Much like its sandy swaths of beautifully weathered beaches, the
That said, there is no truer symbol of toothsome tradition – no heartier a harbinger of honor – than my favorite
Stationed proudly at the southern end of
I’ve been a devout Max’s follower for 20 of those 80 years, dating back to the days when my parents would take me as a young child. I will be the first to point out that in all that time, this one-of-a-kind eatery has remained exactly the same, and thus true to itself. And although over the years, as I've gotten bigger, the chairs may have gotten smaller and the stools a bit stouter, the hot dogs haven't changed a bit. They're still the best you'll ever have.
I can’t begin to describe the excitement associated with seeing that trusty white sign from a distance, that as you approach more clearly, succinctly reads, "MAX's Famous Hot Dogs". This towering totem of history treacherously teeters over Ocean Avenue acting as a landmark for all things delicious.
Upon getting out of the car, strong gusts of crisp salt air mixed with the aroma of thick-skinned dogs charring gracefully on a giant griddle makes the walk to the door that much more unbearable. After 60 minutes in the car thinking about how badly I want these dogs, I always inevitably come to the realization that at this point, I actually need them.
Inside, amidst an even more mesmerizing waft of griddled goodness, I am always immediately put at ease when I find that my precious Max's, in another year's time, has remained exactly as it was the year before. I am also reminded once again, that I'm not the only guy who happens to like this place.
Long before I was a galumphing teenage oaf shoving down multiple condiment-crushed dogs in an obstreperous exhibition of all things uncouth, everyone from former Presidents, to celebrities, to ex-Governors, to Jersey Rock Legends have savored these wonderful dogs. In fact, almost as impressive as the hot dogs, the neverending roll of famous names who eat them make for a clientele that is documented rather thoroughly in a enthralling mosaic of autographed pictures dating back more than 30 years.
Bon Jovi...Springsteen...Bill Clinton (pre-Lewinsky I believe), are just a few of the long list of big names that have ponied up to the counter to tackle these legendary Jersey hot dogs. Surprisingly, the Ubereater, is not one of them. Yet anyway.
Of course, If I don't get held up by the "wall" (despite having been here a zillion times), I quickly remember that I am in need of some dogs stat. I usually make my way to the long u-shaped counter that separates the massive griddle operation from a checkered tile floor dining area that smacks of old school Jersey Shore.
But what about those hot dogs?
In all the times I've been to Max's, I can't say I've ever ordered off a menu, nor have I ever really seen the menu. In fact at Max's, the back wall IS the menu, plastered top to bottom with colorful, flag-sized handwritten posters advertising the dizzying array of offerings to be had beyond the hot dogs. But I've always come here the dogs and that's not going to change.
Before I enjoy enough time to amply agitate the twin tins of relish that so reliably sit before me on the counter, it's time to order: 1 corn on the cob and 2 dogs. That's right - corn on the cob. If I can vouch for anything at Max's besides the dogs, it's the Corn on the Cob. Within seconds, a girthy cob of sweet yellow corn arrives slathered in melted butter, which is so kind as to form a reservoir on the plate which makes for great dipping. A quick twist in the butter and you're off to enjoy an astoundingly fresh cob of corn.
Over the years, it has become somewhat standard for me to kick off a Max's trip with the Corn, as I've realized this to be the perfect preface to my dogs. What I haven't learned is how to avoid getting the kernels stuck in my teeth. Any suggestions would be most welcome.
But what about those hot dogs?
Dental dilemma's aside, I never have too much time to savor the corn as the hot dogs are up within minutes. These foot-long freaks of nature arrive as searing-hot torpedoes of taste that span the entire diameter of the plate, dwarfing (almost embarrassing) the sub-prime-mortgage-sized bun they each call home.
But the last thing these dogs need is a bailout plan. They need to be eaten.
These handsome fellows are unlike any other dog you'll have - charred thoroughly on the outside, sporting a crunchy, better yet, crispy, crust that varies from one end of the dog to the other. This makes each bite unique unto its own, and oh yeah, really damn good.
Between the heat and sweet of the red and green relishes respectively, the puckering effects of the mustard, and the salty, tangy punch of the hot dog itself, each bite is a sensory-overloading experience that produces a resounding snap as you chomp through the crusty, griddled exterior on your way to the more tender core. I can't describe this sensation any more accurately than to emphasize that there is nothing else like it, anywhere.
Obviously,beyond the shadow of a doubt, I will forever revere this thriving, long Branch fixture as THE undisputed king of the classic Jersey Shore eats serving what is, and always will be, my favorite hot dog of all time.
Yet the honest, undeniable integrity of Max's hot dogs is trumped only by that of the family that runs it. Owned and operated by Milford and Celia Maybaum over the course of three generations, Max's is the quintessential family business.
Today, Celia, known for quite some time now as Mrs. Max, continues to watch over this Jersey gem with her son and granddaughter, ensuring that everything here is the way its should be, and the way people remember it. As the "Queen of Hot Dogs", Mrs. Max has not only maintained her role as the magnanimous matriarch of this historic hot dog empire, but to this day, quite effortlessly embodies the hospitality and wholesome values that ARE what eating at the Jersey Shore is all about. Having been coming to Max's for as long as I have, I always make it a point to say hello to the Queen of Hot Dogs as I pay on my way out. I don't always want to bother her, but I can't help but feel the need to express to her how Max's has played such an important role in my development as an eater, and generally, a young man. The truth of the matter is, no trip to Max's is complete without a quick chat and much needed photo op with Mrs. Max. Her quick wit, innocent charm, and willingness to humor me, is an exhilarating reminder that behind great food, stands even greater people, and yet in those people, lives the food.
I want to thank Mrs. Max and her granddaughter Jennifer for their ongoing hospitality towards me, the Ubereater. And of course, for those amazing dogs.
See you next summer!
Me & Mrs. Max after some killer dogs - August 23, 2008