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Fat Guy

NYC Foodies, Get Thee to New Jersey

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I can't imagine why anyone in Manhattan would travel to NJ for food! About the only advantage would be the large supermarkets with wide aisles. But NYC has us beaten in just about every food category and choice. Manhattan has it all! It's the NJ-ites going to NY for food, not vice-versa.

(There are a couple of smoked fish outlets in Westchester, but because of the configuration of the Eg board, Westchester does not exist on Egullet).

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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.

yes, they have cars in L.A.

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Let's set forth a few categories of food experiences here to help with the analysis:

1. Restaurants in Northern New Jersey that are better than any comparable restaurant in New York City. The example I gave of Moksha, above, fits I think into this category. Assuming I'm right about Moksha (others may disagree, but let's assume I'm either right or that there are a few other restaurants in other categories that meet the criteria), that means you can't get an analogous experience in New York City. To me, if you're an eG-level extreme gourmet, you might see that as a hole in your experience that needs plugging. And it's not a hole like "I haven't been to Cambodia." It's a hole like "I haven't spent a Saturday checking out Edison."

2. Restaurants in Northern New Jersey that are comparable quality-wise to New York City restaurants but offer a variant that is not available in New York City or that is superior to the New York city equivalent. A good example here would be White Manna in Hackensack. There are a lot of good burgers in New York City, and a few good ones in the "sliders" category. But there's no restaurant in New York City quite like White Manna. Wonderful little sliders made from hand-formed patties served on miniature Martin's potato rolls, in the coolest old mini-diner building you ever did see. Here's the whole eG Forums topic on White Manna. Another good example here is the myriad of hot-dog places in Northern New Jersey -- I hope John will come along to comment on that. For people who are passionate about a given type of restaurant, I think places in this category should be classified as must-visits.

3. Places in Northern New Jersey that are as good as places in New York City, and do not necessarily offer unique experiences, but are among the small handful of best places in their categories. There are a bunch of Chinese, Korean, etc., places that fit this description. These are for the collectors: the people who really want to have a handle on the Korean food scene in our area, or the Chinese food scene. Because one's knowledge of those food scenes is incomplete without at least some exposure to the Northern New Jersey highlights. Needless to say, knowledge is always incomplete -- nobody has been to every restaurant -- but Northern New Jersey has very significant Asian communities.

4. Neighborhood-based Northern New Jersey experiences that can't be matched in New York City. Newark's Ironbound neighborhood is one, Edison is another. Again, for those who are interested in culinary-cultural neighborhood exploration, places like the Ironbound and Edison are as essential as Astoria and Flushing.

5. BYO. One of the great pleasures of dining in Northern New Jersey is that so many restaurants are BYO. So many of my meals in New Jersey have been enhanced by being able to bring a variety of interesting beers, wines and spirits to have with dinner. Of course you need a designated driver.

6. Shopping. New Jersey ethnic food shopping is great. Once you get out there, the Super H-Mart, the Mitsuwa Marketplace, the Foodmart International and a few other places are great fun to visit. You can probably go around New York City and cobble together most of the same stuff, but the experience is inimitable. Many times, I've made a day of combining shopping (both food and non-food) with eating in New Jersey. If you hit multiple spots then the drive there and back isn't a big deal.


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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Let's set forth a few categories of food experiences here to help with the analysis:

2. Restaurants in Northern New Jersey that are comparable quality-wise to New York City restaurants but offer a variant that is not available in New York City or that is superior to the New York city equivalent. A good example here would be White Manna in Hackensack. There are a lot of good burgers in New York City, and a few good ones in the "sliders" category. But there's no restaurant in New York City quite like White Manna. Wonderful little sliders made from hand-formed patties served on miniature Martin's potato rolls, in the coolest old mini-diner building you ever did see.

I am a resident of Northern NJ for 27+ years.

I consider myself a "foodie". I would travel out of my way to try something special. I make many trips per month just to go into Manhattan for lunch or dinner.

I am not employed in the food industry.

That being said....NYers please don't make a special trip to go to White Manna. It is just not worth it. Sure....cute cool looking diner. Place is dirty. Burgers are small and served on potato rolls. Not rocket science! Just make them at your home. Look at the pics of the building over the internet.

Sure, come visit the Ironbound Section someday or Edison, NJ. I really couldn't even encourage you to go too far out of your way for those places.

The food and restaurant scene is far superior in Manhattan. We have some great places to eat but I would most likely choose a place in Manhattan over any of them any day of the week.

Nuff said.

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There's one thing missing from FG's hypothesis: a compelling list of restaurants. I'm not yet saying they don't exist, but so far there is an absence of data to support his premise.

The first example he gave, Mitsuwa Marketplace, is mainly a market, not a restaurant. I'm not suggesting that Markets are irrelevant, but my main food interest is as a diner. I'm not missing out on Mitsuwa because I'm lazy, but because I don't want what they're selling.

Among restaurants cited, most are of the "cheap eats" variety. Let's assume I can get there, eat, and get back in 4 hours. A 4-hour Zipcar rental is around $45 plus tolls. Are any of these places so good that they justify an approximately $50 premium (not counting the value of travel time) to go eat there? Another way of asking is: if these places were in Manhattan, but the cost of dinner for two was $25pp higher than they are now, would these places be popular? I suspect not.

Even among foodies, there are degrees of insanity. At one extreme are nutcases like Jim Leff, who will miss his plane to try out an airport taco stand. Jim Leff would absolutely spend the fifty bucks so that he could have the sliders at White Manna in Hackensack. I'm not lazy, but I need a bit more to entice me than that.

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right. Category 1 is the only one that interests me. that category I'd love to hear suggestions for (and they must be accessible via mass transit).

otherwise we just run into a more extreme version of the "Brooklyn Fallacy" *-- good restaurants in Brooklyn just turn out to be slightly cheaper simulacra of good Manhattan restaurants...and that price advantage immediately disappears once time is factored in. Queens on the other hand has many restaurants without a viable Manhattan equivalent. what I want to hear about are the Queens restaurants in NNJ, not the Brooklyn ones.

*this is why Moim is interesting...there doesn't appear to currently be a Manhattan equivalent


Edited by Nathan (log)

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"I haven't spent a Saturday checking out Edison."-Fat Guy

I've been to Edison and I don't need to go back , especially on a Saturday...

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Here is an example of just how NOT difficult it is to get to Jersey: I commute to and from Upper Montclair/Clifton NJ every single day of my life in under an hour each way. By bus from Port Authority at that! And I have lived to speak of my travels! :shock: Ok that part about under an hour each way is longer when the dreaded Lincoln Tunnel gets backed up but it's on average under an hour.

I'd venture to say that many of the great restaurants in north Jersey are within 10 to 15 miles from NYC and a lot of them are in Bergen county where there is pretty good NJ Transit bus access, better than in other counties. So, there ya go! Don't be scared. We don't smell--at least no worse than Long Island Sound on a hot summer day. :wink:


"After all, these are supposed to be gutsy spuds, not white tablecloth social climbers."

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I'm lazy. I neither know how to drive, own a car or have a desire to visit another place outside of the five boroughs [and even then, Staten Island is a stretch].

The only time I bother lifting a finger is when I go on vacation. That's why airplanes and taxis exist.

More's the pity. :wink:

On the other hand, dinner at BHSB was well worth the schlep. :raz:

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Here is an example of just how NOT difficult it is to get to Jersey: I commute to and from Upper Montclair/Clifton NJ every single day of my life in under an hour each way. By bus from Port Authority at that! And I have lived to speak of my travels!  :shock: Ok that part about under an hour each way is longer when the dreaded Lincoln Tunnel gets backed up but it's on average under an hour.

I'd venture to say that many of the great restaurants in north Jersey are within 10 to 15 miles from NYC and a lot of them are in Bergen county where there is pretty good NJ Transit bus access, better than in other counties. So, there ya go! Don't be scared. We don't smell--at least no worse than Long Island Sound on a hot summer day.  :wink:

so I've got at least a two hour total commute to these (as yet unidentified) restaurants? that rules out any day besides Saturday.

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i haven't noticed anyone from NJ getting down on NJ for any reason other than the food, relative to NYC. i would think those who live in NJ know it's a dandy place on many levels. otherwise they very likely wouldn't live there.

i agree that white manna and the ironbound, while possibly interesting on a cultural level, do not make for 2-hour-commute-worthy meals.

perhaps more interesting than the perceived inferiority complex is the fact that no one from NJ has recommended any restaurant they feel is worth coming in for, especially if one doesn't have access to a car. NJ Transit, while doing a pretty good job getting people to work during rush hour, doesn't exactly drop you off at the doorstep of NJ's best restaurants.

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I should say that other week I ended up in Jersey City (for non-food-related reasons), and was introduced to a very pretty restaurant with an excellent beer list and acceptable cocktails. on the other hand, the Little-Brazil style piano accompaniment was rather incongruous. but if I lived there I suspect I would be going to this place almost every night.

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Let's set forth a few categories of food experiences here to help with the analysis:

1. Restaurants in Northern New Jersey that are better than any comparable restaurant in New York City. The example I gave of Moksha, above, fits I think into this category. Assuming I'm right about Moksha (others may disagree, but let's assume I'm either right or that there are a few other restaurants in other categories that meet the criteria)

3. Because one's knowledge of those food scenes is incomplete without at least some exposure to the Northern New Jersey highlights. Needless to say, knowledge is always incomplete -- nobody has been to every restaurant -- but Northern New Jersey has very significant Asian communities.

4. Neighborhood-based Northern New Jersey experiences that can't be matched in New York City. Newark's Ironbound neighborhood is one, Edison is another. Again, for those who are interested in culinary-cultural neighborhood exploration, places like the Ironbound and Edison are as essential as Astoria and Flushing.

5. BYO. One of the great pleasures of dining in Northern New Jersey is that so many restaurants are BYO. So many of my meals in New Jersey have been enhanced by being able to bring a variety of interesting beers, wines and spirits to have with dinner. Of course you need a designated driver.

#1. This might be a reason to take a round-trip drive of close to 3 hours - if I was a huge Indian food fan...however, Devi and a few others provide me with the fix when I need it.

#3. My knowledge of the northern New Jersey food scene IS incomplete. Doesn't bother me that much...there are literally thousands of NYC places that I haven't eaten at, so I suppose my knowledge of the NYC scene is incomplete too.

#4. I can see exploring Newark's Ironbound neighborhood - perhaps before a concert at the Performing Arts Center or a game at the new arena (that's where it is, isn't it?) Special trip, nah.

#5. Designated driver? Among my wife and friends, that's a good one!

There seems to be a certain amount of bullying going on here - because one person enjoys taking many of these listed excursions, doesn't mean everyone else that doesn't want to do this is a bad person.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

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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it's funny that us manhattanites never have to justify manhattan.

it's the people outside of manhattan who make excuses and the "but we have a ..."

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I am a resident of Northern NJ for 27+ years.

I consider myself a "foodie".  I would travel out of my way to try something special.  I make many trips per month just to go into Manhattan for lunch or dinner.

I am not employed in the food industry.

That being said....NYers please don't make  a special trip to go to White Manna.  It is just not worth it.  Sure....cute cool looking diner.  Place is dirty.  Burgers are small and served on potato rolls.  Not rocket science!  Just make them at your home.  Look at the pics of the building over the internet. 

Sure, come visit the Ironbound Section someday or Edison, NJ.  I really couldn't even encourage you to go too far out of your way for those places.

The food and restaurant scene is far superior in Manhattan.  We have some great places to eat but I would most likely choose a place in Manhattan over any of them any day of the week.

Nuff said.

I couldn't agree more. I find the majority of norther NJ restaurants that are fussed over and touted as The Next Great Thing usually leave me driving home wondering, "Why do people who live here not know what good quality food is?"

I bow in deference to FG's knowledge of great ethnic eats in these parts, but I challenge folks to name, say, an Italian or modern American restaurant that is worth schlepping out here for.

Even towns like Montclair, that people consider a restaurant mecca, have few notable restaurants. Many restaurants: yes. Many good quality ones? No.

I await some new recommendations that will knock my socks off...but with NYC so close, why shouldn't I just go there for quality, price and service!


Edited by mzrb (log)

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Thanks Fat Guy - I think the japanese food market looks amazing. It sounds like a fun weekend trip and I'm anxious to see what sauces, and fish and roe are available. Just ordered some Tamari from Corti Bros website (cortibros.biz) - they import some great things from Japan.

For the record, I don't have a car. If I did, or knew a friend that had one ( and would actually drive me or if they would lend it to me - a huge if I'm afraid ), I would definitely shop more at Fairway. I used to go to the one in Red Hook and loved it - right down the street from LeNell's (a great liquor store with a moody owner).

I think that New Yorkers aren't lazy per se but just really busy with too many options closeby and don't like to waste time.

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I'll ante up a NJ restaurant -- Cucharamama in Hoboken. It may not be focused on any particular Latin American cuisine (though it *is* decidedly South American in focus, with an emphasis on Peru), but the menu is loaded with winners, from the tapas-style plates to the wood-burning oven entrees to the inventive desserts (and even don't get me started on the dozen or more piscos behind the bar). I don't know if there's a restaurant like it in NYC -- maybe there is, maybe there isn't, but I do think it's worth a trip across the Hudson.

Christopher

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Being born and raised in North Jersey and raised with many trips in to NYC, I can say that so far there is one serious competitor to any place in NYC: Cafe Matisse in Rutherford. It's a very secluded, very intimate location that really does feel like a minor oasis. The atmosphere, food, and service are at or above the par set by restaurants like Picholine without the stiffness.

I don't have an inferiority complex about Jersey; I love this state and wouldn't want to live in NYC. It's just not for me, although there are many merits and flaws to both. I think that just as Manhattanites rightfully say that there's no serious, immediate, pressing need to do food locations outside of the five boroughs and subway stations (save for Mitsuwa, which I think everyone who ever tried Japanese food needs to stop by at least once) and Cafe Matisse, NJ residents can find food that's just as good, if not better in some respects, than Manhattan. A trip to Edison isn't so bad if you're driving from North Jersey, but it would become more of a hassle, I think, if you were driving or taking mass transit from the city. Ironbound is good if you want to take a jaunt to Jersey for the night, or if you're going to be at NJPAC, especially now that the Light Rail runs from Penn Station to NJPAC. With the prevalence of Chinese regional restaurants coming to light, there's Chinatown options as well.

My point is this: I think this thread can be a useful rough guide to Jersey for NYC residents. Is it a "you must eat at these or you're not a foodie"/required reading? I don't think so, not as much.

So let's keep the automotive politics clear from the food politics, maybe? :-P


"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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Despite my post about how easy it is to get to NJ, there may not be that much food- wise to entice people from NY to travel to NJ. I eat most of my meals-out in NYC (and I am born and bred and PROUD to be from Jersey). Nathan--why would you make the 2-hour commute? Maybe for some of the eats FG mentioned--places like White Manna, all of the many many hot dog incarnations, Korean, Indian, and just for some pure Jersey.

That said, I don't think there are many nicer or fine-dining spots in northern NJ that are worth the trip, especially since the Ryland Inn (where I never, unfortunately, was lucky enough to have dined) closed. A lot of people like the places in and around Montclair but they're just not that great. For a number of reasons the talent is not out here, in general and I think that the majority of the people going out to dinner in NJ are not lookinng for the innovative or creative or even very thoughtful food. They want what they're used to eating. They don't want what is totally strange to them. And I know this b/c I worked in the kitchen at one of the area's well-known Italian restaurants and saw first-hand how limited the owners were in creating the menu. Diners wanted what they wanted!

I think this is a factor of the diners on the whole being on the older side whereas in NYC there are lots more younger professionals with money dining out, interested in learning more about food than in New Jersey (that said there are lots of crappy restos in NYC that are crowded, trendy...). And NJ, despite its proximity to NYC, is still behind the times. People still want their Belmont Tavern and their Jimmy Buffs, etc. and I think these places set the tone for the rest of the scene. I love those places and I need to have those kinds of places b/c it's part of NJ and the food is great but I also like the ability to have something totally different the next night.

And my final thought--if you don't like Jersey, well, then stay home--or come but be nice. The last thing we need is more people from Cleveland via NYC or Long Island moving out acting like the first person to have discovered the town I grew up in...


"After all, these are supposed to be gutsy spuds, not white tablecloth social climbers."

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I'll stay out of the NY/NJ debates and just answer the question posed...

I'll heartily second the recommendation of Cucharamama -- outstanding Latin/South American cuisine. The empanadas out of the wood burning oven are heavenly, and there are many wonderful choices on the menu. South American dominated wine list, and they make the best Pisco Sour I've had outside of South America.

For anyone in a PATH friendly area, this is worth a commute that is no different than hopping on a subway to another area of NYC. In fact, my wife's work commnute downtown to WFC is 1/2 of what it used to be from the UES

As for the rest of Hoboken (speaking as a long time resident), that is probably the one restaurant that warrants a special trip, although their are plenty of good options, but most fall into the ones where you can do just as well in NYC.

Other notables if you find yourself in town:

La Isla -- Excellent authentic, and very inexpensive Cuban. Generally better than I've found in NYC, but am not sure that basic Cuban diner-style warrants a trip for most.

Zafra -- Sister restaurant to Cucharamama. Very good, but not as creative/interesting a menu. BYOB.

Anthony David's -- Very good, Italian influenced rustic cooking. While you can find plenty of comparable restaurants in Manhattan, the fact that it is BYOB makes it particuarly nice to bring a nice bottle of Red and walk out of a very good dinner for 2 for under $100.

FYI: NY Times writeup on Cucharamama:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...75AC0A9629C8B63

Web site:

http://www.cucharamama.com/


Edited by jon777 (log)

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I'd be very interested in hearing about places for pizza and/or hot and cold subs.

I grew up in the Montclair area and still get back there for family stuff, and I am firmly convinced that your generic mom and pop NJ pizza is usually far better than the equivalent in NY -- i.e., what you are likely to get wandering into a random place and asking for a slice or a regular pie. I'm not talking about Di Fara's (although it takes at least as long to go to DiFara's and get served as it does to go to my parents' area), but your typical neighborhood slice joint.

Anyway, there's a kind of honest American-Italian cuisine that I grew up on -- pizza most memorably exemplified by the great to be mourned forever Casa di Pizza on the Newark border, subs from many places but two I still go to - Nicolo's and Marzullo's in Montclair, places I don't remember the names of that served "scungill" and "calamar" (strictly nj pronunciation) in red sauce...

I've never found handy NY equivalents to those places, places tend to get to fancied up or be equally inaccessible (Corona for a sub, anyone?)

I'm interested in hearing others' NJ recommendations for this type of food. I'm not looking for authentic regional Italian, blah blah blah... (The amount of time I spend in Italy makes even most of the touted Manhattan venues taste like crap to me). I'm looking for an entirely different cuisine -- delicious wonderful New Jersey Italian (used to be Brooklyn Italian, too, I think, although the good places are getting rarer and rarer)...

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What the hell is a zip car?

And try Kinchley's super thin crust bar pies in Mahwah..its a dump with long lines and great pizza

Public Transporwhat in NJ?...I gotta be 20 miles form the nearest train station

Tracey


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

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For the amount of money it costs to buy, maintain and insure a car in Manhattan or Brooklyn, you can dine at very nice places like Per Se and hire limos to take you to and from Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And you have quite a few more hours of free time in your life when you don't have to drive around looking for parking spaces (or deal with the unmitigated horror known as alternate side of the street parking).

So, is the food in Edison really worth all that?

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That's a red herring because you can just take the train to Edison (49 minutes), or have a friend with a car take you. And yes it's worth making the trip, which is why I've done it so many times and which is why Moksha is full of Indians who've come from far and wide for a taste of Bangalore and the surrounding regions. Why else would I be championing the food scene in New Jersey if it wasn't worth it? I don't live there, I'm not moving there, I just love to eat there. But of course the two million New Yorkers and quarter-million Manhattanites with cars don't maintain them solely to go out to eat. We personally maintain our car for a variety of reasons: because public transportation isn't pet friendly, because my wife is from Connecticut and we visit the inlaws there a lot, because we take long road trips often enough that rentals wouldn't be economical and, yes, because it gives us better, more convenient access to interesting food than we'd otherwise have. We've been car owners and non-car-owners at various times over the past 16 years (maybe half and half) and when we haven't had a car we've used public transportation, rentals, borrowed cars and taxis to go to most of the same places. Car TCO for us is about $7k/year -- including the car -- and that's the last word I'll say about the car excuse issue. Next: my challenge to the persistent doubters.


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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