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So Plainfield, Dunellen, Plainfield: Eatery & Farmers' Market Suggestions?

Hi again, thanks for all the help and suggestions on my brewpub post here a few months back. Native New Jerseyan living in Portland, Oregon and my plans are now set to come back for a couple of weeks in mid-October to visit family & friends. We're originally from around Newark, but my sister and b.i.l. just bought a house down in South Plainfield and that's where I'll be "based out of" while I'm back.

I know almost nothing about the area, and unfortunately my sister is one of the last people in the world I'd trust on food issues (sorry!). I'll be near the Route 28 side of town close to Dunellen and Plainfield, and I seem to remember Dunellen had a pretty cool-looking downtown (do looks deceive there?) area, and I'm kinda sorta familiar with Plainfield (had a couple friends who lived there when I was in high school in the mid-90's), but not their food scene.

I'd like to avoid renting a car if at all possible, and I know I'm gonna have at least two or three weekday mornings and afternoons alone to explore the area. On foot or bus (are there any there?). So the way I figure it, I'll need to find probably 3 or 4 (or more?) decent places to try for breakfast and lunch around there.

I'm looking for things like the best local pizza (just a great plain ole' Jersey thin-crust slice, nothing fancy, I'm nostalgic these days), bagels, deli, maybe a diner for breakfast, Indian, and perhaps even a cool bar (carrying local microbrews preferably, anything from Brooklyn Brewery to Dogfish Head to River Horse to Cricket Hill) to hang out at a couple nights? And are there any farm-to-table restaurants in the area for a good dinner?

Also, I'd like to take my nieces to a nearby farmers' market while I'm there. Are any around there open that late in the season? I remember the Summit Farmers' Market was still going in mid-October last time I was out in Jersey, but that'd be quite a ways from South Plainfield!

So many questions, thanks for any and all suggestions! And if any of youze ever need any Portland advice, ask away, I'd be glad to help. Thanks...

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  1. Oh, and how did I forget! Where's the best burger and the best hot dog in the area, too?

    Thanks!

    1. I would hate to weigh in if anyone knows more than I do, and I live close but know little about the specific walking area. But, since no one else is jumping in, I will offer some opinions.

      Unfortunately, I don't think you're staying in a foodie or beer-loving neighbourhood. I've come to appreciate central new jersey, but it has some weaknesses. Food, increasingly, *isn't* one, but beer remains a problem in many areas.

      I hate to be repetitive, as I recently just posted some similar suggestions in a Piscataway bound thread (on the south border of where you are staying), but it *is* close to where you will be located. Spain Inn on west 7th, technically piscataway, but on the rt 28 side, and Northish, so closer to South Plainfield, has decent paella. Not world class, mind you, but good. And they have good bread, and I'm really judgemental about bread. (They also have a bar, but it seems to be a local 'drinkers' bar -- no judgements -- but not my scene.)

      If you can easily get over to centenial ave in Piscataway, Chand Palace has good Indian vegetarian food. It is very popular, and you might be one of the few non-Indians there, but I always take that as a good sign.

      For beer and bars, you might want to save up for a cab ride to and from New Brunswick. Harvest Moon is a true Brewpub -- they are forced to offer some tame stuff for New Jersey drinkers, but I consider their IPA to be a truly decent example (and I'm from Seattle). They have some other more adventurous styles, occasionally, (Belgian styles, Imperial Stouts, etc.).

      For other beers on tap you might want to try Old Bay in New Brunswick, but in October they go Lager Heavy. Still, best variety around I can think of in the local area, and they almost always have something out of the ordinary. The bartenders there are great, and really know beer, as well.

      Failing that, Steakhouse 85 usually has one to three interesting things on tap, and they are a hundred feet up from the old bay (on church street in new brunswick). (Happy hour has 5 oysters for $5, and a crabcake sandwich for $4.5)

      I hope you get more encouraging advice!

      --T

      -----
      Chand Palace
      1296 Centennial Ave, Piscataway, NJ 08854

      Spain Inn
      1707 W 7th St, Piscataway, NJ 08854

      10 Replies
      1. re: Tiamat

        Thanks!

        Yeah, my hopes really aren't too high for the area to be honest, but I'm hoping there's at least one gem or two to discover. At least a good slice of pizza! Thanks for the Piscataway suggestions.

        I've been to Harvest Moon before and enjoyed it, I'll probably stop in again while I'm back. I haven't checked their schedule yet, but maybe it can even be during (or after, if I can get tickets!) a Rutgers football game. I'm not much for 'loud and rowdy' these days myself, but I'll make the exception if it's for Rutgers... :)

        One place I'd really like to (finally) hit in New Brunswick is The Frog and the Peach.

        1. re: JayinPortland

          Jay:

          There are plenty of great and interesting places to eat in the Plainfields, just not really pizza or farmer's market. (Although you're correct; the farmer's market in Summit is excellent.) Instead, try any of the South American places that line Plainfield's main streets, the burgers and dogs at vintage stands, and visit the beer store at the corner of Park Avenue and Oak Tree Avenue (really 902 Oak Tree Avenue), experts often rate it as one of the best in the country.

          You're coming to an area with a very distinct food personality, don't miss the trees while you search for the forest!

          1. re: BrianYarvin

            Brian,

            It's always great to see you posting! I love your book, "Farms and Foods of the Garden State: A New Jersey Cookbook." I had taken it out of my local library (it was prominently on display), and before I could buy a copy, a friend gave it to me as a gift.

            1. re: RGR

              .Hi:

              I try to read Chowhound when I can, but the frequent references to chains makes it a tough place for me to contribute too. I always prefer the local artisan to Costco and don't want to fight about it. I wish that somebody actually wanted to find out what food we produce/eat/have to offer and ask us about it. It never happens though. Instead, they want some other food, here. Jay wants to replicate Oregon, other people want other places; New York, New Mexico, Los Angeles... Nobody wants New Jersey.

              1. re: BrianYarvin

                I'm sorry, but...

                What does this mean -

                "Jay wants to replicate Oregon"

                Asking about local farmers' markets is "replicating Oregon"? First, I was born and raised in New Jersey, I'm no stranger to the state and its foodways, past and present.

                And second, it's a little ironic that someone who apparently wrote a book entitled "Farms and Foods of the Garden State: A New Jersey Cookbook", apparently sees somebody asking about NJ farmers' markets as trying to "replicate Oregon"?

                1. re: JayinPortland

                  Jay:

                  I just wish for a moment that somebody would ask what we have!

                  1. re: BrianYarvin

                    I thought that's what I'm doing!

                    ;)

                    Thanks for the suggestions above, btw. I hope I didn't come across as dismissive of NJ somehow, I don't know where I did but if so, it surely wasn't my intent.

                    I spent the first 27 years of my life in New Jersey, and if anything I'd actually like to bring a little New Jersey to Portland! Pastrami, bagels and great thin-crust pizza are missing here. And I've been spreading the gospel of the Town Hall Deli Sloppy Joe everywhere I've lived since leaving NJ, that's just an awesome sandwich that doesn't really exist anywhere else outside of North Jersey. And occasionally, in my tiny Portland apartment!

                    My mention of pizza, bagels and a diner above is just to narrow down what I'd be looking for while I'm back visiting in the area, mainly because I know NJ does those things better than what we have where I now live. But if there's anything else specific to that particular area that's transcendent, well then I'm all ears. You mentioned South American in Plainfield, that sounds great. Thanks!

            2. re: BrianYarvin

              Brian, I understand on an emotional level what your are addressing -- NJ is under-appreciated for what it is. I defend it vehemently when I'm out of state. People don't understand our diversity or local cultures. And when I say 'our,' I say it as someone who moved here from out of state 15 years ago, and has come to understand parts of the state, and feel somewhat at home here. (I'm still a half-stranger, neither here nor there.)

              However(!), if NJ wants to cling to the distinct food personality of Burgers and Dogs and whole in the wall places with folding tables that are hard to evaluate for those who aren't in the know, we are in real trouble. (Or even the bagels, pizza thing.) There is nothing wrong with becoming more cosmopolitan. And I'm not knocking the South American places, I am thinking of Mexican on 27 in New Brunswick which people somehow assume is authentic, but I had a co-worker find processed cheese on some thing or other. It wasn't inauthentic b/c of an absence of clients who should know better, and it certainly wasn't for the non-existent white clients(!), it was just economics and adaptation to new supply chains, economies, whatever. BTW - I'm also not knocking folding table working class joints -- we have great inexpensive indian places all up and down rt 27 in north brunswick with no personality or decor but great food, so I get it.

              And I shop at least once a month at that beer/wine store, b/c my wife loves the Unique thrift a block over, and I'm here to say it's not bad, but it sure isn't best in the country territory(??). They have a decent selection of bottled individual beers, but the refrigerated stuff is tame except for maybe Stone Ruination (overpriced), or whatever, and I heard a worker just 3 weeks ago completely blunder the difference between a lager and an ale (I don't think he knows what yeast is or what it does during fermentation)-- forgiveable, I guess, but he spoke so authoritatively I almost interrupted him so the customer could understand the error.

              I know what you mean about the chain thing here. It's a 'democratic' problem. People go on and on about good Thai or Mexcian food in NJ, and most of the people writing have never had either. (BTW - I make the same point to many people in the northwest about Italian food!!!) I've had Thai food cooked by old Thai immigrant women for other Thai diners. If I hear one more person talk about how great Pad Thai in Highland Park is I will pull my hair out. (Just as, no, Johnny Carinos or whatever is not the best Italian in the U.S..) I've also seen Marita's in NB recommended as great real mexian food. Thankfully, you can find decent dim sum in central nj. ;)

              If I have an emotional response it is b/c the original poster (as he points out) wasn't an outsider judging 'US', he was trying to find decent stuff in walking distance of a relative's house. And he was unfairly singled out.

              And if it sounds like I bagged on NJ for *our* beer ignorance, well, I *am*. Instead of saying forget the beer problem, let's go to Texas Weiner II, I say, let's keep fixing the dang beer problem.

              I look forward to checking out your book when it's returned to my library. I assume you support stuff like the irritatingly portland style farmers' market in the rutgers gardens, etc., :P

              And for the record, if anyone assumes I'm an arrogant pr*k for judging the things in NJ that need improvement, I have learned a lot about how little I knew about Italian, Ethopian, Indian, Jewish, foods here. I'm the student and if I ever had a Pacific Northwestern friend go off on how great their local Spaghetti alla puttanesca was at their Appleby's I'd go off on that too.

              Sorry for the rant.

              1. re: Tiamat

                I go off on everything about New Jersey food culture at least sometimes.

                My "Farms and Foods" book was written in 2004, long before the farmer's market you talk about started.

                As for the beer, I'd be delighted to learn about a better place anywhere. Here are some comments from Beer Advocate:

                http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/...

                I hope that Jay goes to all these places and more. And I hope that someday, we get some real farm to table restaurants too.

                1. re: BrianYarvin

                  I apologize.

                  I came home in a bad mood and decided to sit down with laptop before calming down, so you have an exaggerated and misdirected reaction there. The tone came off as Tony Bourdain, and while I find him funny, I don't, personally, want to be an ass.

                  About the beer profile, in my experience it's one of the better places for bottles in NJ, and if it weren't I wouldn't bother. I will gladly take it over every PBR/heineken/sam adams pusher around here. And the state makes it no easier with its restrictive alcohol licensing.

                  I hope we agree on 'notable within the state as among the very best'? :)

                  I still hold the line at short of one of best in country.

                  -T

                  PS as for farm to table it might be another chance to mourn the Ryland Inn at its best, which served up *day* *fresh* produce from their own vast garden for their seasonal tasting menus. I remember going during tomato season, and it was one of the best dining experiences of my life. My wife had the vegetarian, and when I asked about swapping dish or two to have the traditional tasting without beef or pork, Craig Shelton counter-offered a Fish-and-veggie specific tasting menu, which was one of the more memorable dining experiences of my life. Good times.

        2. Jay, one place in Dunellen that I can recommend is Planet Chicken, a Peruvian place that serves great grilled chicken. Here's their menu:

          http://allmenus.com/nj/middlesex-coun...

          If you can find some way to get down Route 28 to Bound Brook (bus?) you might like 25 Burgers. I haven't been for some time but I've never been disappointed there. Watch out for the fries, which are heavily seasoned.

          http://www.25gourmetburgers.com

          All these places have been discussed on the board so do a search on them.

          Also on Route 28, but a little farther north in Middlesex, is Mi Sueno, a good neighboorhood restaurant for dinner.

          http://www.misueno.org

          -----
          Planet Chicken
          107 N Washington Ave, Dunellen, NJ 08812

          Mi Sueno
          619 Bound Brook Rd, Middlesex, NJ 08846

          1. Jay,

            Not many non-chain choices in So Plainfield, but you are fortunate to be in the neighborhood of Bruno's Pizza Factory, which is one of the best anyplace. It is on Park Avenue in So Plainfield, near the Plainfield border.

            Also highly recommended is Haiche's Bakery on Sampton Avenue. Very high quality pastry and cake.

            Finally, though not on your list, is a great hole-in-the-wall Thai place, the Four Seasons, on Stelton Road in Piscataway. They know us so well there, we just ask for "the usual". I recommend the black pepper pork, and the pad thai. The spice level is quite high--their medium is most other places' incendiary.

            Hope this helps, and enjoy your visit.

            -----
            Bruno's Pizza Factory
            1713 Park Ave, South Plainfield, NJ 07080

            2 Replies
            1. re: albinoni

              Albinoni, the black pepper pork is my favorite dish there as well (and I've learned to make a pretty good 'knock off' of that dish at the house). Jay, you could do far worse with your time in and around SP than dining at this beauty. Highly recommended and the best of any choices you have in South Plainfield. But your posts comments on trying to avoid having to rent a car and that's a HUGE hurdle in Central NJ. I'm not telling you anything new when I state that most downtowns don't exist per se in CNJ (i.e. pedestrian friendly, with restaurants and shops abounding) for a relaxing day. Dunellen is probably the closest that has such, but it's more illusory than anything else.

              Addressing your Portland mentality/framework, here's a few thoughts:

              Closest thin crust pizza: go to South Amboy to Scorintino's (sauce on the sweet side) or you can get on #18 to East Brunswick to Michaelangelo's (hidden spot on the road (in a strip mall) leading to the Landfill). Neither place has an old style feel Jersey pizzaria, though Scorintino's has a decent bar.

              Most Farmer's Markets are shutting down by mid October with the one in Highland Park being a good one. Speaking of which, Highland Park, a small town has a decent downtown area with good restaurants (good Greek in Pithari). New Brunswick is going to be your 'go to' place, be it for Southern (Delta's), Etheopean (Makeeda), Middle Eastern (Sahara) or any of the number of quirky places a college town will have.

              For good Mexican, I recommend Sally's Taquiero in Bound Brook, just a couple of miles outside of New Brunswick.

              As for farm to table, I'm unsure of who in NB who has bought onto this concept. Perhaps Darryl's Wine Bar (have never been there), though there may be a spot or two, a half hour up #287 in the Bernardsville area.

              In closing, I can't stress enough that you are going to need a car. There is nothing in South Plainfield, and you risk 'life' walking anywhere as the traffic is continuous, and the strip mall after strip mall, is indigenous in most of NJ and will not avail you any sort of experience that will prove memorable. Now, North Jersey's much different, but your family is in SP, and that makes your request that much more difficult.

              In closing, I'd find myself a set of wheels and set my sights on the following towns (other than nearby New Brunswick) all pretty much 30-40 minutes away: Sommerville (10 minutes) Lambertville/New Hope, Red Bank, Atlantic Highlands or Asbury Park at the shore. Down Neck in Newark. Montclair (Bloomfield Ave).

              Good luck as the weather in October is terrific and in many respects is very close to what you have in Portland. Sorry, I won't be here to greet you. We'll be in Seattle the first week in Oct. and then a leisurely drive down the coast to a Vegas Wedding.

              -----
              Pithari Taverna
              28 Woodbridge Ave, Highland Park, NJ 08904

              1. re: JustJake

                Thanks for the tips!

                I'll definitely be spending a day in Newark and one in Montclair, quite familiar with those places on my own already, though. Doing the reminiscing thing there, and all that.

                I will have a car one day, mainly to get down to Frenchtown and Lambertville and the area in between - on a dry and cool October day, I can't think of another place in Jersey I'd rather be.

                Thanks for the Highland Park farmers' market tip, I'm familiar with the town but I've never been to that market. I could probably get a ride there, since walking down 28 to Middlesex and taking River Road from there down to Highland Park via Piscataway probably isn't a good idea, eh? ;) I used to work at a few jobsites off River Road (Factory Lane) in Middlesex. I still remember the massive floods under that rail bridge every time it rained back there...

            2. Perhaps you may consider using the train? There's a station in Dunellen that opens up your options considerably. Dunellen is served by the Raritan Valley line. Westfield is only a 16 minute trip (for $2.75 one way) and has a pretty good setup for walking around as does Cranford which is the next stop down the line . In the other direction is Somerville and Raritan.

              On Saturdays both Westfield (8:30am-2pm) and Scotch Plains(8am-1pm) have Farmer's markets through the end of October. They're both held at right at the train stations as well.

              Train info
              http://www.njtransit.com/rg/rg_servle...

              Farmers Markets info
              http://www.state.nj.us/cgi-bin/agricu...