Enlist these East Brunswick experts to plan your cruise vacation

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/9/17

EAST BRUNSWICK – With summer almost here, those who love to hop on to their “instant vacation” — a cruise — are already scouring the internet for the best deals, newest ships and coolest amenities.

However, with the new Expedia CruiseShipCenter that is set to open at 285-291 Route 18 South, East Brunswick, in about two to three months, vacationers who love to set sail will be able to enlist a local expert to help them plan their trip.

“You don’t get individualized service when you try booking a cruise on your own, and booking one isn’t like booking a hotel room,” said Brook Smith, founder of the new location, East Brunswick resident and travel agent for the past 17 years. “There are a lot of questions you need to answer pertaining to dining times, types of rooms, dietary needs and more, so having an expert to speak with beforehand is very beneficial.”

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A spot for upscale dining or a cold brew at Capital Craft

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/2/17

When you walk into Capital Craft, a rustic-chic tavern that opened in January of 2016 at 171 Route 22 in Green Brook, you’re not just going to find craft beer fanatics enjoying a coal-fired pizza and a local beer.

You’re also not just going to find couples alongside the virtual fireplace enjoying fine dining entrees, such as the red wine-braised short ribs or the pan-roasted chicken.

Instead, you’re going to find both.

That’s because Capital Craft, which prides itself on having a seasonal, upscale-casual menu as well as a rotating craft beer selection, is constantly evolving as the local watering hole of Green Brook and the surrounding area.

“There’s not many places that are doing casual food really well,” said Wayne Mascola, Capital Craft chef. “But here, you can come in and get a pizza or burger with a beer, or you can get a bottle of wine and have a seafood dinner.”

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Designers deck out historic estate with modern twist for Mansion in May

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 4/30/17

Just a few months ago, Alnwick Hall, known today as The Abbey, was an empty, yet notable, 20,000-square-foot home, a rare survivor from the early 20th century’s ‘Millionaire’s Row’ of estates, on a portion of Madison Avenue between Morristown and Madison.

Since its elegant heyday as a palatial home, The Abbey at 355 Madison Ave. has served as a bank, medical offices and church administration offices.

Now, thanks to 64 top designers from around the region, The Abbey has been restored to a grand estate setting for this year’s Mansion in May, a fundraiser for Morristown Medical Center. The designers have enhanced and beautified its 41 spaces and gardens with their personal twists and modern spins, while retaining the mansion’s original charm.

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Hunterdon County Art Tour offers glimpse inside local studios

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 4/25/17

Artists and art lovers have always known that Hunterdon County, filled with beautiful greenery and charming downtowns throughout its 26 municipalities, is a hotspot for the arts with its plethora of studios, art museums, arts events and theaters.

However, after the Hunterdon County Art Tour holds its first countywide self-guided driving and walking art tour May 6 and 7, the committee of volunteers made up of artists, art lovers and longtime Hunterdon County residents hopes that everyone else will know, too.

Throughout the weekend, 37 local artists’ studios will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., when visitors can peruse and purchase artwork and learn more about mediums such as ceramics, glass, jewelry, painting, printmaking, sculpture and textiles — in their very own backyard.

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‘The Big Easy’s’ annual Jazz Fest is finally here

Written by Guest Blogger Donato Soranno

New Orleans has been called “The Big Easy” – and justifiably so.

I have been attending The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since 1990 since here, you can find the best musicians, the best chefs and some of the oldest history in the United States.

New Orleans during Mardi Gras. (Photo by Donato Soranno)

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Visit this otherworldly Hindu temple in NJ

If you see photos of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple that is adorned with intricate Italian Carrara marble hand-carvings and images sacred to the Hindu faithful, you may think that you’re looking at the image of a structure thousands of miles away.

But this otherworldly temple is right around the corner in Robbinsville, Mercer County, and has been attracting those of the Hindu faith as well as those interested in its architecture and significance since it was built in 2014.

“For the Hindus, this is a place to see God, purify themselves and increase their faith in God,” said Lenin Joshi, a mandir volunteer who lives in Lawrenceville and visits the mandir about twice a week. “For those who are not Hindu, they feel that coming here calms their minds and they experience peace. They learn the messages of tolerance, nonviolence and coexistence, and many also find the strength to give up addictions when they come.”

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99 Ranch brings Asian cooking to NJ homes

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 4/11/17

In Central Jersey, those with Asian and non-Asian backgrounds have the blessing of being surrounded by delectable Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino restaurants they can flock to anytime they have a craving for sushi, dumplings or spring rolls.

However, thanks to specialty food markets such as 99 Ranch, an Asian supermarket chain that opened its first New Jersey location at the Wick Shopping Plaza at 561 Route 1 in Edison in January, those with a constant craving for Asian dishes have new choices for their favorite meals.

The largest Asian supermarket chain in the United States with 49 locations since its establishment in 1984 in Westminster, California — also known as Little Saigon — with many more on the way, 99 Ranch expanded to Edison because of its large Asian population, said Virginia Tan, marketing manager for 99 Ranch.

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A surreal tropical paradise found in Tahiti

Written by Dr. Donato (Dan) Soranno 

Tahiti, Bora Bora and the group known as the Society Islands can best be summed up as the definition of tropical paradise.

To get there, we flew across the United States to Los Angeles and then the next day, we took Air Tahiti Nui to Tahiti. Upon arrival we were taken immediately to our cruise ship, The Paul Gaugin. This was rated the best cruise in the world and after spending a week on the boat, I have to agree.

Bora Bora. (Photo by Donato Soranno)

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Battle and Brews brings in history buffs looking for cold one

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 4/5/17

Battle of Bound Brook Living History Weekend, an annual event scheduled for April 8 and 9 that explores Bound Brook’s colorful history as a Revolutionary War hotspot, has brought in history buffs since 2001 who are excited by the event’s battle reenactments, historic house tours and special presentations and exhibits.

For the first time, however, the Bound Brook Council and the Bound Brook Revitalization Partnership are ensuring that they also attract millennials and others looking for a cold beer and some good food for Living History Weekend this year — by hosting Battle and Brews, a free pub crawl through Bound Brook that will be held Saturday, April 8 from 1 to 4 p.m.

“Bound Brook is the oldest town in Somerset County and was the host to Battle of Bound Brook, so in a historical sense, the area is very important,” said Abel Gomez, Bound Brook Borough Council president. “In bringing in the brews portion of this, we also wanted to highlight our reinvention of the town and its coming out of a negative connotation. We figured this would be a great way to get out-of-towners in and also spotlight our bars and restaurants.”

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Dig your way to the NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 4/4/17

Most mineral, gem and fossil shows in New Jersey take place in church basements or municipal parking lots. Although the events are fun, participants and vendor numbers are modest and attendants don’t venture very far to attend.

The same definitely cannot be said for the three-day New York/New Jersey Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show, held every April inside the 150,000-square-foot New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center, 97 Sunfield Ave., Edison.

This year, anywhere from 16,000 to 20,000 people are expected to attend the April 7 to 9 event, eager to check out the 350 vendor booths and seven exhibits, including those from the Smithsonian Institution, the American Museum of Natural History and more.

People come from all over the tristate area to attend the cash-only show, which costs $10 for children 4 to 10, $15 for all over 12 and free for those under 4.

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