhaus griddle franks too but I have no first hand knowledge of that. Try your local butcher or supermarket to locate the brands. I hope the foregoing is of help to anyone searching for the early, authentic Callahan’s hot dog and who misses Callahan’s in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Vincent Rickey, Jr.

  8. fred says:

    I use to go to Callahans on Friday nights. The year was 1964-1968. It was a great hangout for the cool cars, cool girls, and cool food. I have been married for 39 years now and can still picture everything about the place. My best memore was pulling up into the parking lot and seeing a 1964 canary yellow ford t-bird convertible, with the most gorgeous little girl behind the wheel. I had a 1955 Chevy at the time.
    I started to taling to her and found out she was about 3 years older than I was, and also found out that whe didnt live from me in Ridgefield. Her name was Connie Russo. I met her once or twice more as she did have a boyfriend at that time. To this day, if I ever so her I would be in love all over again. Maybe someone who reads this will know of Connie Russo. I have tried to locate her many times over the past years.

  9. We are comming back to bergen county. As one of the owners of Callahan’s I think It’s time for a rebirth. Looking for qualified investers. Contact if interested on craigs list under Business Commercial.

    • David Soloway says:

      Hello, Lenny. I was talking to a friend of mine recently and the subject of Callahan’s came up as it has on number of occasions. For the life of us, we cannot understand why the restaurants were closed. They had a huge following and it seems to us that the cash flow generated over a relatively short term greatly exceeded any land value anyone would have considered paying. In other words, the highest and best use for the location was as a Callahan’s Restaurant. Surely there would not have been any problem finding an operational buyer and without a doubt there would have been many potential “takers.” In addition, the costly renovation as took place at the Fort Lee location, so close to its ultimate demise seems odd at best since the restaurant could have sold easily without such renovation. For these reasons we came to the conclusion that the two restaurants must have closed for an extremely odd reason and that the circumstances surrounding their demise have to be quite unusual. As a family insider, we would appreciate it if you would shed light on this matter and provide us with some insight as to what really happened. What is the true reason that Callahan’s closed so suddenly? Thank you.

    • scott padovan says:

      hey lenny i am looking into opening a hot dog grill and i would love for it to be a callahans . i lived in little ferry for alot of years so i’ve been to your place hundreds of times please get backto me if any way of me bringing back callahans. thanks for your time look foward from hearing from you by email

  10. RICH says:

    is the one in Little Ferry open? they Have Beer

  11. [...] is this important? Because Spring is here and while Callahan’s is gone, my love for things smothered in ketchup continues. That is why I was extremely pleased to see that [...]

  12. Keith Stanton, Macomb, MI says:

    I had the pleasure of being a friend of Lenny’s at then Monmouth College. The first time I met Lenny was when we were at summer orientation and a bunch of us got together to go out to dinner. Lenny had a Charger then and I had a 63 Olds 98 with a 454 engine. Well one thing led to another and with both of our cars filled with guys we raced each other. Out of the love for the old times perhaps I won’t say who lost or won.

    I first ate at Callahans when I visited Lenny and Andy Fotos (another Ft Lee buddy) one holiday break. What a great place and what great dogs!!!! I think I ate four that night. When I came back from Vietnam in 1972 I drove over from Caldwell and had some one day. Lenny wasn’t there but the dogs were even better then I had remembered.

    I am saddened that the Ft Lee location had to close. I told my children about Callahans and recently while home for a family reunion we drove over only to find it gone. What a shame. Like lots of other things that were “good” about America we have lost an icon.

    I hope Lenny and the rest of his family are well. I have lost track of him and the rest of the guys but they are always in my memory—-and sometimes when I try I can even taste one of those delicious dogs!

  13. Former Jersey Gal says:

    A day that will live in infamy – November 11, 2011 – the day I found out that Callie’s is no more. I moved thousands of miles away from New Jersey twenty years ago and haven’t been back, but from the late 1950s until I moved, Callahan’s was my all-time favorite spot. I can still taste that dog and fries!

    For some reason I thought to look the place up on the internet today to see how it is doing, and this is what I found. Too sad for words.

  14. K. Hart says:

    I was born and raised in Ft. Lee. One of my earliest memories is of eating at Callahans (circa 1950). I wish I had a penny for every dog I ate there…NO! I wish I had a Callahans hot dog!!! I moved away about 7 years ago but I recently returned for a funeral. On the way home I planned on stopping, pigging out and bringing home a dozen for some friends…..I was drooling as I drove over the bridge into Little Ferry….but there was a chicken place where Callahans should have been…I almost drove off the road (into where Rosie’s diner used to be)…I am still in shock. If anyone knows a way to get a Callahans fix please post it. I have tried many others but there simply is no substitute for a Callahans!!!

  15. where did they get the dogs from.

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