Welcome to Day Trippers, a new column dedicated to getting out of the city for the day, eating like the locals, and making it back in time for that 8 p.m. reservation. In this first installment, we visit Monmouth County, New Jersey, located less than 90 minutes from Manhattan by car. Here are three dining destinations in the area:
Max's Famous Hot Dogs
Way back in 1928, Max Altman opened his eponymous restaurant on the Long Branch pier. He operated it successfully until 1950 when he sold it to Milford Maybaum. Rather than change the name of the restaurant, Maybaum kept it as it was, and consequently he soon became known as Mr. Max. It is a tradition that has held to this day. The Maybaum family is now in the third generation of ownership and the patriarch and matriarch continue to be referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Max, respectively. The other tradition they have upheld is serving one of planet Earth's greatest hot dogs. Don't just take my word for it: Several governors of the Garden State have also declared it so.
The hot dog sold at Max's is a hefty quarter pound foot long from Schickhaus made with beef and pork. The dogs are griddle-cooked until the natural casing bronzes, blackens, and ruptures, causing long tears in the skin that become extra crisp. Served on a bun designed for the six-to-a-pound hot dog, the bread is comically outmatched, acting purely as a handle for at least some of the time you will spend devouring this sausage. While there are plenty of topping options, like hot peppers and a saucepan of sauerkraut that is passed around the counter, this dog has enough character on its own that it needs no embellishments.The natural casing gives it a great snap and crunch, followed by a burst of salty juice and a hint of smoke. The meat is pleasingly sweeter than a 100 percent all beef frank.
Max's Famous Hot Dogs
25 Matilda Terrace, Long Branch, NJ 07740
Telephone 732 571 0248
Open 7 days a week 11:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Surf BBQ offers a decidedly new school approach to barbecue. It is the brainchild of local restaurateur Vic Rallo, who partnered with Hometown Bar-B-Que's Bill Durney to consult on the menu, and Alex Smith, a former pitmaster at Mighty Quinn's Barbecue, to man the pit and add his own spin. The result is contemporary urban barbecue with a nod to Texas. The brisket and short ribs are Lone Star State via Kings County: the restaurant cooks prime grade beef with a dense rub in a J & R smoker for hours. They can hold their own against barbecue in NYC and in much of Texas, too.
Smith adds his own culinary inflection in the form of specials, a fine example of which is a Montreal smoked meat-style short rib that was on the menu recently. Ordering follows the by-the-pound cafeteria-style service model. Surf also has a full bar with an impressive selection of bourbon available.
132 East River Rd, Rumson, NJ 07760
Phone: (732) 530-6590
Monday - Friday 5:00 p.m. until sold out,
Weekends 12:00 p.m. until sold out
Strollo's Lighthouse in its current form dates back to 1976, when Ray Strollo opened an Italian ice stand in Long Branch. But the recipe for the lemon ice was brought from Italy by his father Tony Strollo in the 1930s. For decades, the elder Stollo sold lemon ice along with Italian-style subs out of a converted bus that he drove to the shore, making him an early food truck pioneer. The family recipe proved so popular at the Lighthouse that it forced the younger Strollo to innovate. He soon combined his ice, which is traditionally hand scooped, with a soft serve ice cream machine, allowing him to quickly satisfy the throngs of hungry beachgoers.
Soon new flavors were added like chocolate and cherry. Strollo's currently has a rotating cast of over 20 varieties, including the original recipe, of course. In 1987, Ray Strollo sold the Lighthouse to his nephew Jimmy Callano, who has gone on to open three additional locations. These days, Strollo's Lighthouse is as popular as ever with long lines snaking in the shadow of the tower under the baking Jersey Shore sun at peak times. Fortunately, thanks to the soft serve machine, the line moves quickly.
250 Ocean Ave.
North Long Branch, NJ 07740
Phone: (732) 229-1222
Monday - Friday 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Weekends 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.