As far back as I can remember, I’ve always gone to Rutt’s Hut. Seriously, the Clifton, NJ institution is one of the earliest memories I have of dining out. The no-frills joint was made famous for their rippers—a hot dog that is deep fried until the casing rips, hence the nickname. However, Rutt’s goes much deeper than that and it remains one of the most iconic establishments in all of New Jersey today.
Rutt’s Hut was originally opened as a roadside stand by Royal “Abe” Rutt and his wife, Anna in 1928. Like many food stands of the time, the hot dog was the staple item. They’re easy to prepare and handheld—the perfect portable food for the working class. In Clifton, this was no different. Rutt’s quickly caught fame and expanded into a brick-and-mortar establishment, eventually serving alcohol and adding more to the menu.
In the 1970s, the Rutt family sold Rutt’s Hut to George Petropoulakis, Louis Chrisafinis, Nicholas Karagiorgis, and George Sakellaris, who still own the joint today.
The ripper is something of New Jersey folklore. If your family runs generations deep in North Jersey, then the ripper is something that has likely been handed down to you. In the early days of the lunch counter, Rutt’s used frankfurters made just up the road in Clifton and they deep-fried the wieners in beef tallow. However, shortly after Thumann’s was founded in Wallington, NJ in 1949 and Rutt’s switched their hot dog to a Thumann’s frankfurter made with a custom beef-and-pork blend. The beef tallow was eventually ditched as well. And though today Thumann’s is a name recognizable across the nation, the main distribution plant is still in New Jersey.
Don’t just take my word for it. The Rutt’s Ripper has been named the best hot dog in America several times throughout the years.
The relish is equally as famed and is a large part of the reason that the ripper is a known item by food enthusiasts across the US. It is a secret blend said to be a Rutt family recipe that was passed down to Abe and from Abe to the current owners. Order at the counter and you’ll find it in metal vats, self-service style. Unlike traditional relishes, Rutt’s offering is cabbage-based and spiked with mustard. It’s a must-try when visiting Rutt’s Hut, even if you aren’t typically fond of relish.
Typical lunch counter items are popular too. Chili, grilled cheese, Taylor Ham sandwiches and the famous “dipped” cheeseburgers, which is a simple burger, smothered in brown gravy.
The Rutt’s menu goes way beyond hot dogs and burgers. Many of the devout customers return to Rutts for traditional Greek food, turkey dinners, soups and what is perhaps the most famous Rutt’s item beyond the ripper, the roast duck. That’s right, Rutt’s serves an excellent duck entree with a signature orange sauce on the side that has gained a cult following over the years.
Rutt’s boasts three distinct areas to dine, the standing counter, the dining room and the bar. All three have hardly changed over the years, sporting much of the original’s decor. Head to the standing counter and you’ll find the usual gang of Rutt’s Hut workers who yell out orders using their distinct Rutt’s language. “Ripper” for a hot dog, “frenchy” for fries and “Marvis” for Yoo-Hoo are just a few examples of the lingo you’ll become familiar with after years of dining there.
Few things have changed at Rutt’s Hut over the years—the menu and decor remain virtually untouched and they never caved to the credit card empire, keeping their cash-only rule to this very day. Of course, prices have changed, but the food and beer are still some of the cheapest around.
Rutt’s Hut has been around for nearly a century now and with any luck, it’ll be around for a century more.
This Is New Jersey is a series where we deep dive into the history of some of the Garden State's most legendary institutions. Have a suggestion? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author/s
Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.