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NYC Foodies, Get Thee to New Jersey


Fat Guy
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I've come a long way

I've gone 500 miles today

I've come a long way

And never even left L.A.

-Michelle Shocked

Foodies in Los Angeles think nothing of driving all over their massive metropolitan area for a good meal. Yet foodies in New York City rarely venture to nearby restaurants in Northern New Jersey -- many of which are significantly closer to Manhattan than Totonno's or Nathan's.

Whenever I challenge New York foodies on this issue, they start making excuses: New Yorkers don't have cars, there's no good public transportation in New Jersey, and anyway there aren't any good restaurants there. Let's examine those claims, which are accurate non-straw-man restatements of what I've heard dozens of times from real people.

New Yorkers do have cars. Two million of them. There are a few different ways to crunch the numbers, but as a rough guideline about 60% of New York City residents live in a household with a car. Which means if you have no car but one friend then you probably have access to a car. That's not to mention all the undocumented cars that people register elsewhere to save on insurance (for many years after college I had a Vermont car). And the Zipcars, etc. No, it's not that New Yorkers don't have access to cars. It's that they don't use cars to seek out excellent food. In other words, they're lazy.

There is public transportation to and in New Jersey. It's possible to get to many, many food destinations in New Jersey in a single hop from either Port Authority or Penn Station. Two-hop trips are also available for a lot of the destinations that aren't right on top of a rail or express-bus hub. Others might require a taxi on the last leg. It's really no big deal. In many cases the departures are so frequent that you don't even need to worry about schedules. In some cases you do. Either way, in order to make it work out you just have to be a little bit motivated -- say, one third as motivated as you need to be to drive anywhere in LA at any time other than 3:30am.

And anybody who is not dining out in New Jersey is, plain and simple, missing out on many of the better restaurants in the New York metro area. In case you've been living under a rock -- as most lazy New York foodies have been for the past couple of decades -- New Jersey is now the place to be for many kinds of Asian food (including Indian), and that's just the beginning. There's excellent pizza, burgers, hot dogs, deli (both Jewish and Italian) -- indeed all the categories of food that New York calls its own -- plus a few worthy "fine dining" options. And then there's food shopping, at a much grander scale than what New York City can offer.

I submit that anybody who hasn't done at least a highlights tour of New Jersey Indian, Chinese and hot dogs, plus Japanese and Korean food-shopping, lacks a fundamental element of cultural literacy about food in the New York metro area.

I thought perhaps I'd call upon some of our frequent contributors from the New Jersey forum to help us out with a little project: a cultural literacy tour of Northern New Jersey food destinations tailored to the lazy New York foodie. Please don't post a long list of restaurants without comment. What we're going to need here is precise leadership: full information about the restaurant or other destination (not just its name), an impassioned explanation of why it's worth going there even if you live in New York City, instructions how to get there by public transportation from New York if that's possible, and of course a link to the relevant New Jersey forum topic if there is one. The best of the best: just the one or two places in each category that absolutely must be visited.

Let me start with the easiest recommendation: Mitsuwa Marketplace, in Edgewater, NJ. Mitsuwa is the premier Japanese food market in the New York metro area. If you've only been to the Japanese markets in Manhattan, you won't believe your eyes when you see Mitsuwa. It's huge. It has everything. The quality is excellent. You'll see some references to a dip in quality a few years ago when Hanahreum (H-Mart) started pulling away a bunch of Mitsuwa's business, but Mitsuwa today is vital and excellent. Mitsuwa also houses a food court offering some worthy, accurate Japanese cheap eats. So you can go there to shop, and you can grab a bite before heading back. If you look out over the Hudson River from anywhere on the Upper West Side, you can see Mitsuwa, or at least the pier right next to it. There is frequent shuttle bus service (22 buses a day on weekends, 11 on weekdays) from Port Authority run by Mitsuwa -- here's the information -- and it costs $2. New Jersey forum topic on Mitsuwa.

Mitsuwa Marketplace

595 River Road

Edgewater, NJ 07020

201.941.9113

Open 365 days a year, from 9:30am to 8pm (9pm on Saturdays). The food court and specialty plaza have slightly shorter hours. It's all online at:

http://www.mitsuwanj.com/en/

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm going to partially agree and partially disagree:

A. It's ludicrous to say that most Manhattanites have access to a car. yeah, people in Forest Hills all have cars. that's useless to me. I know exactly one Manhattan resident with a car...and he's not interested in driving to Jersey for food (or really anywhere). (in other words, NYC statistics are not germane. it's like when you read people in other parts of the country writing things like "NYC isn't that expensive. the average two bedroom apartment is only $1,300"!!!!!)

B. yes, people who grew up here with family in the city often have occasional access to a car. but that's a minority of NY'ers. it's a documented statistical fact that the majority of NYC residents (not just Manhattan) were not even born in NY state. most NY'ers are transplants. we don't have the large web of family and schoolfriends here that a minority of NY'ers do. people who grew up here are actually atypical NY'ers.

C. yes, I would like to see a list of Jersey restaurants accessible by mass transit that are significantly better than any NY equivalent. (I have no interest in traveling for hot dogs but for great Vietnamese food I certainly would, etc.) agreed that those should certainly be toured by any foodie.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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New Yorkers do have cars. Two million of them. There are a few different ways to crunch the numbers, but as a rough guideline about 60% of New York City residents live in a household with a car. Which means if you have no car but one friend then you probably have access to a car.

seriously, what does this have to do with Manhattan?

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Car ownership/leasing in Manhattan itself is about 25% of households (I've seen estimates ranging from 20-30%). So yes, Manhattanites specifically need three friends in order to help their odds of having access to a car, or one friend who lives in any of the other boroughs.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Car ownership/leasing in Manhattan itself is about 25% of households (I've seen estimates ranging from 20-30%).

I'd really love to see some support for this. And even if it were somehow true...it definitely doesn't apply to downtown.

I know hundreds of people (even a few Brooklyn or Astoria residents)...and to the best of my knowledge...only one has a car. (granted that I only know a couple people over 36, but they don't seem to have cars either.)

and I'm pretty sure that my social circle is relatively representative of downtown...at least for this subject.

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What about Zipcar? The amount you'd save in time is pretty close to NJ Transit fares to most points. Either or, though, I'll stay out of the car ownership debate.

We can't talk about essential mass-transit-compatible Jersey without starting off right: the Ironbound district. It's literally right behind Penn Station, maybe a 10-minute walk to most places. You take whatever train takes you to Penn, then go behind the station to Ferry Street. Just keep walking up Ferry, you really can't go wrong. Plus, Ironbound is probably the safest, least intimidating part of Newark, and that's saying a lot.

However, two standouts for me are Brazilia Grill, which is on Monroe Street just steps off of Ferry, and Sol-Mar, which is WAY down Ferry street and might necessitate a quick cab or bus ride. Eat in the bar area, skip the restaurant part. The menus are more Portuguese and the smoking ban makes the area awesome.

I can't speak with much authority on getting around Hoboken for foodstuffs, but I know that there's gotta be good things there.

If you can take the bus across to Fort Lee, you can get around there for terrific Korean food. Plus, buses run up and down Broad Ave. in Ridgefield Park, home of Han Ah Reum/H-Mart, THE best place for Korean ingredients, conventional groceries, and a really awesome selection of fish and seafood. Their food court is cheap and delicious, with some seriously tasty and unique Chinese and Korean food.

I haven't really considered much of Jersey from the Manhattanite's perspective, it's more like the reverse for me: what's accessible in the city by mass transit? :-P

I will keep thinking and posting, though. I must, must, MUST second Fat Guy's recommendation of Mitsuwa. It's like Sunrise Mart only bigger and with tons more food. Plus the food court is not to be missed; everyone I've known who ate at ramen places in the city compares them to Mitsuwa. I haven't, so I can't sound off with authority, but I will say that the salt ramen there is what I think of when I think of Japanese food other than sushi. Plus, the Tuna Cut is this weekend! Go and see a whole bluefin get taken apart and reduced to sushi, which you can then buy, and I'm talking chu-toro and o-toro sushi. The GOOD STUFF.

"Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside" -Mark Twain

"Video games are bad for you? That's what they said about rock 'n roll." -Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of The Legend of Zelda, circa 1990

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well, zipcar removes any relative price arguments but that's irrelevant for quality. (it actually doesn't work for me anyway since my driver's license has expired but I'm atypical in that respect)

certainly places off the PATH or Mitsuwa are accessible easily enough.

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Motor vehicle registrations in Manhattan (from DMV): 246,956

Total number of hourseholds in Manhattan (from US Census): 785,127

I hope at this point nobody thinks the "we have no cars!" excuse is a straw man! New Yorkers are so wedded to the idea that they don't have cars, they somehow manage to overlook that when you walk down any street in Manhattan you walk past car after car after car, garage after garage after garage -- in residential neighborhoods. Those cars are owned by people. Not that you need a car to get to New Jersey.

The problem is lack of motivation and knowledge, not lack of cars. That's what we're going to fix here. It ends today!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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whatever. first, the def. of "household" is irrelevant to the way most Manhattanites live (yes, the traditional family households in Harlem and parts of the UWS and UES often have cars):

second, my circle of acquaintances numbers a couple hundred. I can think of exactly two (I just remembered the other) with cars: both work in pharmaceutical sales and do a reverse commute. neither is going to lend me their car.

third, yeah, there are a lot of cars on the street...most of them don't belong to residents. that's a fact. that's the point behind the congestion pricing proposal.

fourth, we obviously know very different people.

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I have plenty of foodie friends who live in and around Los Angeles. Ones that live on the west side dread going over to the east side. Ones that live on the east side don't want to go over the west side. Traffic is horrendous. One who lives on the east side rarely leaves unless he has to because there are so many great Chinese restaurants in his neighborhoods.

What's wrong with being lazy? Sure, you can get to NJ food via Penn Station or Port Authority, but I don't want to go to Port Authority/Penn Station when it takes me 2 trains to get there. Then I have to buy an NJ Transit ticket, get on the train, wait for the train to leave, arrive at my destination, and then get to the restaurant. I've visited family in Edison and eaten out at fine Asian restaurants there, but it was a hassle to get out there.

It's much easier psychologically to use my (already paid for) Metrocard to go somewhere nearby, or, hell, walk down the street and be at my destination in 10 minutes vs. a multi-step process. I live in the East Village of Manhattan and there's so much to try in my neighborhood that I have trouble keeping up with my own neighborhood restaurants.

I have a Zipcar membership, too, and it's a pain to take a last minute trip because the cars get reserved so quickly.

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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Folks, I promise I did not rehearse this with Nathan and Kathryn. They spontaneously and independently chose to prove my thesis better than I ever could have.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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huh? you're completely all wet when it comes to car ownership. the idea that most downtown Manhattanites have access to cars (except for those wealthy enough to have drivers...) is simply absurd.

it's not a straw man, it's true. NY'ers don't have cars.

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Whatever, FG!

I only have one friend who has a car, and it's a really crappy car that he uses to drive home to Maine to visit family. The windows don't work right. He's not a foodie who likes to dine out and spend money dining out.

There are good restaurants in New Jersey, fine, but I'm not going to traipse over there because of my time/cost versus benefit ratio. Traffic, tolls, time spent waiting...

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 75% of Manhattan households do not own a car.

Edited by kathryn (log)
"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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I think part of the problem here is that there are two Manhattans (well, there's more than that but for our purposes):

uptown families...who often have cars or consort with other families with cars. and then the way most live...singles either with roommates or in studios and one-bedrooms. yes, four roommates living together in a large SoHo loft count as a household for census purposes...but in reality they're not. they're really four households.

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I think more appropriate questions would be

1) What percentage of Manhattan foodies have cars or easy access to one?

2) If one has to use Zipcar or something of the sort then how much time is involved in getting and returning the car?

3) Most of the North NJ locations mentioned are no more than 4 to 10 miles from an point in Manhattan by car - bit if there's a fair amount of traffic coming going in the tunnels or on the GWB.... how much extra time gets chewed up in your precious evening hours by going to NJ to eat?

I don't live in Manhattan but have many friends who do and I did live in North Jersey for a few years so I have some perspective on the issue. Can't speak for others but I work about 50 to 55 hours in the average week. Chewing up an additional hour or two on any given evening in order to explore alternate dining options isn't an option for me except on the occasional weekend.

I live a one hour drive from Ithaca NY where there are some excellent dining options different from what I find here in Syracuse. But I rarely (i.e. no more than a few times each year) take advantage of that fact. I can easily drive to any restaurant in the Syracuse area in 10 to 15 minutes. I'm looking at a time savings of 90 minutes or more if I dine in this area rather than schlepping down to Ithaca.

Even taking a train to the outer boroughs is far more time consuming than staying in Manhattan to eat.

[rhetorical_question]

But there is another question that hasn't been asked.... is there a sort of reverse parochialism at play among some Manhattan foodies? Could there be a group of people so insulated from local (i.e. metro NYC) experiences that they assume nothing else (apart from a few other key major cities and foreign countries) could approach the depth and breadth of the dining experience they get in Manhattan?

[/rhetorical_question]

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As a New Yorker (born and raised), who lives downtown in a one bedroom apartment and owns a car, and whose family consists of my wife, our cat and me (how badly am I screwing the demographic?) - I see no reason to travel to northern NJ for food. It's a pain in the ass...takes me at least an hour to an hour and a half each way, and imo, just isn't worth it.

Now, I'll travel to Boston, DC, Philadelphia, Albany, etc. to see a show. I'll go deep into Brooklyn, far into Queens and high into the Bronx for food...just last Saturday, we hit up a couple of carts in Astoria and smoked a hookah full of tobacco on Steinway St. (I needed a nap after that, boy). I'll drive to the Rockaways to look at the ocean, Coney Island for Nathan's and Totonno's, and Newburgh for BBQ.

I live 5 minutes from Chinatown, 30 minutes from Union Square, 10 minutes from JAS and the new Whole Foods on Houston - all by foot. I can buy anything I can get at Matsuwa by shopping at these places. I can get pizza at Arturo's, Patsy's, Di Fara's, Una Pizza Nap., etc. I can get hot dogs at Katz's or Crif Dogs (and have a damn good cocktail at the same time). I can get some pretty high-end dim sum at Chinatown Brasserie and Dim Sum Go-Go. I can walk to Momo. I can't get great Vietnamese, though Bun may be a start. Fuck New Jersey. (Well, not the people necessarily, but the driving to, in and from is a real pain in the ass).

Edited to lighten up the sentiment about NJ.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Oh, fine, it's 77.5% of Manhattan households who have access to 0 cars according to this:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/census/socionyc.pdf

If I'm reading it right, they surveyed 739,167 households. 432,947 of those were non-family households, to phaelon56's points. I looked for a breakdown of non-family households broken down by number of rooms but couldn't find it.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/census/199..._cd_profile.pdf

This has a breakdown of access to vehicles in Manhattan versus community district. Access to 0 cars is higher than 80% in some districts of Manhattan below 42nd street.

If that's where the "foodies" live...and we take into account multiple non-family members living as a "household" then that's probably a large factor in the perception that "Manhattanites don't have access to cars."

Edited by kathryn (log)
"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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Mitch, let me give you an example of something you simply can't get in New York City: a top-notch South Indian dining experience. You'll find a handful of good Indian restaurants in the city, but no excellent ones specializing in the cuisines of South India. I'm not talking about diner-level dosa joints. I mean full-on South Indian dining. For that, you have to make a field trip to Edison, New Jersey. Oak Tree Road in Edison is a sight to behold. It's one Indian store and restaurant after another. It makes Jackson Heights look white.

Moksha, owned by the Mehtani Restaurant Group, which I've been following for the past couple of years as part of the research for my book and for a feature in Food Arts (they've hosted me multiple times at all of their restaurants in Edison and Morristown), is simply awesome. It's a whole world of Indian flavors that just don't get picked up in the standard Moghul-influenced North Indian places that dominate the Indian food scene outside of India. South Indian cuisine is more tropical, and you can see a lot of the flavor parallels to Southeast Asian food. People who hail from, for example, Bangalore, come from a lot farther away than Manhattan to eat at Moksha. They come from all over the Northeast or Middle Atlantic. I think you would really enjoy the lunch buffet. It's relatively inexpensive -- and I don't mean to imply that the restaurant is anything but elegant and serious; it just so happens the buffet is a deal. You can do it on the weekend when the traffic is gentle (it's also walkable -- though kind of a hike -- from the NJ Transit train station), and you get to try a ton of different, interesting main dishes, soups, breads, condiments (definitely pay attention to the condiments), etc.

Right downstairs in the same shopping center is the best Indian dessert shop I've ever been to, owned by the same company. It's called Mithaas. "Starbucks meets Bollywood" is the theme, and the level of pastry accomplishment is a cut above anything I've seen in New York.

Moksha

1655-200 Oak Tree Road

Edison, NJ

732.947.3010

http://www.moksharestaurants.com/

Mithaas

1655 - 170 Oak Tree Road

Edison, NJ

732.947.3014

http://www.mithaas.net/

All the information about all the Mehtani Restaurant Group places:

http://mehtanirestaurantgroup.com/

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Oh, fine, it's 77.5% households have access to 0 cars according to this:

Which means about 25% do. And that's just in Manhattan. For the other boroughs it's a majority of households that do have cars.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I dunno. If someone really wants to do something, but doesn't do it because (fill in the blank): I'm too tired, it's too far away, it's too difficult to get to, I don't have a car, etc., etc. -- I'd say they're lazy. But I don't see anybody talking about how much they'd really love to go to NJ to try this or that restaurant, but they don't go because ... fill in the blank.

So the issue isn't laziness (car or no car.) Seems to me you're approaching this from the wrong angle altogether. I have good friends in NJ, I'm a New Yorker and I don't own a car (I don't even have a license, I don't even know how to start a friggin' car), but I go to NJ pretty often to visit them. Because I want to. If I really wanted to go to a particular restaurant there, I would. I think others would as well. The issue is not laziness.

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foodies in LA travel all over for a meal because people in LA travel by car everywhere. it's part of their culture, whereas it's not in NYC. i don't see how there's a valid comparison there, but i'm sure there's an answer somewhere.

getting in and out of the city is a bit of a hassle. when i'm in the city i go out in the city. if i'm in NJ, where i live, i'm hard pressed to go to the city for a meal. i can't imagine if i lived in the city that i'd go to jersey. between losing a parking spot, and the traffic, or the trains, yuck.

that said the ironbound is probably the one place i'd consider. i don't know of many places outside of newark around NYC that are quite like it. not that the restaurants there are world-class by any stretch.

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foodies in LA travel all over for a meal because people in LA travel by car everywhere.  it's part of their culture, whereas it's not in NYC.  i don't see how there's a valid comparison there, but i'm sure there's an answer somewhere.

That is the comparison, exactly.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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