Tommy’s Italian Sausage
900 2nd Avenue
Sometimes while I wind my way through the backwoods and alleyways of America, I let my imagination run wild.
Like maybe I’ve been here before in a dream.
Or I’ve seen it in a movie. Or heard it in a song.
That’s the fun part of traveling.
New places, new sights, new experiences. Seeing, feeling, smelling, and eating at a place you’ve only seen from a distance.
I had that appreciation as I navigated my rental car through the gritty narrow streets of Elizabeth, New Jersey searching for the famous Tommy’s Italian Sausage.
But deep in the bowels of North Jersey, I started to get an uneasy feeling like I’m WAY out of place here.
As a proud American traveler, I do get that feeling a lot.
But this time was different.
The homeless dudes on the park bench across the street, the litter in the streets, the crooked light poles, the construction cones and potholes, the rough looking natives eying me suspiciously as I drove past in my Impala rental.
I felt like I might get whacked by Tony Soprano at any moment.
And that’s right when I spotted Centanni’s Meat Market—the exact location and building they show at the beginning of every episode of The Soprano’s.
Oh man! I really am in Tony Soprano’s neighborhood.
While the market is called Satriale’s in the show, that did little to put me at ease.
I mean, this is it. This is the actual spot where these wise guys hang out in every episode!
There are probably real Italian gangsters peering out of the tenement buildings on Second Avenue right now.
I was hoping to find a close place to park my out-of-state rental and duck into Tommy’s for a quick Italian hot dog.
Unfortunately, there is no inside to duck into.
Tommy’s is a carry-out only storefront.
You place your order with the old Italian guy (Tommy, maybe?) behind the glass and wait on the sidewalk uncomfortably while your hot dog is assembled.
All I could see inside were tubs of homemade relish.
Tommy – or whoever he is – handed me my foil package and a drink.
I stood there on the sidewalk looking around.
I wasn’t going to stand there on the sidewalk dripping condiments on the concrete.
And I wasn’t about to fight the homeless dude across the street for a piece of his park bench.
That left the front seat of my Impala as the only option.
I knew that was a bad idea as soon as I unwrapped my hotdog.
An absolute mess.
An Italian hot dog comes as a giant bun made of pizza dough, split open and stuffed with two hot dogs, a mess of sautéed onions and peppers, and piled with fried potato slices. All covered in ketchup.
There is no way to just pick the thing up and eat it. Especially with no table to catch gushes of ketchup, potatoes, onions and peppers.
Of course I had no utensils either.
So I just started picking at it with ketchup smeared fingers, hoping to get more in my mouth than on my tie.
The fried potatoes were thin and crispy, perfect with the ketchup.
Eventually, I worked my way through the potatoes, onions, and peppers enough and could actually see the hot dogs.
At this point, I had enough courage to lift the thing to my mouth and take a bite – just like God intended.
The sweet, chewy dough was perfect with the salty, fried hot dogs. The peppers, onions and ketchup added a zesty kick.
Leave it to the Italians to come up with something this good!
Legend has it that the concept of the Italian hot dog began among poor New Jersey Italian immigrants. They would stuff pizza dough with tomatoes and potatoes as a cheap meal.
Someone came up with the brilliant idea to throw in a couple hot dogs.
The Italian hot dog.
I was so engrossed in my meal and the gymnastics it took to eat it, I nearly forgot about all the natives probably watching this strange guy, in a suit, with out-of-state plates.
As it turns out, Tony Soprano wasn’t the one I had to worry about.
A meter maid began making her way up Second Avenue toward my illegally parked car.
In all the excitement of Italian hot dogs and Tony Soprano hangouts, I never realized I was in a “No Parking” space.
I hastily rubbed as much of the ketchup off my fingers as I could with my limited supply of napkins, wrapped my greasy fingers around the shifter, and jammed the Impala into drive.
I mean, while my Tommy’s Italian hot dog was so good that I was willing to risk getting whacked at any moment, there was no way I was going to mess with a New Jersey meter maid!
Bada bing! I’m outta here.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.