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Culinary Wasteland That Is New Jersey

Inspired by http://www.chowhound.com/topics/49293... - which uses the title phrase...

Restaurant Nicholas
David Drake's
Keyport Fishery
Conte's Bar (Pizza
)Delorenzo's Tomato Pies
Delicious Orchards
Mr. Tod's Pies
Mamma Mia Ristorante
Whitehouse Subs
Little Saigon
Max's Trattoria 31
Chez Catherine
Flakey Tart
Phoenician Bakery
Mexican Food Factory
Pithari Taverna

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  1. Life is what you make of it

    Good diners
    Italian hot dogs
    Korean BBQ
    Dim sum
    And a ton of supermarkets and specialty stores to make your own culinary masterpieces

    1. Oh, frickin' please! I stand by the statement. Considering we are (I think) the most populous state based on density per square mile, I'd expect a great deal more. In Manhattan or Chicago, I could close my eyes, walk a few blocks then open them, and the odds are I'd be standing in front of an 'average' restaurant that's head and shoulders above 90 percent of Jersey's so called best. With several exceptions (ranging from Nicholas to Lorena to Shumi to Drakes to Origin et al--I've happily dined in most of them) what passes for 'great' here is usually mediocre, and what passes for 'good' is often awful. Let's take Opah Grille (a popular pricey place not far from me). Locals rave about it; you need reservations weeks in advance. But we found it to be p*ss poor. Finally, the NY Times reviewer ate there and all but agreed with us. Blech! I love New Jersey (I have every Springsteen song ever recorded, and I've watched and rewatched every single Sopranos episode. You got a problem wid dat or what? :-)))) ) but facts are facts. The state is, for the most part, a culinary wasteland.

      We'll soon be off to Provence for several weeks, and we don't plan to frequent more than a few Michelin star joints, But I assure you: the average mom-and-pop restaurants in the tiny towns dotting all of France blow the doors off of every place in Jersey but the top few. Make the best of it here. Rationalize all you want. But don't delude yourself into eating sh*t and calling it Shinola. Haute cuisine in the Garden State? For the most part.... fuhgedaboudit!

      1 Reply
      1. re: mmgpsych

        So you think Provence has better food than New Jersey. Do I have that right?

      2. Or how about just "South River, NJ" haha.

        Ria Mar
        Portuguese Fisherman
        3 or 4 European Provisions
        3 or 4 Portuguese Provisions
        New Brazilian Place
        Thai Place
        GREAT mexican place
        Polonia (on whitehead I think that is what it is called)

        On and On and On...

        Comparing a densely populated metropolitan city, with much commerce and wealth, such as NYC, Chicago, etc. with the entire state of NJ is just plain silly, but Culinary wasteland?

        Springsteen sucks, Jovi sucks even more! but NJ food is great. Culinary wasteland? you haven't traveled the US much.....

        3 Replies
        1. re: RPMcMurphy

          And a pretty good Chinese takeout, Sun Sun, right where Main Street meets Ferry St. Unfortunately, they don't serve brown rice. Good curry lunch specials, though.

          1. re: Potrezebie

            How is the new Mexican bar on Prospect St.?

            1. re: Passadumkeg

              I haven't checked it out yet. Seems like one of those places where you'd surely get looked at funny if you're not Mexican, but that hasn't stopped me with the rest of South River. haha. The sinage is all in espanol and there are quite a few Mexican cabs out front whenever I drive past.

              I'm reluctant to go in, due to bad ju-ju....i think a family member was once banned for life from the Prospect tavern. haha.

        2. Folks, while we welcome your comments that help lead people towards great chow in New Jersey (or away from bad chow!), we've had to remove some off topic comments from this discussion. Please keep the discussion here focused on specific local chow and not generalizations about the chow scene or people's individual perceptions on the overall scene. Thanks.

          32 Replies
          1. re: The Chowhound Team

            Okay, then, chow team. I'll try to keep this germane. I noticed that both RPMCMURPHY and FPATRICK listed a Mexican restaurant as part of their argument for the glories of New Jersey cuisine. MURPH'S Mexican is the only restaurant on his list that's preceded by the word GREAT (in caps) while FPATRICK lists the Mexican Food Factory. Assuming they aren't referring to the same venue, I confess that I haven't had the opportunity to dine in either of the two. I *love* great Mexican food. And since I can't find the menus on line, I'm wondering whether either have dishes based around huitlacoche. In my opinion, a great Mexican restaurant (rather than a really good upscale taco/burrito/salsa place) would serve that particular Mexican delicacy at least in one dish. Can you point me to a great high end Mexican place in Jersey that does serve huitlacoche if neither of these places have it on the menu? I'd be appreciative. Thanks in advance. Too, of course, if either of them do serve it, I will humbly race down there and possibly call them 'great' as well.

            1. re: mmgpsych

              what is huitlacoche? and why its use an essential element in the barometer for a great Mexican restaurant, in your opinion?

              1. re: tommy

                Huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche) is a fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn (Ustilago maydis). The fungus is harvested and treated as a delicacy. The earthy and somewhat smoky fungus is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups and other specialty dishes.

                1. re: bgut1

                  Yup. The fresh stuff is expensive as all get out, and most high end Mexican restaurants in Mexico will serve it, often in a crepe. Legend is that in times past, only royalty were allowed to eat it. It isn't *sine qua non* but it's sort of like having a great seafood restaurant that doesn't have a single dish with caviar. Anyone know where I can get it Jersey?

                  1. re: mmgpsych

                    Sorry MY great mexican most likely doesn't have it as nothing is over 5$. No website, no online menus, not even a sign on the door i'm sure. Since the population of my town is roughly 50% mexican (thats probably 'on' the books not off) who does not speak english, And the line is out of the door, I'd imagine they have no problemo with not having corn fungus

                    Having traveled through most of "real" mexico on a motorcycle, for months, while I'm aware of what it is, I've never seen it.

                    1. re: RPMcMurphy

                      It grows on the top of corn and looks pretty gross. If you'd seen it, you'd remember. The fresh stuff tastes wonderful, though.

                    2. re: mmgpsych

                      so, high-end restaurants in Mexico serve it, it's as expensive as "all get out", and you are of the opinion that any Mexican restaurant in NJ that is deemed "great" should have it. i think you're ignoring the economics of running a business, not to mention the expectations of the customer base, which is a bit odd to my mind for a well-traveled food writer.

                      you can find Huitlacoche at various (upscale) mexican restaurants in NYC. most of which I don't consider great. but if you're truly interested, you can find huitlacoche at Mama Mexico in Englewood, off the top of my head, although my guess is that it's not exactly what you'd find at those high-end restaurants in Mexico.

                      a great seafood restaurant that doesn't serve caviar? this wouldn't be a surprise to me. I don't think Esca serves caviar or any dishes with caviar, and I wouldn't expect it to.

                      1. re: tommy

                        Er...uh... um.... Except that Esca does serve caviar in an appetizer. But who's counting? And thanks for the Mama Mexico tip. I'll check it out.

                        1. re: mmgpsych

                          I've had a quesadilla made with Huitlacoche at Chilango's in Highlands, Very basic, as I'm sure they didn't want to overpower the flavor. I've also seen it in canned form in the markets in Red Bank. The only way I've seen it available in NJ is canned or frozen. I actually have about 1/2 a case of canned leftover from something, it's definately a hard sell, I'll probably have to eat it myself :-)

                          1. re: mmgpsych

                            shew. thank goodness they serve a spoonful of caviar. otherwise the NYT would have to demote its rating.

                            enjoy Mama Mexico. LOL!

                          2. re: tommy

                            Chapala's in Hamilton serves Huitlacoche, but they don't have it on the menu all the time--it's strictly a special for when the chef can find down in Philadelphia. Huitlacoche is pretty common in parts of Mexico and easy to find if you know what to look for. The last time we were in Oaxaca City, we picked some up at the market and had it prepared for us in empanadas. I'm not big on the flavor, but the wife loves it.

                          3. re: mmgpsych

                            wow, this must be because I live in the Mexico-lover city of Chicago, but we get our huitlacoche tacos $4 dollars at a time, hardly what we would call expensive.

                            1. re: Eaterlover

                              Same story in LA -- it's cheap, hardly exotic, and wonderful.

                              That said, I think the notion that huitlacoche is required for a Mexican restaurant to be good is entirely flawed. In fact, it suggests a lack of understanding about Mexico's diverse food traditions that confirms what I've feared -- New Jersey, where I just moved, still thinks of Mexican food as a monolith. Say it ain't so.

                              Where can I get a decent huarache or cemita in Central NJ? Or do I just need to keep flying back to LA?

                            2. re: mmgpsych

                              Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack ( at the Riverside Square mall ) serves a Quesadilla De Huitlacoche appetizer .

                        2. re: mmgpsych

                          Mexican Food Factory, Marlton NJ

                          My point, take the observations and experiences of any given restaurant and decide for yourself. Thank goodness CH is a large community where everyone has a say, not just a handful of people with "great" writing skills.

                          Enjoy, HillJ

                          1. re: HillJ

                            Dipping my toe into this discussion regarding Mexican Food Factory. I have been there many, many times. It's OK, and I do like a few things they serve. Chips are good, as are the misc salsa ingredients they bring with the chips. I also like the Chipolte Tuna Tacos. But authentic, I don't think so. The owners are not Mexican. For years, this was about the only Mexican restaurant in S. Jersey. Certainly the only in the Cherry Hill area. That's why it became the benchmark here for what Mexican food is. It does in a pinch, and sometimes friends want to meet there, so I don't protest. BTW: try not to drink too much when you go there or you will be forced to use the bathrooms. I don't think they have been cleaned since this place was a gas station. Over the years, they are far and above, some of the dirtiest bathrooms I have ever seen.
                            I like: La Esperanza in Lindenwald (skip the Carne Asada) and Taco House in Pennsauken for family style, old fashioned Mexican. Taco house has a very small menu and is a tiny place with just a few tables. Everything is made while you wait, but it is very fresh, authentic, non-gourmet Mexican served by a Mexican family.

                            1. re: mschow

                              Thanks for the add'l information, mschow. I plan to give the Taco House a visit next month.

                              1. re: mschow

                                I certainly agree with Ms. Chow's assessment of the Mexican Food Factory. After hearing people rave about it, my SO and I tried it. The word "dreadful" comes to mind. Forgetting that it is far from authentic, it is also far from good.

                              2. re: HillJ

                                To wrap this up (I hope) I'll try to be restaurant specific so the local sheriffs don't yank the post. When I first checked out Jersey Chowhound, I was thrilled to read about all these "Unbelievable! Fantastic! Best in the Galaxy!" offbeat restaurants I'd never been to. Though I'd been to several that did live up to the raves before and during my Hound stint (Nicholas, Lorena, Drake et al) most of these 'superlative' joints were disappointing to the point of pain.

                                When I was a Senior Editor for a journal that reviewed, let's say Widgets, many reviewers used similar-to-chowhound superlatives in their reviews of certain products . . . all of which proved mostly useless because they were raves without reason. I don't doubt that RPMCMURPHY loves his Mexican restaurant (who could doubt a man with the courage to pattern himself after one of my heroes?) But I need to know 'why' he thinks it's great? Compared to what? How are things spiced? Are the torillas home made? etc.

                                It's all the 'raves without reason' which often to my palate prove wrong, that led me to say that the bar for 'great' in NJ seems to be set at a height only a professional limbo dancer could get under.
                                So, then, here's a plea: Perhaps others are willing to take raves-without-reason as Gospel. Good luck. I'm not. Rave all you want. Just tell me why and compared to what. Okay? Hopefully, case closed.

                                Now I can go back to doing what I love most: cooking and eating. Lunch will be the only decent bagel within a half hour's drive (decent because it'd be hard to differentiate it from H&H in a blind test) with a smear of cream cheese, some Scottish Salmon I'll slice myself, thank you very much, dotted with a few capers and kissed with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Yum!
                                Later. :-0)))

                                1. re: mmgpsych


                                  mmqp..in your quest for why....you might enjoy this blog.
                                  Happy eating!

                                  1. re: mmgpsych

                                    I'm assuming your decent bagel comes from the Bagel Bin in Bernardsville, or did your recent post on bagels turn up something better?

                                2. re: mmgpsych

                                  last i checked, in order to have mexican restaurants offering cuitlacoche (not canned or frozen, that flatly does *not count*), you have to have a fresh, local supply of cuitlacoche. meaning that someone within driving distance would have to grow corn. that's why nj and nyc mexican restaurants, no matter how high end, don't tend to offer it. you'd be much better off finding it in a mexican taverna in iowa, though i doubt you want to hear that. . . if i were you i'd enjoy what you do have locally and make a yearly cuitlacoche pilgrimage to other environs or something.

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    Although NJ corn production consists of less than .10% of the total US production, the state still does produce in excess of 7 Million bushels a year. So, I don't see why there wouldn't be a readily available supply of farm fresh cuitlacoche.

                                    1. re: bgut1

                                      my guess is because corn in NY and NJ isn't grown for huitlacoche, and i just can't help but think that's related to demand.

                                      surely any restaurant that wants to purchase huitlacoche can do so regardless of what state it's in. "local supply" is really meaningless, unless huitlacoche deteriorates so quickly that our supply chains can't move it from the corn to the restaurant quickly enough.

                                      1. re: tommy

                                        tommy - You are correct. In this day and age, anything can be delivered fresh (of course for a price). As far as NJ production is concerned, we have the resources to produce or grow it assuming there was a demand for the product.

                                        1. re: bgut1

                                          my guess is that corn in NJ is sometimes infected with it and is thrown away. but yeah, you can purposely grow it, but i suppose that's not the business many corn growers are in. they are in the business of growing corn, not mushrooms.

                                          1. re: tommy

                                            Actually, fwiw, US corn is "bred" not to create the fungus these days.

                                      2. re: bgut1

                                        lmao. is 7 million bushels of corn a lot? for one farmer it probably is. round here in my home state of "hicksville, minnesota," ;) we do a billion bushels a year-- just to put it into perspective. and as we all know, < .016% of all u.s. corn production is non-gmo. gmo corn is what MMRuth is referring to when she refers to "bred" corn-- it's genetically modified, among other attributes, not to become infected with the "blessed blight" which is cuitlacoche. at 135 bushels/acre, according to my math you may have around 800 acres-- or 1.25 square miles, in new jersey, of possible cuitlacoche habitat-- as opposed to 25,000 square miles, here in mn.

                                        1.25 square miles isn't much in the way of farmland, but i agree with you that it's plenty of room to get some quality corn smut going on. however, barring a local market for the fungus, the new jersey farmers would likely be quick to eliminate any infestation of blight before it infects the rest of their valuable crop. there's just probably no market for the stuff-- no latino population that would be receptive, no restaurants to create a demand, no customers familiar with what cuitlacoche even is in the first place. if consumers want local cuitlacoche, they must create the demand in the first place, and be willing to seek out and pay a premium for an ugly fungus that seemingly ruins corn crops. like morel mushrooms, cuitlacoche is not something that can be successfully domesticated and "grown purposefully"-- it's actually a very special phenomenon that is, like most wild foods, very local and very rural in nature. truffle-like, cuitlacoche is not something that can be cultivated or harvested according to a set schedule. its dual nature as both delicacy and blight means that its growth is quickly curbed, and like many unique farmstead cheeses, it doesn't show up in urban marketplaces-- at its best, it's consumed locally, seasonally, squeaking fresh, and en terroir.

                                        please don't see my posts on corn smut as an attempt by me to "pile on" to the idea that new jersey is a "culinary wasteland"-- that isn't how i feel at all. i would love to visit new jersey again and seek out local food treasures and ethnic specialties. heck i'd love to get my hands on just some fresh jersey bagels-- a delicacy, like cuitlacoche, that loses a great deal when frozen and shipped. i could even get over not being able to pump my own gas to experience some awesome new jersey italian-american specialties. to the esteemed NJ denizens: please appreciate your most wonderful local food products, but don't labor under the impression that you have access to everything-- if you did, we'd all live in jersey!

                                        more on why cuitlacoche can be tricky to "grow", harvest, ship etc:

                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          soupkitten - Thank you for the education.

                                      3. re: soupkitten

                                        The best I've had was fresh, and was served in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. http://www.eduardodesanangel.com. Last time I checked, there weren't too many cornfields down there either. :-)))) They must've had it flown in from Mexico. Not coincidentally, Eduardo's also concocts the best Mexican food I've had anywhere including anywhere in Mexico. How does an Ancho Chile flavored crepe filled with cuitlacoche, serrano chile and onions swimming in a very delicate asadero cheese and squash blossom sauce sound? Damn! I just drooled on the keyboard.

                                        1. re: mmgpsych

                                          sounds wonderful indeed! (wish there was a picture of it on the website) florida does actually grow quite a bit of corn-- mostly sweet corn in the southern part of the state, and field corn in the central and northern part of the state (i just learned that about the field corn when i looked it up)-- maybe the chefs at eduardo's have connections with farmers local to fort lauderdale-- both for corn smut and squash blossoms. cuitlachoche is something i'm lucky to get once or twice a year, i never know when it may appear! it's a wonderful thing, not to be passed up.

                                          sorry to jump into your discussion and get everyone so off track here-- don't mind me, carry on please! :)

                                      4. re: mmgpsych

                                        Rosa Mexicano restaurant in Hacksack ( at the Riverside Sqaure Mall ) serves huitlacoche. One of their appetizers is called Quesadilla De Huitlacoche. Here is a link to the Menu.:
                                        This restaurant, IMHO, is not as wonderful as the flagship Rosa Mexicano at 58th and 1st Ave in Manhattan, nor the UWS Lincoln Center branch, but the food is unlike any other Mexican food in NJ, and well worth the trip !

                                    2. I think food that tastes "great" to me (again, opinion) is 'great'

                                      perhaps my palette is not nearly as sophisticated as others.

                                      17 Replies
                                      1. re: Heatherb

                                        having lived here for a few years now, i have to agree to a certain extent with mmg.... it is not my place to post negatively about anyone in paticular, but i will post positively if it deserves the merit. i have not had any "wow" experiences since i've been here EXCEPT the flakey tart's pan du chocolat and croissants, i haven't been to nicolas, drake, lorena's or even the windmill. i have been to many different places at different levels.for instance, a certain mexican freehold rest. that gets many raves on this board. why ? i've no idea, the two little places on south street off main serve much better food. sure there's none of the ambiance, but hey.

                                        where is that exceptional burger ? where is the divine bowl of pho, carnitas with fresh tortillas done to a t, topped with huitlacoche perhaps ? how about a 4 star seafood experience ? how about a diner that serves edible food ? exceptional chinese or even deli for chr*st's sake ?

                                        is there good pizza here? without a doubt. unbelievable corn, blueberries, local seafood, and a few other culinary treasures. i am no authority, but i do cook for a living.

                                        there is a great deal of mediocrity here imho, it far outweighs the good or even great. does the "wasteland" really begin in ocean county ? kinda like death valley..... (hope to go to bistro44 tomorrow bgut). most of the cooking i have had is lazy and uninspired, sometimes inedible, most times forgettable. in nola, good gumbo was like a bowl of soul, here chicken francaise or parm seems to fill that bill. no further comment......

                                        1. re: chefMD

                                          I appreciate the comment. As you imply, the problem remains, in my not too humble opinion, that we jersey folk have been lulled into numbness both by the paucity of excellence and by our own proclivity to call 'average' excellent, and 'awful' okay. While there definitely are a thousand points of culinary light dotting the state, most raves of 'Fabulous! Amazing! Unbelievable!' are laughable by any higher standard. This is in no way meant to denigrate any poster's taste. Rather, it is a clarion call for my fellow Garden Staters to raise the bar and seek excellence. Maybe then, the many complacent local restauranteurs (in NJ, a liquor license is often a license to print money no matter if you're serving slop) might wake up and give a damn. There are dozens of exceptions but dozens more who don't seem to care. For example, locally, at one time, the Ryland Inn was a castle of culinary quality but once securely on the map, its cuisine became scarecly distinguishable from that of wedding caterers. Let's hope this changes when it reopens. Again, this is *not* a personal attack on any poster, only a cry for quality.

                                          1. re: mmgpsych

                                            On the other hand, I recently ate at one of the highly rated steakhouses in the theater district. I was thoroughly unimpressed. The food was good, but no better than many places I've eaten at in NJ. The service was fine, no complaints, but no wow factor either. It certainly was not worth the $20pp premium over a similar type place in NJ.

                                            1. re: cantkick

                                              Which one? Love to know. Skim milk masquerading as cream is not a Jersey exclusive! :-)))

                                            2. re: mmgpsych

                                              I have a hunch culinary quality in NJ is happening in the home, How do you feel the food markets in NJ compared to other places you have traveled? In other places you have been are there produce markets that compare in quality to Delicious Orchards? A poultry market that campares to Griggstown?

                                              1. re: jrd303

                                                Good point! You may well be right. We're at Griggstown for poultry at least every other week http://store.griggstownquailfarm.com
                                                because nothing we know compares, and we raid Simply Grazin' for the very best pork/beef around on alternate weeks. http://simplygrazin.com/
                                                Too, there's Valley Shepherd for sheep's milk cheese and lamb products, http://www.valleyshepherd.com/
                                                And Bobolink further upstate Jersey for the best cow's milk cheese I've had in the US.http://www.cowsoutside.com/

                                                Not to mention that your/our home eatery has a liquor license and a wide range of affordable wines. But whether we've been driven to home excellence out of necessity is another question. :-)))

                                                1. re: mmgpsych

                                                  I took a cheese and bread making class at Bobolink a few years ago. What fun! You just reminded me that a little road trip up there will be in order soon - I want to show the place to my son.

                                                  1. re: flourgirl

                                                    Maybe Jersey should be renamed to " The Garden and Market State" :)

                                            3. re: chefMD

                                              chefMD- Enjoy Bistro 44. Coincidentally, I believe Chef Erik debuts his new menu tomorrow.

                                              1. re: chefMD

                                                where is that exceptional burger ?
                                                - Copeland, Morristown

                                                where is the divine bowl of pho,
                                                - Little Saigon, Montclair

                                                Carnitas with fresh tortillas done to a t -
                                                - Brenda Lee in Paterson does a nice job.

                                                how about a 4 star seafood experience ?
                                                - I don't know of many restaruants specializing in seafood, but certainly some of the better restaurants serve great seafood. There's also Varka in Ramsey and Oceanos in Fair Lawn, each of which serve pristine seafood.

                                                exceptional chinese or even deli for chr*st's sake ?
                                                - Petite Soochow in Cliffside Park, Chengdu 1 in Cedar Grove, China 46 before it closed.

                                                1. re: tommy

                                                  Copeland does serve a decent burger. I agree. But on the whole, as is so often the case, given their liquor license and their good press, most of Copeland's cuisine has gone downhill faster than an Olympic level Grand Slalom ski racer. Chilean Sea Bass is generally so easy to prepare that you can all but drop it in a toaster like a pop tart and expect a good result. The Sea Bass we had at Copeland was anything but flaky and oily, as it should be, and lay dry and lifeless on the plate. Still, you're right. Given everything else, the place is well worth a visit.

                                                  1. re: tommy

                                                    anything that is not in northern nj (aka a suburb or nyc) ???? or am i dreaming ? if i have to drive to northern nj, i might as well go into the city, see my mother, and have much better odds.

                                                    why not a place specializing in seafood, we are on the ocean......

                                                    why do i have to cross that da$%^&& bridge to get something ethnic... el familiar in toms river is quite good and inexpensive to boot. but, i don't crave it.

                                                    1. re: chefMD

                                                      if you want ethnic food you go to an ethnic neighborhood. Toms River and its environs don't fit that description.

                                                      doesn't matter how close you are to the ocean. seafood can pretty much get anywhere pretty quickly now that they world has effecient supply chains in place. ask 10 of your neighbors if they'll drop 120 bucks for two on top notch seafood enough times during the week to support a great seafood restaurant in your town. they're more likely to go to the Lobster Shanty or Jack Baker's, both of which are a stone's throw from fishing boats, neither of which serve very good seafood. in fact, the old saying goes: the closer you get to the ocean, the worse the seafood is going to be. that's been my experience, growing up in ocean county.

                                                      1. re: tommy

                                                        In my experience, that's often true. (except in Maine) Why? Who knows? Speaking of burgers, for reasons that could only be dictated by Jehovah on high, while the rest of the cuisine is pretty bad, you can occasionally get a semi-decent burger (but nothing else!) at Willie's Tavern in Bedminster. Order it Medium if you like Medium Rare. If you don't mind asking the server for several napkins to wipe your chin, the onion straws, greasy as all get out, aren't half bad either.

                                                        1. re: tommy

                                                          yes, ethnic food in ethnic neighborhoods(not always 100%). last time i checked, nyc is" basically" on the ocean. nola was surrounded by water, charleston, sc right on the bay, san diego. i have to disagree with the "proximity to the water" statement. maybe here in nj ????

                                                          mmg, where is bedminster ? if its close i'll go right now for lunch !

                                                          1. re: chefMD

                                                            It's hardly worth the trip up from the shore. About an hour. I just started another thread in search of the ultimate burger. Save your precious petrol! :-)))

                                                      2. re: tommy

                                                        Hmmm, I have to disagree with Little Saigon's pho. Even though Chicago isn't known for its vietnamese cuisine, I've sample quite a few phos on Argyle street and I would say that each would quickly best the pho at Little Saigon which I didn't find to be the perfect balance of beef bones, anise, and sweetness I'm used to with my pho. I would say that the pho at Little Saigon is recognizable at best.

                                                  2. After 40 years in NJ and now up the road in CT, jfood still exports bagels from NJ and drools thinking of novey, sloppy joes and italian hot dogs.

                                                    and he has recently convinced his CT friends to plan a road trip to Elizabeth to have some great Italian food at Spiritos.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                      oh jfood, you just made my day...at least the CH part of it!
                                                      Spiritos, you come 'home' for the mama ravioli and the oh so good garlic salad!
                                                      Sloppy Joes, don't forget to see Mr. J's in Cranford
                                                      Those 'dogs' in Kenilworth are still worth a visit..under new ownership!

                                                      Jfood, tyou!

                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                        - sloppys for jfood were goodman's (elizabeth), tabatchnicks (millburn), kartzman's (union). They all may be extinct except Goodman's
                                                        - five points in union for dogs until jfood found Don's and Syds

                                                        And jfood was not allowed to eat in Cranford since his HS played, and beat, you on Thanksgiving every year

                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                          Man do I miss Tabatch's! Those were the days of deli's!
                                                          ...you beat us every year....um....lol!

                                                      2. re: jfood


                                                        After hearing about Spirito's for many, many years, I finally made it there last year in the middle of the Fall after a meeting with a Top Chef who suggested I wait no longer. I would agree with your comments the Ravioli's are very good at Spirito's, in fact excellent. Like no others I have ever had anywhere out in restaurants or Grandma's house. I would say although the veal cutlets are good, they are not as extraordinary as the pillows of cheese filled pasta. They need to pound the cutlets out a little more IMO. The pizza is good too, but again, not extraordinary.........much like the the much touted over-rated De Lorenzo's Tomato Pies on Hamilton.

                                                        Every neighborhood should have a place like Spirito's.....and Di Cosmo's Italian Ices down the block....btw, thanks for the nice comment on the old Katz's thread

                                                        1. re: fourunder

                                                          And don't forget Tommy's Italian Hot Dogs and Jerry's Famous Frankfurters, 2 doors down from each other and a few blocks away from Spirito's. As for Charlies in Kenilworth, they are still good most of the time, but very inconsistent. Last time the bread was stale and the potatoes burnt. Tommy's has the best potatoes and now gives more peppers. The dogs are a little bigger also. 8 to a lb rather than 10. Jimmy Buff's in East Hanover makes an excellent Italian Hot Dog. Better than the Scotch Plains location, which is a little greasy for my taste. East Hanover also has the Syd's dog. Syd's of Union had a great hot dog (Best Provision 5 to a lb natural casing footlong) but closed after their lease was not renewed.

                                                          1. re: hotdoglover

                                                            hotd, I stand correct as well. Dog w/out bun for me tho.
                                                            Charlies has been more hit than miss when we've gone.
                                                            JBuff's was always too far for lunch...but man real good!

                                                      3. Forgive me please. But does anyone realize that the whole debate on New Jersey being a culinary wasteland has been distilled down to having a fresh supply of a corn fungus? If that is not a clear indication of the culinary land scape of this state.......... What is?

                                                        3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                            Passa. I was wondering when you were going to chime in. A wonderful idea and think of all time, petrol,trouble saved by popping the peyote and hitting your local greasy spoon.

                                                            1. re: currymouth

                                                              Send a Jersey Boy to New Mexico and see what happens? I can't find peyote at my favorite Mexican restaurants, but I don't judge. I can't even find real Mexican!
                                                              I hope to return to the Wasteland for Russian Easter. And stock up on tasty wasteland food to return to the land of the Puritans whom, evidently, had no taste buds!
                                                              J. Alfred Proofrock is alive and well in New Jersey or am I hallucinating!
                                                              T. S. Eliotumkeg

                                                          2. Interesting link. This is one of the blogs I frequent for a daily laugh, he has a section where he eats weird crap from the grocery store.....

                                                            apparently GOYA makes it...


                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: RPMcMurphy

                                                              Mmmmm! Yummy! The idea of eating unspiced, unprepared cuitlacoche from a can is almost as appetizing as the idea of eating raw cow's tongue that's still attached to the cow! :-)))

                                                              1. re: RPMcMurphy

                                                                Wow....that is one of the funniest, nastiest....funniest food reviews I've ever read. Where can I get my can of infected corn?

                                                                :::starting to think that maybe Taco Bell isn't so bad :::


                                                              2. Unfortunately, I've had to live at the Jersey Shore for 5 years because of my wifes job, (I commute back to Philly for mine.) The restaurants reviewers down here give EVERYBODY 3 or 4 stars. We've been to most of them and have never found anything even half decent. In Philly they'd all get 1 star and in NYC they'd be gone in 30 days.

                                                                The "big time rest. critics" all have monthly mags, tv and radio shows. If you spend a lot on advertising they give you great reviews (even though in many instances the owners have told me they've never been inside that restaurant.)

                                                                If you blow them off you get a 2 line mention (and one line is your address and phone number.)

                                                                South Jersey seems to be the land of strip malls and red gravy.

                                                                14 Replies
                                                                1. re: tudor3522

                                                                  You're not on LBI, by any chance are you? I can think of only a small handful places that might be considered excellent, but people drone on about how great the food at Tuckers, Plantation, or Daddios is... When we go down, we usually end up cooking at home or going Kubels for a burger. If you are on LBI, you are correct...the restaurants that get rave reviews are usually just completely mediocre.

                                                                  1. re: tudor3522

                                                                    S'what I been sayin', more or less.

                                                                    1. re: mmgpsych

                                                                      You're in the US of A, not Provence. Great food is a reflection of culture and/or money. I lived Europe for 11 years and South America for 5(I don't count Viet Nam.) The US of A, in general, is not thought world-wide to be a culinary destination. (I often day dream about what might have happened to food if Montcalm had beaten Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham.)
                                                                      There are, in the US, large, multi-cultural, wealthy urban areas and local regional areas such as the Maine, southern, and Gulf coasts, the Napa Valley, Northern New Mexico, ski areas etc. that are renouned for their food. In all the above mentioned areas, I think there are 2 categories of food, the cheap local often ethnic foods and the often transplanted "gourmet" fine dining. I see a lot of it here on the coast of Maine. New Jersey has a plethora of non-chain, excellent, inexpensive, indigenous dining experiences. I do feel that you are right that on the high end, restaurants are over-rated and don't deliver, for the most part. I wonder if the close proximity to NYC and yes, even Philly, contributes to this or a lack of concentrated wealth.

                                                                      Ms. Mmgpsych, you have stirred up a hornets nest with this "wasteland" assertion and have defended yourself well. You obviously have a healthy ego. After looking at a lot of your posts, I sense that you have a very good critical eye, but rarely offer a concrete, positive, alternative. What is your favorite pizza in New Jersey? Not Brooklyn, but New Jersey. Where do you enjoy a burger? You never say. On a week night, for a casual, inexpensive, local meal, where do you go? I really can't seem to find the great pizza of my youth when I make my frequent visits to New Jersey. But I do, very much, enjoy going searching for the wide ranging local ethnic foods that I simply don't have in homogenous beautiful "Vacationland". I'm curious.
                                                                      "I'm from New Jersey, I don't expect much."
                                                                      John Gorka, New Jersey folk singer

                                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                        To begin with Senor Folksinger, that would not be "Ms. mmgpsych" but would be "Mr. Dr. His Excellency mmgpsych". :-))) Next, I've offered (and continue to offer) many positive alternatives to the crap that gets passed off as great cuisine; I just re-reviewed Origin today. There's Lorena, Nicholas, Shumi, Due Terre, Drake et many al.
                                                                        My favorite Jersey pizza so far is De Lucia in Somerville. It isn't Di Fara, and I'm sure there's better but it's very satisfying and I'd suggest (and have suggested, I think) their homemade sausage as a topping; it has just the right amount of fennel. I've yet to find a burger that's better than 'pretty good' within ten miles of my home but often settle for a Willies Tavern's burger with onion straws. (I had high hopes for Gladstone Tavern but . . .)

                                                                        We have dinner out about 3-4 times a week, and lunch out about the same. My wife calls me Magilla The Grilla because I love to do just that. We're always trying new places, and travel far and wide for great ethnic. I have a strong preference for Southern Indian over Northern, and so far think that Swagath Gourmet in Edison is as good as it gets. Udipe Cafe in Franklin Park is a distant but satisfying second. The hot-off-the-grill items in Shalimar (Oak Tree Road in Iselin) are quite good but the reheated items are anything but. (Twice warmed pakoras don't make it.) In a pinch, when we don't want to drive to Shumi, we go to Kiku in Bedminster for sushi lunch. They know us there, and treat us beautifully (the freshest fish they happen to have) so I can't guarantee you the same. Let's see. We haven't found any Chinese worth a tinker's damn except for the house soup for two in Ling Ling in Basking Ridge, and some of the Dim Sum from Dynasty on Route 22.
                                                                        I could go on and on, but I promise you I'm not the food misanthrope I sometimes seem to be. As in the other areas where I'm paid real money for critical comments, I tend to write up either the great and very good or the bad and awful while leaving out the middle.
                                                                        Since you asked, tonight we're going to Trattoria Mediterranea in Bedminster, and we hope they've improved since our last visit some months ago. If they've gotten really good or really worse, you'll hear about it. :-)))
                                                                        Happy eating!

                                                                        1. re: mmgpsych

                                                                          I have very little experience with Indian food of any kind and would greatly appreciate any menu reccomendations you could share for Swagath Gourmet. Bonus points if you could give a description of the dish and what it is that Swagath Gourmet does that makes it special,

                                                                          1. re: jrd303

                                                                            Sho' nuff. I'll do my best for a Caucasian.
                                                                            Our favorite dish at Swagath is the onion rava masala dosa. A dosa is an Indian crepe. The rava dosa is made from semolina, and if done right (they sure do at Swagath) it's as thin and fine and nearly as see-through as a lace doily. I'd guess that the crepe has a diameter of about 10 inches and is folded in half, hiding an amazing melange of cumin and coriander spiced mashed potatoes and finely chopped onions. OMG! It's served with two dipping sauces, one of which Swagath makes with a base of freshly chopped coconut. A huge portion for $7.50.

                                                                            Our second favorite 'dish' there, if you can call it that, is the traditional Thali, which consists of seven or eight small round stainless steel bowls nestled on a circular stainless steel platter. A Thali is sort of 'pot luck' in that the dishes change all the time and aren't usually available on the main menu. There's always a rassam, or super spicy soup, two or three vegetable dishes (the place is strictly vegetarian) which might be a fiery chick pea dish, or lentils or what-have-you, and some specially seasoned rice like a puliyogari (forgive the spelling) which is loaded with tamarind. There's always a homemade yogurt, and some fascinating sweet dessert. Another steal at thirteen bucks.

                                                                            Idlis are also a South Indian favorite, though not mine. An idli is a silver dollar size steamed rice, or cream of wheat cake, variably seasoned and served with a variety of chutney.

                                                                            All in all, we find Southern Indian food more subtle and much more complex than Northern Indian, a far cry from the KFC-like 'tandori everything' you get at most mid-level Northern Indian places. Some of the spices may be an acquired taste but we found it well worth acquiring. If anyone reading this is from India, and I've botched anything, please do forgive me. Namas te!

                                                                          2. re: mmgpsych

                                                                            Just curious; where do you go for a hot dog?

                                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                                True. It was, as is often the case, all the hype about the dogs that had me angrily howling me at the moon over them. I suppose that if someone had described them as 'very good' rather than God's gift to a hot dog bun, on the one hand, we might not have driven the hour it took to find them, and on the other, if we did, we might not have been so disappointed. Still, lots of people swear by them, so . . .oh well . . .

                                                                                As for where I do go for a dog, I'm down at the shore in Deal a few days a week, and when no one's looking I might scoot up Ocean Ave, blast through Elberon and eventually duck into The Windmill in Long Branch for one of their dogs. I wouldn't rave about it or have it bronzed and welded to my car as a hood ornament but the Windmill does satisfy most temporary dog joneses, and their dog does leave me wiping mustard off a happy smile.

                                                                                1. re: mmgpsych


                                                                                  For the record, I enjoyed the exchange we had over Rutt's Hut.

                                                                                  1. re: mmgpsych

                                                                                    Ever try Max's right down the street? Similar dogs, but slightly more flavor. Lots of celebrity pictures on the wall; sort of like Katz's. Service leaves much to be desired and Mrs. Max can be cranky at times. I like to have fun by asking her in depth questions about the hot dogs. She usually replies "just eat the damn things."

                                                                              2. re: mmgpsych

                                                                                So far, my favorite Jersey pizza is De Lucia's also.

                                                                          3. re: tudor3522

                                                                            This sounds like the same "Jersey Shore curve" that applies to ocean temperatures. To hear the local weathermen tell it, the Atlantic never drops below 69 degrees from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

                                                                          4. Blue Bottle Cafe in Hopewell is pretty good. But I guess there's not a great incentive for above-average food in Jersey since all the best chefs get work in NYC.

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: CaviarAndCodfish

                                                                              wow! i take some offense to that remark....as i am sure some of my peers would as well.

                                                                              i for one do not want to travel to NYC on a daily basis. do you think nicholas or drake would rather be there? while i admit that there are some amazing chefs in nyc, i think you are comparing apples to oranges. cuz trust me, i have had some horrible food in the city as well.

                                                                              1. re: chefMD

                                                                                I'll disagree as well. All the best chefs don't go to New York . . . they go to Miami!

                                                                                All kidding aside, there are very talented chefs who elect to live and work in New Jersey. Similarly, other talented professionals make the same decision. To some people, the mere fact that they can make more money somewhere else is not going to drive their decision making process.

                                                                                By way of example, ChefMD recently prepared a massive, tasting menu for us. The meal embraced local products, was thoughtful, well-paced, explored a multitude of flavors, and easily as good as any meal I have ever had in New York (or Philadelphia, or San Francisco, or . . .). Moreover, I had no traffic jams, train rides, or parking problems.

                                                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                                                  MGZ, when I travel to Los Angeles or Chicago I'm told all the great chefs are there, lol!

                                                                                  Calling NJ a culinary wasteland is ridiculous. The Mid Atlantic Board illustrates quite the opposite.

                                                                            2. Mom is terminally ill, her house sold in 3 days, I can't express to you folks how much I will miss my food forays into the Garden State from Vacationland (Only open in the summer.) go to the chains board to help appreciate what you have.
                                                                              ps finally ate at the Thai place in Somerville 10 days ago.

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                Passa , So sorry to hear about your mom, But you still have to pay us a visit . Also sorry I missed your last foray into South River but when we get the Montreal Itch......... It's gas up the car and let's go. We did find a great , small , family owned latin restaurant near Princeton called Holy Cow. The flavors of DR,Cuba,Puerto Rico all wrapped up into one. Only one problem. The restaurant is up for sale. I talked to the owner and asked why? She said not enough business and high overheads. typical.

                                                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                  I'm very sorry to hear about your mom. I know how tough it is going through something like that.

                                                                                  1. re: flourgirl

                                                                                    Thanks. Hey, we had a great funeral "breakfast" at Ria Mar w/ lots of sangria! I ate soft shell crabs at least 6 times last week. We don't have them in Maine. Ate real Italian food too!

                                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                      had one too many funeral "meal" there....just had a 1yr anniversary funeral meal there yesterday :(

                                                                                      So sorry to hear about your mom Passa.