Month: February 2016

5 ways to beat the chill in New Brunswick

As the temperature drops, weekends are slowly becoming more difficult to fill. What is there to do at the beach when there’s snow on the ground? Who wants to go for a leisurely hike when it’s 16 degrees outside?

Luckily for locals, New Brunswick has tons of indoor attractions that are perfect for a day out, even if the weather isn’t cooperating.

Check out what you can do in New Brunswick this winter without even taking your parka out of the car.

The Stress Factory has been bringing in top comedians for 20 years. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Stress Factory has been bringing in top comedians for 20 years. (Photo: ~File photo)

1. Laugh it up at the Stress Factory Comedy Club

Central Jerseyans can hear some of today’s most popular comedians up close and personal without ever having to get on a train to New York City at New Brunswick’s Stress Factory Comedy Club, which has been entertaining locals for the more than 20 years.

Comedians such as Dave Attell, Jim Breuer, Drew Carey, Brian Regan and Bill Burr have all graced its stage. Open from Wednesday through Sunday, visitors can check out the hour-and-a-half to hour-and-45-minute shows at the 90 Church St. venue.

For this week and next, Vinnie Brand from “Last Comic Standing” will be performing, followed by Colin Jost from “Saturday Night Live.” Tickets generally range from $20 to $50 and can be purchased at stressfactory.com or by calling 732-545-4242.

Clydz has an extensive drink menu and exotic food menu. (Photo: ~File photo)

Clydz has an extensive drink menu and exotic food menu. (Photo: ~File photo)

2. Bar hop through downtown 

New Brunswick’s downtown bars aren’t just for Rutgers University students. Instead, they’re fitting for anyone hanging out that needs a drink — warm or cold — to get out of the chill.

Some notable bars in the area that are lacking in fraternity members are Clydz at 55 Paterson St., an underground, American restaurant and bar with an enormous drink menu and exotic food menu; Harvest Moon Brewery and Café at 392 George St., a microbrewery that specializes in pairing food items with their homemade beer; and the Court Tavern at 124 Church St., which holds live music shows and open mic nights.

Local bars come in all sorts from Irish pubs to dance clubs to music venues and craft-beer hangouts. Simply take a stroll down George Street and Easton Avenue to find one that suits you.

The State Theatre offers shows that range from $30 to $200. (Photo: ~File photo)

The State Theatre offers shows that range from $30 to $200. (Photo: ~File photo)

3. Catch a show at the State Theatre

The State Theatre, a nonprofit organization, brings national and international performing artists to the 15 Livingston Ave. stage while providing arts educations programs to local students as well as bilingual and autism-friendly performances.

The venue, built in 1921 as a vaudeville and silent-film palace, is today credited as a major factor in New Brunswick’s return to economic vitality thanks to its visiting international orchestras, Broadway musicals, world-class dance, stand-up comedy, pop, jazz, children’s theater and world music.

Some of the upcoming programs include Annie on Feb. 27 and 28, Adam Lambert on March 1 and Howie Mandel on March 10. Tickets generally range from $30 to $200, depending on the show and seat selection. They can be purchased by visitingstatetheatrenj.org or by calling 732-246-7469.

Old Bay Restaurant serves Cajun-Creole fare. (Photo: ~File photo)

Old Bay Restaurant serves Cajun-Creole fare. (Photo: ~File photo)

4. Enjoy fine dining 

In most cities where you can find offbeat bars and hangouts that bring people from all parts of a region, you can usually find fantastic restaurants as well, and New Brunswick is no exception.

Favorite local restaurants include Steakhouse 85 at 85 Church St., an upscale eatery that hosts live jazz; Destination Dogs at 101 Paterson St., a quirky spot known for its gourmet hot dogs; and the Old Bay Restaurant at 61 Church St, a lively hangout with New Orleans-style Cajun-Creole fare.

Regardless of your favorite cuisine or how much you have in your wallet, New Brunswick, which is packed full of people and restaurants from all walks of life, has an eatery to fit your outing.

The Zimmerli Art Museum is always free. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Zimmerli Art Museum is always free. (Photo: ~File photo)

5. Check out art at the Zimmerli Art Museum

The Zimmerli Art Museum, on the Rutgers University College Avenue campus, is a teaching museum with 60,000 works as well as galleries that spotlight an artist, period or theme.

One of the largest and most distinguished university-based museums in the country, the 71 Hamilton St. museum is always free and open to the public. Guided tours, however, cost $11 per adult and are offered Tuesday through Sunday by appointment.

Founded in 1966 as the Rutgers University Art Gallery, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum was established in 1983 in the 70,000-square-foot facility. To plan your visit, head to zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu or call 848-932-7237.

 

Country French cuisine pops up in New Hope

When I first walked into the farm-to-table dinner hosted by Bucks County Taste, a local food website run by Lynne Goldman and her husband, Mark Feffer, at the Golden Pheasant Inn in Erwinna, Pennsylvania, I was a little nervous.

Attendants sat organized within tables of 10, so there would be no way for me to escape without having to chat up some strangers, most of whom were members of the Bucks County Taste Dinner Club, a branch of the website. I thought: A room full of accomplished and knowledgeable foodies? What am I going to say?

I started to chat with the woman next to me, Kathleen of Flemington, and I asked her about how she came to be at a Bucks County Taste Dinner Club event. I figured she must be a local farmer, restaurateur or maybe a writer.

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

“I’m at a stay-at-home mom, and my husband, Dave here, is an accountant,” she said. “We’re into food, but we have three kids at home, so we don’t get out much,” she said with a laugh.

Turns out, this is the norm for members of the Bucks County Taste Dinner Club, of which about 20 percent of attendants are from Hunterdon and Somerset counties. The club plans to host about one event a month this year at Bucks County restaurants that celebrate local farmers, products and markets.

Instead of uppity food connoisseurs, the open-membership club is full of regular people who simply like food, trying new restaurants and meeting new people. Events range from $45 to $95 and attendants range from 20 to 200 people.

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

The club is the brainchild of the BucksCountyTaste.com, which shares the stories behind local food. Although the site started as Goldman’s hobby when it began eight years ago, it is now her full-time job and garnered 500,000 page views and 100,000 unique visitors last year.

Goldman has also expanded the site with HunterdonCountyTaste.com, which launched last year and is still in its early stages.

Registration is currently open here for Bucks County Taste’s Hotel du Village pop-up French dinner, which will be hosted at the hotel’s 2535 River Road, New Hope location. Those interested can also visit buckscountytaste.com/click-here-for-food-events-in-bucks-county/ and click on the ad for the event on the right side of the page.

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

The event will be composed of a six-course tasting menu with wine pairings for $95 per person, which includes tax and gratuity, on Saturday, Feb. 27, from 7 to 10 p.m.

“This is a beautiful venue where people can feel nice getting dressed up,” said Goldman. “Plus, it will be set up in a way where it’s easy to talk to and meet other people, since we will be sitting at 8-round or 10-round tables.”

There will be anywhere from 100 to 200 spots at the event, depending on demand. About 90 people have signed up so far.

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

Some of the food on the tasting menu includes the steak au poivre, which is an Amish prime rib of beef with potato pave and winter vegetables, as well as a trout meunière with potato cake, almonds and French beans.

“We are sticking to a rustic, country classic French style,” said Hunter Stagg, executive chef at Hotel du Village. “I am trying to create a positive experience here that is simple, not overbearing or elbowed and quiet.”

All of the meats are all-natural and hormone-free from Lancaster Amish farms, and many other ingredients are local as well, including chestnuts from Solebury Orchards in New Hope.

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

~Courtesy of Landmark Hospitality

Since the hotel was purchased by Landmark Hospitality in January 2013, with renovations being finalized at the end of 2015, it has no longer had a restaurant. So Stagg wanted to do a pop-up dinner and pay homage to the original hotel menu with some updated twists.

The renovated Hotel du Village has an old-world charm, said Goldman, that has been restored with rich wood, warm colors and an intimate feel.

For the night of the pop-up dinner, Hotel du Village will be offering a special $169 a night room rate for its 22 guest rooms.

“Speaking as a country boy from Annandale, I feel that Hotel du Village is the country meets the city,” said Stagg. “This is a beautiful French country boutique hotel that still has an upper-class and contemporary feel.”

Hotel du Village pop-up French dinner

Where: 2535 River Road, New Hope, Pennsylvania

When: Saturday, Feb. 27, from 7 to 10 p.m.

Cost: $95, which can be paid for and registered here 

Hotel: Discounted rooms are being offered that night only for $169

Think outside the glass this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day doesn’t just get a bad rap from singles — many couples dread the holiday, too.

Too much pressure to have the perfect date.

Not enough time to plan it all.

However, what if you could celebrate Valentine’s Day with a classic glass of wine — and a local twist?

The Garden State Wine Growers Association, which is a collection of 44 New Jersey wineries who have met certain standards organized into wine trails throughout eight state counties, will be hosting Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 at wineries throughout the state. The complete schedule of events can be seen by visitingnewjerseywines.com/events/category/winery-events/.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

“Each winery creates their own event which is unique to them,” said Tom Cosentino, executive director of Garden State Wine Growers. “We don’t force them to cookie-cutter it, or else it would make everything the same and they would lose their identity.”

Old York Cellars at 80 Old York Road in Ringoes, which is a member of the Vintage North Jersey trail, a group of 10 wineries in Hunterdon, Warren, Sussex and Mercer counties, will be hosting a six-wine and chocolate tasting with chocolate from Laurie’s Chocolates of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, alongside live music from JT Rooney and Robert Viola in their Vista Room in the center of the vineyard, for $10 a person, which includes a souvenir glass.

The winery, which produces 16 wines throughout the year, will also be hosting an exclusive guided wine tasting for $50 per couple that includes eight pre-selected wines, chocolates made by Laurie’s Chocolates, a souvenir glass, plus a toast with Old York Cellars’ Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

“Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend is one of the biggest events that we do,” said Laurin Dorman, chair of Garden State Wine Growers and director of Old York Cellars. “Even though it’s wintertime, the winery is beautiful in all seasons and people are getting out of the house and doing something local.”

However, by no means is Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend the only statewide event that Garden State Wine Growers hosts.

They hold four wine trail weekends throughout the year, encouraging visitors to visit multiple wineries within a region and check out their food pairings, tastings, tours, live entertainment and other special events. All of the wine trail weekend events can be seen by visiting newjerseywines.com/events/category/trail-weekends/.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Dorman said that about 40 percent of Old York Cellars’ visitors are coming from or going to another regional winery and creating a wine trail experience, which is not surprising considering that Cosentino said Hunterdon is emerging as a major wine territory.

“Wine trail weekends get people to sample new wines and visit wineries throughout the state,” said Cosentino. “When people do tastings, they’re then asking, ‘Where can I purchase this?’ and then asking their local restaurants, ‘Can you start carrying this?’ The trail allows all of our wineries to showcase their products.”

Plus, due to the differing soil throughout New Jersey regions, local wineries can offer anything from dry reds to dessert wines to visitors, so no one has to go without an empty glass.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Garden State Wine Growers also offers a passport program in which visitors can receive a ‘wine passport’ at any of its 44 member wineries and then get stamped at each winery they visit. If they visit all 44 wineries within three years and submit it by May 15, they are entered to win a trip to a wine region.

In order to become a member winery, wineries must be a working, licensed vineyard, make wine on at least three acres of their land and pay dues and meet the other regulations of the association to receive representation and promotion.

Cosentino said, “The long-term goal is to create agritourism. The way the wineries feel is the more, the merrier. They don’t want you to just come to their winery, they encourage you to visit the other ones, too, because it’s good for the entire business and region.”

Wineries normally offer a tour and tasting of several wines for $5 to $10, making for a cheap yet outside-the-glass day out. Old York Cellars holds tastings from noon to 5 p.m. seven days a week to taste six wines for $7, no appointment necessary.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

About 43 wineries have opened in the state since 1980, and existing wineries have become more established, including Old York Cellars, which has seen exponential growth since it opened six years ago and received almost 22,000 visitors last year, compared to 13,000 visitors in 2013. In 2011, a study conducted by Frank, Rimerman and Co. determined that 100,000 people visited New Jersey wineries within the year.

New Jersey winemaking has changed a lot over the years, for reasons such as partnerships with Garden State Wine Growers, local promotion and wineries’ abilities to offer a local hangout with food, live entertainment and events.

In-state wines have been receiving more publicity from winning blind taste tests and receiving other awards.

“New Jersey makes great corn, tomatoes and crops, so why shouldn’t we have great grapes?” said Cosentino. “It all comes down to exposure.”

Plus, the setting of wineries in the state, particularly in Central Jersey, makes for a great backdrop.

“People are sort of transported when they come off Route 202 to Old York Cellars and see mountains and rolling hills down the driveway,” said Dorman. “People constantly say, ‘It doesn’t even feel like I’m in New Jersey.’”