Middletown, NJ 07758
WINTER HOURS (Labor Day-Memorial Day):
Weekdays: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturdays: 7a.m.- 6 p.m.
SUMMER HOURS (Memorial Day-Labor Day):
Sundays, Tuesdays through Thursdays: open at 7 a.m.
Fridays and Saturdays: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Price Range: $ (Under $9)
- Restaurant Style: Deli
- Dress Code: Anything Goes
By Kevin Penton
An untold number of Italian hot dogs ago, Ruth Lopomo and her husband Joe began dishing the Newark specialty out of a stand located a hot pepper's throw away from the Raritan Bay.
Fifty years later, a steady stream of locals and destination munchers continue to line up inside Jersey Joe's in Port Monmouth to satisfy their greasy hot dog fix.
The local temple to the Jersey diet shut down in 1995, after its namesake died, Lopomo said. But eight years later, Joe's son, Frank Gioia, decided to reopen the family business.
Joe never let anyone else assemble the dogs, figuring that customers came in part to see him handle what they were about to eat, said Gioia, 55, who continues the tradition for regulars and newcomers alike.
"Some people, I know what they're going to eat before they even get out of the car," said Gioia as he piled chunks of potatoes atop a hot dog. "Working here is all about building a rapport with people."
Back when her husband ran the spot, Lopomo was heavily involved in its day-to-day operations, she said. These days, her goal is to allow Gioia to do his own thing, a feat that Lopomo admits she is not always successful at.
Lopomo enjoys roaming the wood-paneled dining area, jawing with the regulars as they munch on their lunches. Eventually, she notices things that are different from the old ways, Lopomo said. When the temptation to tell Gioia things such as, "You've putting on too much salt!" gets to be too much for Lopomo, the 76-year-old goes upstairs, where she lives, to play solitaire.
"I didn't think he could do what he does," said Lopomo of Gioia. "Frankie's head is different than his father's."
Gioia previously worked as a mechanical engineer, but decided to reopen Jersey Joe's after his former employer relocated out of the state.
"Before I ordered nuts and bolts, now I order ham and cheese," said Gioia with a shrug. "An engineering-type person can do just about anything, I think."
Traditionally, an Italian or Newark-style hot dog consists of a beef frank or two, deep fried or sauteed peppers and onions and a heap of potato chunks. The greasy provisions are then packed into a pita-shaped bread made out of pizza dough.
"That oil has to run down your arm for it to be good," Lopomo said, running her fingers along her forearms.
The regulars at Jersey Joe's, located at 712 Port Monmouth Road, don't go back years, but decades.
"I always remember it being here, ever since I was little," said Barbara Fisher, 45, of Port Monmouth, as she finished her lunch on one of several Formica tables. "It's good to keep a real person in business, rather than some franchise."