Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 11/22/16
There aren’t many cities left in the United States where you can find 100-year-old Italian bakeries, restaurants and groceries on every corner, sporting owners that still speak with thick Italian accents.
However, we have one right around the corner in Hoboken — and a food tour run by a local to offer New Jerseyans a back-stage pass to all that’s authentically Italian.
The Mangia Hoboken Food and Culture Tour, a 3½-hour $48 tour that includes eight hearty samples, was founded and has been run by Hoboken resident Avi Ohring for the last eight years.
Ohring, a Hoboken resident for the last 30 years, started and planned the tour itinerary, based on his knowledge of local Italian hangouts, right before the launch of “Cake Boss” in early 2009.
“I am very active with the Hoboken Historical Museum, and we did a spring garden tour on a beautiful day and around 500 people showed up,” he said. “I had seen food tours done in New York City, and with the success of the spring garden tour and the premiere of “Cake Boss” coming, I knew that it would be a great time to start a Hoboken food tour.”
Although Ohring isn’t Italian, he quickly saw Italian food and culture as a unifying force in Hoboken and put together an itinerary of eight stops equipped with food samples including sandwiches, mozzarella, chocolate, cupcakes, pizza, bread, coffee and cannolis.
“I already kind of knew all of the businesses,” said Ohring, who sells point-of-sale systems by day, mostly for restaurants. “I used to live on the block where Lisa’s Italian Deli, one of the most popular stops, is.”
Throughout those eight years, the tour’s itinerary has remained relatively stable, especially throughout the last six years. The stops include Dom’s Bakery Grand, a bare-bones specialty bakery that bakes its bread in a traditional coal-burning brick oven; Carlo’s City Hall Bake Shop, which produces 50 to 70 specialty cakes, 300 to 400 event cakes and Italian pastries per week and is known for the television show “Cake Boss”; and Empire Coffee and Tea Co., which roasts its own coffee beans.
Plus, visitors will head to Lepore’s Chocolates, Fiore’s House of Quality, known for its “roast beef and mozz,” which received the Best Hero award by the Village Voice, Lisa’s Italian Deli, which features award-winning mozzarella cheese; Zagat-rated Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria, which uses a coal-fired brick oven designed and built by the owner, Sweet, that is known for its red velvet cupcakes and a stop at the site of Frank Sinatra’s childhood home.
Sixteen people can fit on each tour, which runs every Saturday at 2 p.m. from the Hoboken PATH station at 215 Hudson St. Beginning Jan. 7, there is only a tour every other Saturday until April. The Mangia Hoboken Food and Culture tour includes about a mile and a half of walking with frequent stops at other Hoboken points of interest as well as Italian restaurants and bakeries.
Tickets can be purchased here for $48 per person and children under 6 are free, or they can be purchased over the phone at 800-595-4849. Remaining tickets, if available, can also be purchased from the tour leader at the Hoboken PATH station at the time of the tour.
Unlike big city tours, at the Mangia Hoboken Food and Culture Tour, visitors are likely to meet the owners of the family-run businesses.
“What’s different about Hoboken is that many of these businesses have a degree of longevity, since they have been here for over 100 years,” Ohring said. “This offers an authenticity that you don’t find everywhere else.”
Mangia Hoboken Food and Culture Tour
Where: Hoboken PATH station at 215 Hudson St.
When: Every Saturday at 2 p.m., every other Saturday from Jan. 7 until April
Length: Tours last 3½ hours and include 1½ miles of walking
Cost: $48 per person, children under 6 are free, includes eight hearty samples