Okay, maybe calling the New England hot dog bun the best in the world might be a little self-congratulatory, but really, what has greater potential to deliver something delicious on a hot summer day? The top-split New England hot dog rolls are a perfect vehicle for grilled hot dogs topped with your favorite condiments, but they’re also the preferred roll for most of the best lobster rolls in Maine and fried clam rolls — two coastal New England roll classics.
We’ll save whether it should be hot or cold lobster and if clam strips or bellies are better for future posts…
Funny enough, it was actually fried clams (not hot dogs) that led to the top-sliced roll’s creation sometime in the 1940s. A 2013 Boston Globe article reported that the Maine-based bakery J.J. Nissen debuted the roll at the request of Howard Johnson’s Restaurant, the Massachusetts-based roadside motel and restaurant chain giant that peppered the American landscape during the 1960s and 1970s.
HoJo’s needed a bun that could hold its signature clam strips without tipping over, and J.J. Nissen’s creation was not only stable, but had flat cut sides that toasted up beautifully when buttered. The traditional “hinge-style” hot dog bun didn’t come along until the 1950s.
The restaurant is credited with introducing the new style of bun to the country, where it became somewhat of a novelty, but here in New England, the roll became the roll of choice for hot dogs (aka frankfurters), lobster rolls, and clam rolls. Here, we’re featuring a package of J.J. Nissen rolls, but you’ll find several brands of top-load rolls in any New England grocery store, from Country Kitchen to Pepperidge Farm.
Of course, if you’re outside of New England, you can find the rolls online, but if you enjoy baking (or just a challenge), you can also make a batch yourself. A specialty New England Hot Dog Bun Pan from USA Pans is all you’ll need.
Well, the pan plus the hot dogs…or fried clams…or lobster…
Are you a fan of the New England hot dog bun? Do you remember the Howard Johnson’s restaurant Clam Roll? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.