Gaming, grub and great times: Inspiration for your next night out

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

New Jersey’s a place where crowds pack the dance floor and concert venues. A state known for boardwalks and casinos. It’s stimulation overload.

In Atlantic City, the pace moves to the speed of a roulette table, paths guided by the glowing lights of slot machines. All this while listening to the hypnotizing sounds of winning machines drawing you in. This is Atlantic City.

“When New Jersey first opened, they had the world because they had it all to themselves. Nobody else on the East Coast had a casino,” said Roger Tinelli, a long-time visitor at the Tropicana.

The first casino opened here in 1978. Outside of Nevada, it was the first legal casino in the United States.

“In the 80s it was all about all the clubs in the area, like Joey’s in Clifton. That was the big club in the day. All these diners Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday you’d wake in there at 2 in the morning and there would be a wait. There would be a wait to get a table,” said Billy Chrisafinis, an employee at Rutt’s Hut.

Some say the Tick Tock Diner is where disco fries originated. Lathered in gravy sauce and topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, it was the late night food of choice back in the 7os and early 80s after a night at the disco. It’s still a Jersey staple to this day.

But Chrisafinis says nightlife across the state has changed.

“There might be one night out of four days that you’re going to get that kind of action in the places late night. Other than that, it’s not worth the risk,” said Chrisafinis.

What hasn’t changed is the Rutt’s Hut hot dog. The chili is an added touch, but what separates this place from any other hot dog place is their homemade relish. They’ve been cooking them this way for 90 years.

“That’s why we call them rippers. You see it’s deep fried, you see it’s still bubbling,” said Chrisafinis before topping a Ripper with relish, a secret recipe.

But while many can agree disco fries and deep fried hot dogs are Jersey late night staples, there’s one food that divides the state in two. South Jersey insists it’s pork roll, where up north it’s called Taylor ham.

Legend has it Ernest Hemingway was a regular at the Summit Diner. It opened in 1939, and here they top it with potatoes.

“We have babies now that I was serving their grandparents,” said the diner’s owner, Jim Greberis.

While food hasn’t changed over time, the casino industry in Atlantic City were affected. The industry took a hit when other states started legalizing gambling. Five casinos have closed their doors since 2014.

“They have to make the sports betting attractive without taking out that much from the bets you make” said Tinelli.

Many see sports betting as a game changer.

“What we’re seeing again in Atlantic City now, just this week, we’re going to have two new places opening so people are going back to work. More people can stay overnight. More people have things that they can do here. That’s good for Atlantic City, it’s good for New Jersey and certainly good for Tropicana,” said Steve Callender, general manager of Tropicana Casino.

Inside casino walls, you don’t know if it’s morning, afternoon, or night at this 24 hour place. But outside these walls one thing is for sure, New Jerseyans are keeping the traditions that make this place the Garden State.