Tag Archives: Travel

A Culinary Tour of NJ (with a stop in NYC)

I was just in Jersey for ThinkTank1’s wedding (congrats!), and spent most of my free time eating. I hadn’t been there for a few years so I had a lot of catching up to do. Some stuff was as good as I remember, some wasn’t, and a few places were brand new. Here’s the rundown.

New Jersey

Dunkin Donuts
After years of gushing praise about their coffee from several CT agents, I finally got some – a regular iced coffee with cream and sugar. I was really disappointed. It tasted like a glass of whole milk with a splash of coffee and some sugar on the bottom. I thought it might’ve been one time screw-up so I ordered it again at a different DD – same thing. McDonald’s iced coffee is WAY better. My local guide said DD’s coffee has gone downhill in recent years. I have a hunch it was due to their push into supermarkets.

I also got a French cruller that was alright, and a butternut which was just OK. I guess I forgot the one I love is the chocolate butternut, which are very rare. The regular ones are strangely lemony. I should’ve stuck with the chocolate glazed; they really can’t screw that up.

Pete & Elda’s Bar / Carmen’s Pizzeria

96 Woodland Avenue

Neptune, NJ

This place has been rock solid for years – exactly how I remembered it. It’s got the thinnest crust pizza I’ve ever seen, but it’s not just a gimmick – it’s very good. They have a deal where you get a t-shirt if you can eat an entire XXL pizza by yourself. I’ve done this a few times, but decided to pass this time. Besides trying not to be a glutton, the t-shirts tend to be ugly as sin. The only mark against P&E is that the water was foul – I had to get a soda to mask the taste.

River’s Edge Cafe

35 Broad St.

Red Bank, NJ

This is where the wedding reception was. I had the salmon in a lemon dill sauce with rice and string beans – it was excellent. I expected the salmon to be overcooked since this was for a large crowd, but it was perfect.

The big endorsement is from ThinkTank1 and his lovely new bride, who chose it for the reception. For those who don’t know Jersey, downtown Red Bank is pretty much the only cool part (although East Rutherford had a cool area – see below). There are several restaurants here, but they keep returning to this one and have eaten most of what’s on the menu. The prices look very reasonable and the food was great, so I can’t blame them.

Zebu Forno

20 Broad St.

Red Bank, NJ

Whenever possible, I choose the mom and pop coffee house over Starbucks or other chains and – big surprise – I’m almost never disappointed. Zebu Forno is a small chain with a handful of locations, but we could definitely use more of them. I’d say they most closely compete with Panera, but I dug this better.

I walked in and was greeted by an incredibly cute and friendly girl. I ask if they take credit cards, but it’s a $10 minimum and I’m only getting coffee. “How much do you have on you?” $4. “That’s good enough.” At this point, I’m in love.1 In fact, now I have to take out cash just to tip her a buck for being so understanding. And cute.

I got a double mocha, which was good. The next day I went back for breakfast. This place has a huge menu of all sorts of stuff, and amazingly it all looks good.2 I went with the pork roll with egg and cheese on a roll. It wasn’t real Taylor Ham with the thick, round slices, but it was still tasty and the roll it was on could not have been better. And I got yellow American cheese, not the white I’m always stuck with in California. So damn good.

Eros Cafe/After Athens

17-19 Park Ave.

Rutherford, NJ

While they have a full lunch and dinner menu filled with Greek cuisine, we came here for coffee and dessert. It’s got a cool atmosphere (yes, this also means hot girls) and is open late – 3AM on Friday! Personally, I think they should’ve changed the channel when the Greek station started playing some gay shirtless voguing videos, but at least it wasn’t in my face. And that’s probably normal for Greece.

I got an iced mocha, which was OK, but I felt they skimped on the chocolate. TT1’s Mexican hot chocolate was good. For dessert, I got a strawberry crepe with vanilla creme. The problem here is that I expected the strawberry filling to be hot, which would have made this perfect. Since it and the creme were cold, the whole thing was just luke warm and turned cold quickly.

So overall the food was just OK, but they had a lot of other stuff that looked good, like a chocolate peanut butter brownie cake, creme brulee, etc. I would definitely return, if for no other reason than it’s open late. It’s a much cooler, hipper alternative to a diner. One tip: they don’t bring you your check – you have to go to the counter to get it. On the plus side, we never felt rushed.

Cluck U Chicken
This used to be my favorite chicken chain. I’d always get a chicken parm sandwich, a Roman (mozzarella and a garlic cream sauce), or a Red Roman which combines the two. The chicken breasts they used were huge. Now they’re advertised as 1/3 lb. and they’re pretty clearly pounded flat to seem bigger. And the Red Roman wasn’t as good as I remembered – I should have gone for the regular Roman.

My regular side order was their real, red skinned mashed potatoes in a turkey (or was it chicken?) gravy. Now it’s just instant mashed with brown gravy. And to top it off, they serve Pepsi instead of Coke. Sigh.

It’s clear they’ve been doing a lot of cost cutting in the years since I last visited. If they kept the quality high they’d have more customers. I might give them another chance, but I really regret picking this over White Castle as one of few places I got to (re)visit.

New York City

We used Yelp to help decide where to go, based on which places had the most reviews while maintaining a decent rating. We also took into consideration how easy it would be to get from one place to the next, considering it was a Friday night. It worked out great; short, but sweet.

The weather could not have been better – about 65 degrees and, dare I say it? Balmy! Yes, balmy in NYC in October. I’ve never seen so many hot women in NYC, they definitely dressed for the warm weather and a Friday night on the town. I guess I usually visited during the day or a weeknight, but NYC never struck me as a city of babes. I was happy to be shown its better side.

Katz’s Delicatessen

205 East Houston St.

New York, NY

We were debating whether to return to The Carnegie Deli, where I previously had the best sandwich of my life (and the best knish). But Katz’s was higher rated on Yelp and we’d never been there, so what the heck.

We took a cab from Port Authority. As we entered the place, a security guard gave us a ticket. You hand it to the cashier when you pay, who marks it for the guard when you’re leaving. I’d wonder what happens when you don’t get anything, but I imagine they take you straight to the looney bin.

It was a no brainer what to get – a pastrami sandwich on rye. The only question was mustard or Russian dressing. I’m a Russian dressing guy.3 We walk up to the meat cutter and tell him we want pastrami. He walks off without saying anything. Then I see him returning with a whole, steaming pastrami. It must’ve been right out of the smoker. He slices some off for us to taste.

Heaven. Now I know what gave Meg Ryan that orgasm in When Harry Met Sally.

We get our sandwiches and a beverage and sit down to what is now the best sandwich of my life. Now, to clarify, Carnegie Deli pastrami is also awesome. Both delis make it themselves. Both are leaner and more tender than anything I’ve had elsewhere. I think the Katz pastrami was more moist, having been so fresh. A big point is that the Carnegie sandwich is noticeably larger; it’s the king of the mile high sandwiches. Katz’s was smaller, but still big, and it only cost $14.50. I remember paying close to $20 for the Carnegie sandwich, and that was in 2002! A lot of people say the Carnegie sandwich is too big and impossible to finish. I’d agree if I didn’t eat the whole damn thing, then polish off half a knish the size of a Nerf football. But I’m a fatass. That said, I did feel really full after Katz’s sandwich, and we were happy to have a bit of a walk to our next place.

Pommes Frites

123 2nd Ave.

New York, NY

For those not familiar with them, the big deal about about Belgian fries is that they are fried twice. They’re traditionally served with various mayo-based sauces. This place was good, but I have a specific idea of what Belgian fries are, and these weren’t it.

Back when the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica was cool, there was a Belgian fry place called Benita’s Frites. These were square-cut fries, crispy and greasy on the outside, soft on the inside. The perfect fry. They offered about 20 different sauces like garlic mayo and remoulade.

The fries at Pommes Frites are good, but they’re more like steak fries and aren’t that crispy. They also have a large sauce selection. I had the roasted garlic mayo, which was a little too sweet; I would have preferred a regular garlic mayo. We also had a pesto mayo, which I must admit was spot on.

They also offer poutine, a French Canadian treat that consists of fries with brown gravy and fresh cheese curds. I’ve had it at Peel Pub in Montreal and it’s great pub food. If this place wasn’t the size of a broom closet and I could guarantee a place to sit, I would definitely try that next. But standing around on the street with a cone of hot fries and gravy is just too much of a hassle for me. They definitely need a much bigger seating area.

  1. No, it doesn’t take much. []
  2. Although there’s no way I’m getting pizza from a coffee shop/bakery. []
  3. BTW, in a Jewish deli, Russian dressing is very similar to thousand island dressing. In the lazier ones it’s identical. But it looks or tastes nothing like the bottles of Russian dressing you see in the supermarket, which appear to be a combination of ketchup and sweet and sour sauce. []