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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

Frankly speaking, Max’s is top dog

By PETER GENOVESE | The Star-Ledger Staff | Friday, July 6, 2007

The best-known hot dogs down the Shore are Max’s and the WindMill, within walking distance of each other in Long Branch. Which one is better?

Send in the state’s biggest dog to find out.

Most of our 4th of July weekend picnic invites were on the holiday itself, which left plenty of time Saturday to explore other culinary avenues, especially those leading to Long Branch. No two hot dog stands are further apart in ambiance than Max’s and the WindMill. The former is a spacious, shiny, beer-on-tap hot dog palace. The latter is small, cramped, kitschy, and high on low-rent charm.

The Star-Ledger’s S.W.A.T. Dog Team, which sampled and rated hot dogs at nearly 100 places last summer, seemed split on Max’s and the WindMill. The Munchers were more decisive.

Max’s hot dog, according to Michele Hickey, “was grilled beautifully, browned enough on the outside so that the skin had a little bite to it, juicy and tender on the inside.”

But the WindMill’s chili was markedly better than Max’s tomatoey mix, and the former’s chili cheese fries had Robin Friedman in an alliterative tizzy. “I love the smothering sensation,” she said.

Max Fick admired Max’s onion rings (“distinct, crispy, well-seasoned”), but the Munchmobile driver gave the WindMill’s rings the edge.

In summation: Better dogs at Max’s, better chili at the WindMill, the onion rings a tossup. Best view? Easy — the oceanfront vista from the WindMill’s deck.

Continuing the all-American-food theme, we also stopped in Keansburg for some barbecue, and to show the much-maligned bayfront town a little love. The Old Heidelberg, with its crazily-tilted floor, is one of the Shore’s more distinctive hangouts, but if you haven’t been there in a year or two you may not recognize the place. The walls have been painted, the menu includes more than just hot dogs, and there’s German beer on draft. The Old Heidelberg celebrates its grand opening on July 14.

“Wait until you see me in my lederhosen!” said co-owner Nicky LaBruno.

We visited the nearby Pit Stop, which he also co-owns. The “famous” BBQ ribs do not live up to their billing, but for the Shore boardwalk scene, they’ll do. Skip the quesadilla, and smoked turkey leg, and the mushy fries. The pulled pork sandwich is acceptable. There were several standouts. Robin Friedman loved the “cheese-a-licious” roasted ravioli. You’ll love the fried corn fritters — “crispy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside,” Hickey noted. Thoroughly irresistible, and outrageously good.


Saturday Munchers

Max Fick

History teacher at Manhattan Center for Science and Math High School in East Harlem. The Jets tailgate she helps organize at home games with her husband and friends features deep-fried turkey, sweet and sour meatballs, and other tasty treats.

“The onion rings and steak fries at Max’s are worthy of permanent placement on my hips.”

Mike Fick

Technology education consultant, and Max’s husband.

“I don’t need much to make me happy. To marry a woman who is a good cook, done. To be a Muncher on the Munch mobile, done, and for the Jets to win the Super Bowl again."

Joel Friedman

Attorney for the federal government. Plays trumpet in a nine-piece jazz/rock band.

“At the end of the day, I felt like a big, fat, sweaty hog — and it was great!”

Robin Friedman

Author of several teen novels, including “The Girlfriend Project.” Wife of Joel Friedman. Loves to garden, cook, bake, and wear gowns.

“I love eating, writing, writing about eating, and spending time with other people who like eating, writing, and writing about eating.”

Lou Giele

Teacher and high school football coach. “Loyal fan” of the Munchmobile who thought it was about time we had “some Hudson County representation.”

“I have an addiction to real food, not the stuff you find in nouvelle cuisine atmospheres.”

Michele Hickey

Grant writer. Her Munchmobile application was short and sweet: “I Love New Jersey. I love food. I love New Jersey food.”

“I never met a cheesecake I didn’t like.”

Andrew Jaysnovitch

Loan analyst. Still remembers biting into his first slice of John’s Pizza in New York City as a kid; it began “what is now a 45-year love affair with pizza.”

“In Keyport, the fragrant smell of the sea mingled with the mouth-watering smell of fellow Muncher Max’s prized ribs.”