Month: May 2016

Visit Cranbury, a small town with a big history

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/24/16

Central Jersey is blessed with the presence of cities and large towns budding with modernity and innovation, but it also has claim to one small town that can call itself one of the oldest in the state.

Cranbury, a friendly, walkable, 13-square-mile town of about 4,000 people that is home to a historic district, can trace its first buildings to 1698 and was officially created as a township in 1872.

Visitors to Cranbury can get a taste of that history by picking up a self-guided walking tour from the Cranbury Museum at 4 Park Place East from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays or at cranburyhistory.org. They can also email historycenter@comcast.net to organize a guided walking tour.

“Visiting Cranbury is like going back in time, but with access to modern-day conveniences,” said Lina Llona, president of the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People are very hospitable and there are tons of things to see and do.”

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Historic home becomes the setting for Morristown restaurant

Written for LuxeBeatMag.com

When I moved to my new home in the historic and bustling New Jersey city of Morristown, I knew I was in for a real culinary delight.

From previous visits from my former home located about 45 minutes away, I already knew that I could head to Nagano for quality sushi in an authentic atmosphere, Guerriero’s Ristorante for Neapolitan-style dishes with unique flavors and Origin Thai for scrumptious Thai food in an elegant setting.

What I didn’t know was that the iconic Vail Mansion in downtown Morristown, built in 1917 and formerly the home of first AT&T president Theodore N. Vail, had recently become the home of one of the city’s newest and most interesting restaurants after it was restored to its original grandeur by Roseland, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mack-Cali Realty Corporation and Woodmont Properties.

Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen, which opened its Vail Mansion doors on Oct. 21 of 2014, isn’t exactly one bar and restaurant. Actually, it’s four.

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Around the world with a silver spoon

Today, part of my job at MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com is to write for our weekly Table section, where we feature restaurants, food news and the like. So, basically, I live the dream – I visit new local restaurants, try out cool dishes and hang out with like-minded people who don’t eat to live, but live to eat.

Although I do get to meet lots of friendly restaurant owners and chefs whose mouths literally water as they describe their favorite meals, I also meet a lot of food snobs. These people generally believe that the best wines are those you can’t pronounce and the best restaurants can only be found in the hidden corners of the world.

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Tourism goes green in NJ

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/17/16

Would you feel comfortable biking, rather than renting a car, on your vacation?

How would you like it if your hotel asked you if it could change your personal bed sheets only once per week on your extended stay?

Would you be able to solely utilize reusable bottles rather than plastic water bottles on a trip?

In an age in which we are working harder to protect our planet — including those in the tourism industry — this is becoming more of the norm.

“I think that people are planning their trips a lot better and they are thinking about the impact they are having when they’re traveling,” said Nora Wagner, director of strategic planning and programs at Duke Farms in Hillsborough. “In the tourism industry, people are becoming more environmentally conscious.”

Element Ewing Princeton is the only LEED-certified NJ hotel. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Element Ewing Princeton)

Element Ewing Princeton is the only LEED-certified NJ hotel.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Element Ewing Princeton)

Part of that is because lodgings and points of interest have become more sustainable, setting an example for visitors.

“We do attract a certain amount of people who are environmentally conscious and also those who just want a nice day out but while they are here, there are subtle messages about stewardship, like our carry-in-carry-out trash policy,” Wagner said.

Staff members at Duke Farms considers themselves a model of environmental stewardship, taking advantage of any opportunity — whether it be from land management to building — to be as sustainable as possible. Just a few examples of their environmental efforts include infrastructure that maximizes energy efficiency, community gardens, permeable pathways and more.

At Element Ewing Princeton, the only LEED-certified hotel in New Jersey, meaning it is 100 percent sustainable from floor to ceiling, the staff also works to provide a green environment for its guests, fostering habits that they can hopefully bring home with them.

READ: The red, white and… green?

READ: 5 local parks to explore this spring

READ: Natirar, Somerset County park fit for royalty

The hotel utilizes water-efficient faucets and fixtures, free bike rentals, Energy Star-rated appliances, green cleaning products, the option for once-a-week personal bed linen changing for extended stays, no plastic products and more.

“Our guests definitely appreciate the hotel sustainability aspect,” said Alexis Davison, director of sales of Element Ewing Princeton. “They want to reuse their towels, charge their Apple products off fitness-machine power in our gym and utilize the natural light in our lobby.”

Unfortunately, not all lodgings are so educated in how they can be environmentally conscious. But hopefully, that won’t be the case much longer, thanks to a state program.

Green Travel New Jersey is a voluntary pilot program being developed with the state and operators of hospitality facilities that allows lodgings to earn a New Jersey Green Lodging certification, which ensures that a lodging meets environmentally friendly standards for water conservation, indoor air quality, energy efficiency, minimal waste and more.

The community garden at Duke Farms. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

The community garden at Duke Farms. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

To ensure that facilities maintain certification standards, the New Jersey State Green Certification Lodging Program conducts random audits of a selected facility on a regular basis and monitors guest feedback. If deficiencies are noted, the New Jersey Green Lodging Program offers assistance to correct them, and consistent failure to correct deficiencies will result in removal from the program.

Being green isn’t just good for the program, the environment and guests — it’s valuable for a hotel’s wallet, too.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program has determined that a 10 percent reduction in energy costs in the hospitality industry results in $2 more in revenue per room for full-service hotels. Across the lodging industry, this would save $745 million per year.

“People are saying to themselves, ‘OK, I need to make sure I have trash bags with me in my backpack,’ when they go out to a park for a day,” said Wagner. “They are learning to be less impactful with their carbon footprint.”

In order to be a more environmentally friendly traveler, Davison suggests that tourists utilize rideshare programs, bicycling and minimize waste by taking only what they are going to consume in food items.

Duke Farms is a model of environmental stewardship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

Duke Farms is a model of environmental stewardship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

An Adult’s Right to Travel

When you’re living in your childhood bedroom as a 24-year-old and basically using a 12 x 9 space as your entire living area, you start to get a little wacky. This is only accentuated by a one-and-half-hour-plus traffic-ridden commute and a mind-numbing office job. You start to dream – big.

Throughout my time living in northern New Jersey, Morristown was always the place to be. Even though we hadn’t been to many of the restaurants and bars there, we knew they were cool. We knew that there, in what seemed to be an alternate universe 45 minutes away, there were people our age who had cool jobs, modern apartments, new cars, tons of boyfriends and always had something to do on a weekend night.

Thus, once I saved some money, ran out of sanity and secured a roommate, I was out. I was going to Morristown.

One year later, I’m not sad that I did. Even though I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when friends who live with their parents tell me how much money they’ve saved and the awesome meals that their mom cooks for them, I know that’s not what my life at home was like and I’m pretty psyched with what I created – a new life in a small city with a cool job, a short commute and a nice apartment.

Photo by Jenna Intersimone

Photo by Jenna Intersimone

However, to no fault of its own, Morristown didn’t crack out to all I hoped it would be. The restaurants aren’t as good, the bars aren’t as fun and I don’t have a ton of new friends as originally planned. Thus, when my roommate heads off to graduate school next year, I will probably venture somewhere else.

Throughout the last 25 years of my life, my real estate mogul father has endlessly harassed me to buckle down, save some cash, make a commitment and actually purchase a home. With the promise of impossible rents ahead of me, I finally thought about it – maybe I would actually purchase my very first abode.

READ: Jockey Hollow restaurant lives in historic setting

READ: At home in the Garden State

READ: 6 roadside curiosities in Central Jersey

However, not in Morristown. Instead, nearby small cities with better restaurants, better bars and more things to do are luring me in. I didn’t anticipate my father’s reaction, a helicopter dad who lives only a few minutes from Morristown.

“Dad, I think I’m going to try and save money to buy a house soon.”

“Really?! That’s awesome! I’m so excited. I can help you fix it up, and I’ll give you my realtor’s number, and – ”

“Well, I don’t really want to live around here. I was thinking of a place maybe 45-minutes or so away.”

*Silence*

Photo by Jenna Intersimone

Photo by Jenna Intersimone

Dad wasn’t thrilled. He went on a tangent about how I just can’t go that far away, and where I was thinking was a crappy area, and if I did venture that far, he wouldn’t be able to help me fix anything up. (Side note – my three-years-younger-sister moved to North Carolina about a year ago).

At first, I was SO ANGRY. Deanna moved to North Carolina and no one said a word! Where I wanted to go wasn’t even far away, and is very up-and-coming! How could I possibly do all this work on my own! And Dad, why are you still texting me real estate listing of houses in your neighborhood!

But then I stopped. And I thought about it. And I came to a very strange realization.

I am an adult. (A 25-year-old adult trapped in a 16-year-old’s body). And I can figure out how to do any work myself, or pay someone to do it like a normal person. And I can live wherever I want. Just like I chose to move to Morristown one year ago, I can choose to go somewhere else, and if I feel like it, then I can go somewhere else still.

And no helicopter dad is going to stop me.

30 spots for Jersey’s most famous foods

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 7/22/15

Although our traffic may be maddening and our taxes may be baffling, New Jerseyans are always relieved to come home after a long journey away for at least one tasty reason – the quality of the foods we can find at eateries right in our neighborhoods.

The Garden State is home to some of the best pizza, pork roll, bagels, fudge, produce and Italian hot dogs around, as any local will gladly argue. When we venture out of our famous state, we’re constantly shocked that others can’t enjoy some of our favorite things, like a pork roll sandwich on a bagel or juicy, Jersey tomatoes.

Luckily, the readers of the Courier News and Home News Tribune are blessed with being in close proximity to some of our best dishes. Check out where to find some of New Jersey’s most famous foods below.

La Rosa Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant is known for quality pizza slices. (Photo: File photo)

La Rosa Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant is known for quality pizza slices. (Photo: File photo)

Pizza

The cheesy classic may not be the most complicated dish that the culinary world can offer, however, extra touches by some of the best pizzerias in Central Jersey can make all the difference, whether you prefer a crispy thin crusted-slice, a thick slice piled with pepperoni or a smoky wood-fired slice. Fortunately for us, we’ve got all of the options right at home in New Jersey.

  • Manville Pizza and Restaurant at 31 S Main St., Manville; 908-526-1194
  • Stan Chitch’s Cafe at 14 Columbus Pl., Bound Brook; stanschitchspizzeria.com or 732-356-0899
  • La Rosa Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant at 335 Lake Ave., Metuchen;larosametuchen.com or 732-549-6505
  • Rome Pizza at 334 North Ave., Dunellen; romepizzanj.com or 732-968-1394
  • DeLucia’s Brick Oven at 3 First Ave., Raritan; deluciasbrickovenpizza.com or 908-725-1322
Egg and pork roll sandwich on a Kaiser roll and a pork roll on bagel sandwich at Boulevard Delicatessen in Middlesex Boro. (Photo: file photo)

Egg and pork roll sandwich on a Kaiser roll and a pork roll on bagel sandwich at Boulevard Delicatessen in Middlesex Boro. (Photo: file photo)

Pork Roll

Whether you call it Taylor ham or pork roll is negligible once you take a bite into this famous New Jersey salty meat-esque breakfast product stacked up on a breakfast sandwich on a lazy Sunday morning. While other states have to settle for bacon, we’ve got pork roll – the hits-the-spot meat for hungry locals.

  • Boulevard Delicatessen at 301 Lincoln Blvd., Middlesex; 732-469-2350
  • Lincoln Corner Deli at 407 Lincoln Blvd., Middlesex; thelincolncornerdeli.com or 732-537-9100
  • Lebanon Boro General Store at 83 Main St., Lebanon; 908-236-6522
  • Corner Cafe and Grill at 1695 Amwell Rd., Somerset; cornercafegrill.com or 732-873-3799
  • Kenny’s Corner at 15 Easton Ave., New Brunswick; kennycorner.com or 732-220-1122
A Jimmy Buff's Italian hot dog with fried potatoes slices, green peppers and onions. (Photo: File photo)

A Jimmy Buff’s Italian hot dog with fried potatoes slices, green peppers and onions. (Photo: File photo)

Italian hot dogs

A standard hot dog may be nice for a backyard barbecue, but there’s nothing quite like a Jersey Italian hot dog, stuffed on an Italian roll or pizza bread and paired with fried peppers, onions and potatoes. With New Jersey’s famous Italian heritage hiding in all corners of the state, it’s no surprise that N.J. is also home to some of the best Italian hot dogs.

  • Charlies Italian Hot Dogs at 2576 US-22, Union; charliesitalianhotdogs.webs.comor 908-624-1212
  • Tommy’s Italian Sausage and Hot Dogs at 900 2nd Ave., Elizabeth; 908-351-9831
  • Big Blues Italian Style Sub at 11 N Wood Ave., Linden; 908-862-2021
  • Jimmy Buff’s, 506 Kenilworth Blvd., Kenilworth; jimmybuffskenilworth.com or 908-276-2833
  • Old School Italian Hot Dogs at 1077 Stuyvesant Ave., Irvington; 973-351-5481
Knot Just Bagels of Woodbridge makes a wide variety of bagels. (Photo: File photo)

Knot Just Bagels of Woodbridge makes a wide variety of bagels. (Photo: File photo)

Bagels

New York City may be known as the home to some of the best bagels in the United States, but bagel shops throughout Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex and Union counties certainly give them a run for their morning pocket change. After our best bagels in the region asker we ran last month, we learned from readers – who sent over 300 responses declaring who makes the best bagels in the area – that Central Jersey is certainly home to some of the finest bagels.

  • Dunellen Bagel at 390 North Ave., Dunellen; dunellen-bagel.com or 732-968-9172
  • Knot Just Bagels at 10 Main St., Woodbridge; knotjustbagels.com or 732-750-1999
  • O’ Bagel at Dewy Meadow Shopping Center, 403 King George Rd. # 104, Basking Ridge; obagel.net or 908-580-9293
  • Bagel Pantry at 134 South Plainfield Ave., South Plainfield and 545 Middlesex Ave., Metuchen; bagelpantry.com or 732-632-3100
  • Lil’ Pickles at 318 Route 202/206 North, Pluckemin; lilpickles.com or 908-306-0268
No one can resist a sweet square of fudge on the boardwalk on a sunny Saturday afternoon, especially New Jerseyans. (Photo: File photo)

No one can resist a sweet square of fudge on the boardwalk on a sunny Saturday afternoon, especially New Jerseyans. (Photo: File photo)

Fudge

No one can resist a sweet square of fudge on the boardwalk on a sunny Saturday afternoon, especially New Jerseyans, who are blessed with some of the best fudge around which comes with cherries, coconut, cookie pieces and everything in between. Fortunately for Central Jerseyans, we’ve got a few shops right down the street when you have a craving you just can’t ignore.

New Jersey is known for its great tomatoes. (Photo: File photo)

New Jersey is known for its great tomatoes.
(Photo: File photo)

Farm stand finds

Although other states tend to forget that we are called the Garden State for a reason, locals get to enjoy Jersey corn, blueberries, peaches and tomatoes when the coveted produce is finally in season. Stop by any modest farm stand on the side of the road and you’re bound to be pleasantly surprised by what your home state has to offer your plate.

  • Bardy Farms at 149 Washington Valley Road, Warren; bardyfarms.com or 732-356-4244
  • English Farm at 3625 Valley Rd., Liberty Corner; englishfarm.org or 908-647-6711
  • Suydam Farms at 1803 Route 27, Somerset; suydamfarms.net or 731-846-7139
  • Hauser Hill Farms at 336 Ticetown Rd., Old Bridge; hauserhillfarms.net or 732-591-1966
  • Dreyer Farms at 831 Springfield Ave., Cranford; dreyerfarms.com or 908-276-1290

 

5 local restaurants switch up the meatball

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 1/13/16

The meatball is a classic staple: stacked on top of a helping of pasta and smothered in tomato sauce, no one can say no to the familiar comfort dish on a cold evening.

However, the basics of the meatball also grant the opportunity to switch up time-tried recipes and create something entirely new. And that’s exactly what these five Central Jersey restaurants have done.

Check out our roundup below to find out where you can get a meatball that isn’t exactly a part of your grandmother’s Sunday dinner.

'Stuffed peppers' are a seasonal dish served at Nunzio's Kitchen. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Nunzio's Kitchen)

‘Stuffed peppers’ are a seasonal dish served at Nunzio’s Kitchen. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Nunzio’s Kitchen)

‘Stuffed peppers’ from Nunzio’s Kitchen at 521 Raritan St., Sayreville

The dish: Made from owners Michael and Marco Colandrea’s mother’s 35-year-old meatball recipe, these handmade, organic pork and beef meatballs are stuffed inside locally grown peppers raw and then cooked for three to four hours, creating a unique sauce and flavor blended with the sweetness of the pepper.

What customers have to say: Since it’s a special that’s only served when high-quality, local peppers are available, usually in the spring and summer, “Our customers get really upset when we discontinue the dish, and I feel their pain because it’s my favorite, too,” said Marco Colandrea. “People are always asking about it.”

The cost: $18 for two large, stuffed peppers served with pasta, salad and bread.

Contact: Call 732-727-1060 or visit nunzioskitchen.com

Mamas Neapolitan-style meatballs from Luca's Ristorante are homemade in-house-made meatballs made from short rib chuck and ground beef, pine nuts and golden raisins in organic tomato sauce and topped with provolone cheese. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Luca's Ristorante)

Mamas Neapolitan-style meatballs from Luca’s Ristorante are homemade in-house-made meatballs made from short rib chuck and ground beef, pine nuts and golden raisins in organic tomato sauce and topped with provolone cheese. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Luca’s Ristorante)

Mama’s Neapolitan-style meatballs from Luca’s Ristorante at 2019 Rt. 27, Somerset

The meatball: These homemade in-house meatballs are made from short rib chuck and ground beef, mixed in with pine nuts and golden raisins and paired with organic tomato sauce, topped with melted provolone cheese.

What customers have to say: “People really love the uniqueness of the mixed-in pine nuts and golden raisins,” said Andrea Di Meglio, chef and owner of Luca’s Ristorante.

The cost: $15 for three meatballs

Contact: Call 732-297-7676 or visit lucasristorante.com

Meatballs at Nunzio's Kitchen are used in a variety of dishes, including this meatball sub. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Nunzio's Kitchen)

Meatballs at Nunzio’s Kitchen are used in a variety of dishes, including this meatball sub. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Nunzio’s Kitchen)

Meatball sundae from Alfonso’s at 99-101 W Main St., Somerville

The dish: Served in a sundae cup, the appetizer features Mama Yolanda’s famous meatball layered with ricotta cheese and homemade tomato sauce topped with fresh-grated Parmesan cheese and parsley.

What customers have to say: “Many of our customers like that it’s something a little different,” said Brianna Camacho, hostess. “Plus, even though it’s just one meatball, it fills them up.”

The cost: $6.95 for one meatball

Contact: Call 908-526-0616 or visit alfonsostrattoria.com

Osteria Procaccini's meatballs are made from grassfed veal, beef and pork. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Osteria Procaccini)

Osteria Procaccini’s meatballs are made from grassfed veal, beef and pork. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Osteria Procaccini)

Meatball margherita pizza from Osteria Procaccini at 4428 Rt. 27, Kingston

The pizza: The thin-crust pie has fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil and is topped with grassfed veal, beef and pork meatballs.

What customers have to say: “The first thing they want to know is if they can have the recipe,” said Stephanie Castro, manager. “Our customers love these meatballs.”

The cost: $14

Contact: Call 609-688-0007 or visit osteriaprocaccini.com

Ristorante Venezia serves veal meatballs. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Ristorante Venezia)

Ristorante Venezia serves veal meatballs. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Ristorante Venezia)

Veal meatballs from Ristorante Venezia at 112 Main St, Woodbridge

The meatballs: The three veal meatballs are served with marinara sauce over rigatoni.

What customers have to say: “People are crazy about these meatballs,” said Remi Gjekaj, owner.

The cost: $19.95 for an entree

Contact: Call 732-855-8995 or visit ristorantevenezia.com

If you’re looking to stay in for that meatball comfort meal, then check out Joanie Singer of Matawan’s Singer’s Surprise Meatballs recipe here:

Joanie Singer of Matawan has created her own "Singer's Surprise Meatballs." (Photo: ~Courtesy of Joanie Singer)

Joanie Singer of Matawan has created her own “Singer’s Surprise Meatballs.” (Photo: ~Courtesy of Joanie Singer)

Instructions

  1. Heat sauce on low flame
  2. Take half the meat for meatball, add chunk of cheese in the middle and add other half of meat and roll together into meatball and add into sauce
  3. If chopped meat is too loose, add in some breadcrumbs
  4. Continue into all meat and cheese is in the sauce
  5. Cover loosely and cook for one to one and a half hours on a low flame
  6. Cut open meatballs and surprise!

Or see Martorano’s Meatballs taken from “It Ain’t Sauce it’s Gravy: Macaroni, Homestyle Cheesesteaks, The Best Meatballs in the World,” courtesy of reader Kevin B. Keane.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 pound of stale hoagie rolls
  • 1/2 pound of ground beef
  • 1/2 pound of ground veal
  • 1/2 pound of ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 3 cups vegetable oil

Instructions

  1. Finely chop the parsley, allowing it to dry for 30 minutes in the open air, and set aside.
  2. Slice your bread into 1/2-inch pieces, add water, and mash with your hands until it’s smooth and the water is incorporated, 6 or 7 minutes. The bread should have a firm but doughy texture.
  3. Add your beef, veal, Pork, salt, pepper and granulated garlic to the bread; knead well until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
  4. Add the egg, the parmigiano peggiano and parsley, kneading again until all ingredients are well combined.
  5. Finally, add your bread crumbs and knead well again. Resist the temptation just to throw all the ingredients into a bowl and mix at the same time: the order of this procedure in this recipe is very important to the final product.
  6. Divide and weigh the mixture into balls of 5 1/2 ounces, then roll them, using a circular motion between both hands, until your meatballs are round and firm. You will get roughly eighteen meatballs.
  7. In a 14-inch frying pan, heat the vegetable oil to 325 degrees F.(Use a Candy thermometer to gauge the correct temperature.) Once the oil is hot, gently place the meatballs in the oil and cook in batches. The oil should have a slow bubble to it.
  8. When the meatballs are light brown in color, flip them over with a pair of tongs, and cook until brown on the other side. The internal temperature should be 150 degrees F.
  9. You can eat the meatballs like this, or add them to the Sunday pork gravy and let them simmer for 30 minutes before serving.

Be Greek for a day (or four) with St. George

There may be 25 Orthodox Greek churches throughout the state and at least 20 Greek festivals from May through October, but St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Piscataway’s festival, which will take place Thursday, May 12, to Sunday, May 15, is a little different.

“It’s the ‘kefi’ that makes us different — the level of energy at the festival,” said Arete Bouhlas, publicity manager who has been involved in the festival for 37 years. “Some festivals say they end at 11 p.m., but they’re quiet by 9:30 p.m. By 12:30 a.m., we have to kick people out.”

By no means, however, is this St. George’s first go at this Greek staple. This year, one the largest and oldest Greek congregations in the state — having been founded in 1916 and now boasting 800 families — will be celebrating their 100th anniversary at the 43rd annual festival.

The state’s first Greek festival of the season, St. George is planning to attract 10,000 to 15,000 Greeks and non-Greeks to the festival and church grounds at 1101 River Road in Piscataway. This is a significant jump from the few thousand that attended over the three-day weekend when the festival began in 1973.

Although there are many reasons for the festival’s popularity, there is one that certainly stands, or tastes and smells, out — the food, all of which is homemade on the premises by church members, many from recipes that have been passed down through generations.

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“As people have heard more about it, the numbers have increased,” said Bouhlas. “Now, people know that it’s always the weekend after Mother’s Day and they flock here in big groups.”

Some of the food items that will be available this year are mousaka, or Greek eggplant; pastitsio, or Greek-style baked macaroni; spanakopita, or spinach and cheese pie; baklava, or nut strudel; and galaktoboureko, or custard supreme. There also will be bar items.

“My favorite part of the festival is the food — the shish kabobs, the gyros, the traditional foods and the pastries,” said George Athanasopoulos, festival chair who has been involved for 10 years. “Everything is made right there and you can see how we make it.”

On any given evening, there are 75 to 100 church volunteers helping to cook the Greek food and run the festival. In total, about 500 people volunteer. Bouhlas said that everyone from the church community comes together, from 6-year-old children to 90-year-old women.

Church members do this at the festival to fundraise for cultural programming, youth programming, Greek language and religion classes, the traditional Greek folk dancing program, community involvement and, this year, to fund activities associated with the church’s 100th anniversary.

St. George Greek Orthodox Church will be holding their annual Greek festival this weekend. ~Courtesy of St. George Piscataway

St. George Greek Orthodox Church will be holding their annual Greek festival this weekend. ~Courtesy of St. George Piscataway

“It’s not very often that an organization gets to celebrate its 100th anniversary,” said Bouhlas.

Of course, food isn’t the only thing that brings Central Jerseyans in to celebrate Greek culture. They also head to the festival to listen to live Greek music and watch the folk dance performances from the church’s six dance groups.

Bouhlas said that her favorite part of the festival is the sense of community that exists in the church atmosphere. The dance performances are the favorite part of the festival for John Lyssikatos, church volunteer and former festival chair.

“The children dancing shows how dedicated the community is and how dedicated they are in continuing the traditions,” said Lyssikatos, who has been involved in the festival for 35 years. “There are 10-years-olds up to 17-year-olds who have been practicing for two to three months. To see our guests supporting them — it goes a long way.”

“Just like with family at holidays, there are some people that you may only see at festival time,” Bouhlas said. “But then when you see each other, it’s like you were never apart.”

St. George Greek Orthodox Church will be holding their annual Greek festival this weekend. ~Courtesy of St. George Piscataway

St. George Greek Orthodox Church will be holding their annual Greek festival this weekend. ~Courtesy of St. George Piscataway

If you go

What: St. George Greek Orthodox Church’s 43rd annual Greek Festival

Where: 1101 River Road, Piscataway

When: Thursday, May 12, from 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday, May 13, from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 14, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.; and Sunday, May 15, from noon to 8 p.m. 

Cost: Free Thursday, May 12; free Friday May 13 until 4 p.m.; otherwise, a $2 donation.

Contact: For more information, visit gocnj.org/festival/, call 732-463-1642 or email stgeorge@gocnj.org

Traffic: Free parking and shuttle service is available at the church and from Rutgers Stadium. Please note that Sunday’s festival date will coincide with Rutgers’ commencement and traffic notices will be posted as they are available. 

6 mouth-watering specialty pizzas in Central Jersey

Written for MyCentralJersey.com

Everyone likes a good old-fashioned slice of pepperoni pie to finish off a long week.

However, would you prefer to have a pizza that’s decked out with spaghetti and meatballs? What about a pizza that’s been smothered in shrimp marinara?

Luckily for Central Jerseyans, our region is stacked with pizzerias that offer specialty pies that are creative and mouth-watering, all sure to induce a full stomach and a yearning for just one more slice.

Check out these six local spots that serve much more than just a pepperoni pie (though there’s nothing wrong with that choice either!).

Cheesesteak Pizza at Goodfellows Pizza and Italian Specialties. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Goodfellows Pizza and Italian Specialties)

Cheesesteak Pizza at Goodfellows Pizza and Italian Specialties. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Goodfellows Pizza and Italian Specialties)

Goodfellows Cheesesteak Pizza at Goodfellows Pizza and Italian Specialties at 3 Johnson Ln., Parlin

The Parlin pizza spot serves up a cheesesteak pizza made with ground beef steak, sauteed peppers, onions and mushrooms topped with mozzarella and one other ingredient that sets it apart from other cheesesteaks – Alfredo sauce.

Tyler Cardigan, counter employee, said that customers love the pie because they appreciate its use of Alfredo sauce rather than the typical tomato sauce.

Customers can get a large, 16-inch pie for $20.10.

To find out more, call 732-707-4455 or visit goodfellowstakeout.com.

Shrimp scampi pizza is a popular seafood pizza at Carlo's. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Carlo's Gourmet Pizza)

Shrimp scampi pizza is a popular seafood pizza at Carlo’s. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Carlo’s Gourmet Pizza)

Shrimp Scampi Pizza at Carlo’s Gourmet Pizza at 326 US Highway 9, Manalapan

Carlo’s serves various seafood pizzas, include a seafood fra diavolo and a pie topped with clams, however its shrimp scampi pizza, which is shrimps and scampi sauce layered with pizza crust and cheese, is one of its most popular.

Carlo Amato, owner of the restaurant, said that since people love seafood, that pie and their other seafood pizzas have been a huge hit.

A large, 16-inch pie can be purchased for $18.

To learn more, call 732-536-6070 or visit carlosgourmetpizza.com.

Lubrano's Pizzeria and Restaurant serves a spaghetti and meatball pizza. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Lubrano's Pizzeria and Restaurant)

Lubrano’s Pizzeria and Restaurant serves a spaghetti and meatball pizza. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Lubrano’s Pizzeria and Restaurant)

Spaghetti and Meatball Pizza at Lubrano’s Pizzeria and Restaurant at 1830 Easton Ave., Somerset

The thin-crusted pizza, topped with chopped meatballs mixed with pasta, tomato sauce and cheese spread over dough was just an idea cooked up by Lubrano’s Pizzeria, but it turned out to be such a good seller that owner Angie Lubrano now makes it every Friday.

“This pizza creates a full meal for sure,” she said. “People have one slice and they don’t need to eat anything else.”

For $20, customers can get a 16-inch pie.

To get more information, call 732-271-1144 or visit lubranospizzeria.com.

The chicken barbecue pizza, which features chicken, cheddar cheese and tangy barbecue sauce - has worked out pretty well for Antonio's Pizzeria and Restaurant. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Antonio's Pizzeria and Restaurant)

The chicken barbecue pizza, which features chicken, cheddar cheese and tangy barbecue sauce – has worked out pretty well for Antonio’s Pizzeria and Restaurant. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Antonio’s Pizzeria and Restaurant)

Chicken Barbecue Pizza at Antonio’s Pizzeria and Restaurant at 337 Applegarth Road, Monroe Township

The chicken barbecue pizza, which features chicken, cheddar cheese and tangy barbecue sauce, has worked out well for Antonio’s Pizzeria and Restaurant.

“Some people come in just for that slice,” said Danny Miller, manager.

A slice costs $3.50 and a 16-inch large pie costs $16.95.

To learn more, call 609-395-9195 or visit antoniosrestaurantmonroe.com.

An upside-down Sicilian pizza from Sal's Gourmet Pizzeria. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Sal's Gourmet Pizzeria)

An upside-down Sicilian pizza from Sal’s Gourmet Pizzeria. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Sal’s Gourmet Pizzeria)

Upside-Down Sicilian Pie at Sal’s Gourmet Pizzeria and Restaurant at 220 Triangle Road #229, Hillsborough Township

Love Sicilian pizza? Then you may just be a fan of Upside-Down Sicilian Pie, which is a Sicilian pizza in Brooklyn-style made backwards – that is, layered with sliced mozzarella on the dough, followed by tomato sauce, extra-virgin olive oil and topped with pecorino romano cheese and basil.

The 8-slice square pie, which isn’t on the menu but is available on request, costs $17 and Guiseppe Garcia, manager, said that his customers think it’s well worth it – they call it the best pizza in the area and are thrilled with its New York-style.

To learn more, call 908-369-6944 or visit salsgourmetpizzanj.com.

A bruschetta pizza from Delizia Pizza. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Delizia Pizza)

A bruschetta pizza from Delizia Pizza. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Delizia Pizza)

Bruschetta Pizza at Delizia Pizza at 146 Route 31, Flemington

One of the restaurant’s most popular pies, the bruschetta pizza at Delizia Pizza features ricotta and Parmesan cheese on top of tomato, basil, garlic, onions, olive oil and oregano in true-bruschetta style.

Zee Murdoeiz, owner of the pizzeria, said that everyone is a fan of the specialty pie.

The 18-inch pizza costs $18.50.

To find out more, call 908-237-4502 or visit deliziapizzanj.com.

Brews, bars and beer nerds abound in Easton

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/3/15

Dona Rehm, a 5-foot-tall Lilly Pulitzer fanatic and member of sorority Alpha Omicron Pi, doesn’t exactly look like a stereotypical beer drinker. However, since the Long Valley native moved to Easton, Pennsylvania, after taking a job at Lafayette College in January 2014, she has certainly become one.

“I rarely ordered beer before I moved here, but after going to beer tastings at Weyerbacher Brewing Company, working on my mug at Porters’ Pub and exploring the local restaurants, the local scene in Easton had turned me into a beer connoisseur,” she said.

Rehm isn’t the only one who has been transformed into a beer nerd after a move, or even a visit, to Easton. Larry Porter, co-proprietor of Porters’ Pub, a craft beer bar at 700 Northampton St., said that he sees it a lot, partly because Easton pubs are able to show them that beer isn’t just Budweiser and Miller Lite.

“One of my favorite challenges is when someone says they don’t like beer but I say, ‘Well, you probably just haven’t had the right beer,’” he said. “I can give them all types of beer, even one that tastes like a flavored champagne.’”

Today, Easton is a hot spot for those looking for out-of-the-ordinary brews and makes for a great day trip or weekend getaway because of its plethora of beer bars, breweries and beer events.

Two Rivers Brewing makes up one point of the 'Beermuda Triangle.' (Photo: ~Courtesy of Two Rivers Brewing)

Two Rivers Brewing makes up one point of the ‘Beermuda Triangle.’
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Two Rivers Brewing)

Weyerbacher Brewing Company at 905 Line St., which specializes in high-gravity beers, offers tours, a bar area and a busy events calendar. It has recently been accompanied by Two Rivers Brewing at 542 Northampton St., which opened in late 2012 as a restaurant but has begun brewing its own beers — some named after local Eastonites — about one year ago.

Two Rivers Brewing meets Porters’ Pub and Black and Blue, the newest venture of the owners of Porters’ Pub, to form what has been dubbed the “Beermuda Triangle,” since the three establishments form a walkable triangle for those looking to pub-hop.

Porters’ Pub, which maintains a rotating list 150 craft bottles and drafts including many rare beers, is perhaps most famous for their “Mug Club,” where visitors work on finishing a list of 60 beers representing varying styles to eventually earn a pewter mug with personalized engraving, hung from the ceiling of the pub. So far, 4400 people have earned their mugs with another 10,000 currently working on completion.

Other local craft beer establishments include Pearly Baker’s Alehouse at 11 Centre Square which has 26 beers on tap and Maxim’s 22 at 322 Northampton St. which has 22 beers on tap. For beers to take home, Eastonites head to Daddy’s Place, a Mediterranean restaurant where visitors can also create their own six- or 12-pack from a 1,200-beer selection.

Porters Pub is best known for their Mug Club, where visitors get to try 60 beers to earn a mug. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Porters Pub)

Porters Pub is best known for their Mug Club, where visitors get to try 60 beers to earn a mug. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Porters Pub)

It’s obvious that today, Easton is a haven for beer lovers. However, by no means has it always been this way, although with Easton as the home of historic breweries such as Kuebler Brewery and Seitz Brewery of the 1800s, the history does seem to be ingrained.

“There was nothing else in Easton in 1990 when we opened,” said Porter. “There were a few restaurants in center square — and by that, I mean two, a sweet shop and a bar — but that was about it. Over the years, other bars and restaurants have opened up. Now, there are places opening up with 20 or 50 taps.”

Since Porters’ Pub didn’t serve domestic mass-produced beers when it opened and had only six taps, Porter said he was told that he would probably be out of business in six months. That was 26 years ago.

Joshua Lampe, chief operating officer of Weyerbacher Brewing, said that when they opened 21 years ago, they chose Easton because incentives were being offered in attempts to revitalize the downtown area. Only a few other beer bars were around. Years later, Weyerbacher had to move to the outskirts of the city just to make room for brewery expansion.

Porters Pub offers a rotating menu of 150 beers. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Porters Pub)

Porters Pub offers a rotating menu of 150 beers. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Porters Pub)

Amy Boccadorro, Easton Main Street assistant manager, marketing director and Easton resident, said that she has seen an Easton beer — and food — upswing during the last 10 years, and during the last five years, she has seen even more of an explosion.

“I think Easton blows other small cities out of the water when it comes to beer and food,” she said. “Long-standing beer enthusiasts want to be here and it’s got a really good track record so far.”

Rehm said that before she moved to Easton, she thought of it as a small town known primarily for the Crayola Factory and Lafayette College and she didn’t think there would be much to do in terms of entertainment or things to do on the weekends that did not include college students or small children. Today, she knows better.

“Many of my friends and family members have commented on how impressed they are with the little town I now call my home,” she said. “It only takes one visit for people to be blown away by all that Easton has to offer, especially in the beer and food department.”

Two Rivers Brewing started brewing about one year ago. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Two Rivers Brewing)

Two Rivers Brewing started brewing about one year ago. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Two Rivers Brewing)