New Jersey

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

 

What Atlantic City has in store for summer

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

For the beach rats and travel junkies of New Jersey, the premature warm weather last month served as a pleasant reminder of what’s to come — long summer days hanging on the Jersey Shore.

Atlantic City, which has sought to expand its reputation as a gambling destination into one that has much more to offer than slot machines, is also revving up for the busy season with renovations and new development that are slotted to be ready by summer.

“Atlantic City is the only city in the Northeast that offers all of the seashore amenities as well as gambling,” said Elaine Shapiro Zamansky, manager of media relations for the Atlantic City Tourism District.

This year, the city anticipates about 25 million visitors, which is on par with recent visitor numbers throughout the last few years.

This year, the city anticipates about 25 million visitors, which is on par with recent visitor numbers throughout the last few years. (Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)

This year, the city anticipates about 25 million visitors, which is on par with recent visitor numbers throughout the last few years.
(Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)

Tropicana Casino and Resort will be bringing in a new nightlife venue, Kiss Kiss a Go Go, in which Ivan Kane will take patrons on a trip down the rabbit hole to the neon-fueled nights of Bangkok, to Atlantic City.

The Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa will also be adding a new nightclub, Premiere Nightclub, which will be an 18,000-square-foot venue designed by Josh Held, one of the top club designers in the United States who also stands behind Marquee NYC, TAO Las Vegas and Voyeur Los Angeles.

The modern yet elaborate nightclub will feature tiered booths, two 35-foot-long bars, a mezzanine area and a 25-foot-diameter chandelier with a programmable light inside the $14 million addition.

Plus, the WAV nightclub is coming to the Playground, which will be a 20,000-square-foot space that includes a main stage, mezzanine level, outdoor terrace, four bars, 8,000 square feet of LED screens and a 200,000-watt sound system. It will be the only nightclub in the United States that sits directly over the Atlantic Ocean.

Tropicana Casino and Resort will be bringing in a new nightlife venue, Kiss Kiss a Go Go, which will take Ivan Kane’s burlesque style, accompanied by sequined dancers, to Atlantic City. (Photo: ~File photo)

Tropicana Casino and Resort will be bringing in a new nightlife venue, Kiss Kiss a Go Go, which will take Ivan Kane’s burlesque style, accompanied by sequined dancers, to Atlantic City. (Photo: ~File photo)

If visitors are looking for a more laid-back bar atmosphere, they will be able to head to Bally’s Boardwalk Saloon, an indoor and outdoor bar that will anchor the north end of the boardwalk entrance of the Wild Wild West casino that will also house Guy Fieri’s BBQ Joint and the AC Snack Shack.

When it comes to dining, Dock’s Oyster House, one of the city’s oldest businesses that dates to 1897, will double its original capacity with two additional dining areas on the second floor as well as a new kitchen.

“While the casino market has contracted, the attractions, nightlife and entertainment options have expanded, offering more for families and all ages,” said Zamansky.

Monika Bartnik, a Sayreville native, visits Atlantic City about three times a year because she enjoys the convenience of not having to wait outside in the cold for entertainment during the winter, as well as club hours that venture after 2 a.m. and the fact that it is one of the few destinations in New Jersey that allows her to have a fun, affordable night without having to leave her hotel.

“Atlantic City is a great party destination for when I choose to go with a large, diverse group of people,” she said. “There’s something for the gamblers of my group, the ones who like to go to the bars and those that like to dance the night away.”

Dock’s Oyster House, one of the city’s oldest businesses which dates back to 1897, will double its original capacity with two additional dining areas on the second floor as well as a new kitchen. (Photo: ~File photo)

Dock’s Oyster House, one of the city’s oldest businesses which dates back to 1897, will double its original capacity with two additional dining areas on the second floor as well as a new kitchen. (Photo: ~File photo)

How the Irish in N.J. celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

On St. Patrick’s Day and on various days prior, I will do my duty and cheer alongside parade routes, head to local Irish pubs, drink green beers and paint shamrocks on my face.

However, I do not have one hint of Irish in me.

Obviously, I’m not the only one, per the popular adage, ‘everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.’  But have you ever wondered how the real Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

“St. Patrick’s Day is kind of an American happening,” said Chris Flynn, owner of Hailey’s Harp and Pub, a Metuchen Irish pub that will receive around 1,000 visitors on the holiday, a huge upswing from their 200-person onslaught on a normal Saturday night. “However, the day is still about having ‘craic,’ or a good time, no matter where you are on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Ken Gardner, president of American Irish Association of Woodbridge who is mostly Irish, said that he believes that St. Patrick’s Day is “somewhat different” in Ireland, but in his position, he has had the opportunity to meet the Ireland’s ambassador to the United States and the counsel general and they have expressed their appreciation for the Americans’ keeping the St. Patrick’s Day traditions alive.

A celebration at Hailey's Harp and Pub. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Heather Lee Photography)

A celebration at Hailey’s Harp and Pub.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Heather Lee Photography)

At home in New Jersey, Joan McNichol, president of the American-Irish Association of Central Jersey who is mostly Irish, celebrates St. Patrick’s Day for the entire season.

Wearing green on the day of my interview with her on March 10, McNichol said that she has been listening to Irish music to get into the spirit. On the holiday itself, she will bring in Irish soda bread to her workplace and listen to the Willie Lynch Band play later in the evening, a local Irish band, as well as eat corned beef and do traditional Irish dances such as Stack of Barley.

“This all just amounts to a typical Irish celebration,” she said.

The American Irish Association of Woodbridge, which was founded in 1966 and has over 400 members, held their two-mile parade Sunday, which they worked to organize for the entire year prior. It was made up of 10 bagpipe bands, area high school bands, fire departments, VFWs, sports leagues and other community organizations.

For this reason, St. Patrick’s Day is the association’s chance to have a day of relaxation and a good time to celebrate another parade – this year being their forty-third.

A celebration at Hailey's Harp and Pub. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Heather Lee Photography)

A celebration at Hailey’s Harp and Pub. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Heather Lee Photography)

“On St. Patrick’s Day, we meet up at a local establishment that supports the parade each year,” said Gardner. “Since we work so hard before the parade, we’re a little tired by the time we get there, but we’re still up for a good time.”

The American-Irish Association of Central Jersey, which is three years old and has about 20 families in its membership, marched in its third parade on Sunday in Somerville.

Flynn celebrates the holiday by taking his family and management team out to New York City to visit Irish pubs, listen to live Irish music and enjoy some authentic fare, one week after St. Patrick’s Day.

“On the holiday itself, I still find it fun to be out celebrating with people,” said Flynn. “How great is it to go to a parade, watch the pipe bands march, see the Irish girls dance and see people with shamrocks on their faces?”

In order to spread out the holiday cheer, Hailey’s Harp and Pub has been hosting Irish events since Saturday night and will continue to do so each night until Friday.

“Come the other five nights because then you’ll experience more of the Irish,” said Flynn. “Plus, we’re also an Irish pub the other 364 days of the year.”

The American-Irish Association of Central Jersey in the Somerville St. Patrick's Day parade. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Joan McNichol)

The American-Irish Association of Central Jersey in the Somerville St. Patrick’s Day parade. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Joan McNichol)

On St. Patrick’s Day, Flynn describes the pub as a “large house party” with people cocktailing and having a great time.

So what do these Irish-Americans think of those who are not Irish celebrating the iconic holiday?

“From our organization and personally, we work hard on the parade for our entire community – we know that not everyone is Irish,” said Gardner. “We all have a great day together and support the culture and homeland.”

Flynn said that just as he celebrates Cinco de Mayo when he is “110 percent Irish,” he appreciates that everyone can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. However, he also encourages people to visit local Irish establishments throughout the year when they’re doing other events as well, rather than solely on St. Patrick’s Day.

First Woodbridge Parade Chairman Justin McCarthy, who later became an announcer and director, and Ken Gardner, president of American Irish Association of Woodbridge. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Ken Gardner)

First Woodbridge Parade Chairman Justin McCarthy, who later became an announcer and director, and Ken Gardner, president of American Irish Association of Woodbridge. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Ken Gardner)

McNichol said that she “loves it” when she sees non-Irish celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

“Our motto is that we are open to the Irish and everyone who loves the Irish, which should be everyone,” she said. “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

She said that there was never a St. Patrick’s Day growing up where she wasn’t surrounded by culture, food and parties. As a child, her family would pile in the car and head to Newark, which held one of the only parades at the time.

“There was a certain feeling in the air that I knew that this was my culture,” she said. “You stand a little taller when you hear the pipe bands play when you’re Irish.”

Walk into the West at the Colorado Cafe

A mechanical bull that people flock to for a one-minute, adrenaline-filled ride. Line-dancing lessons on a 3,000-square-foot dance floor with music blaring. Live cover bands that pack a bar stuffed full of country and rock fans alike.

Could this be in Nashville, Tennessee, Houston, maybe Denver?

Nope. Actually, it’s in Watchung.

The Colorado Café, which offers a modern take on the classic experience of country in a state not exactly known for cowboy hats and bull-riding, is “not like anywhere else around here,” said Alan Bauerle, general manager.

The same can be said for when the Café was founded 22 years ago by Bauerle and partners. “We wanted to open a bar, restaurant and entertainment complex that was different than anything else in the area,” he said. “Country music was growing in popularity and as we looked at different locations, we found this 13,000 square-foot banquet house on seven acres of property in a high-income area.”

A challenger rides Buck Off, the state's only mechanical bull. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Colorado Cafe)

A challenger rides Buck Off, the state’s only mechanical bull.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Colorado Cafe)

Clearly, the Café struck a whip for the 2,500 people that visit weekly.

Lindsey Irwin of Roxbury, who visited the Café last winter, said, “I liked the Colorado Cafe because the atmosphere is different than the majority of bars around New Jersey that I’ve been to. There aren’t many Western-style places on the East Coast so it is nice to do something different.”

Irwin, who has visited bars in Denver and Park City, Utah, said that she thinks the Colorado Cafe does a good job at bringing the Western-feel people would experience if they visited the true west.

Even though the Colorado Café mimics a country experience, it’s unique in the fact that many venues in the Midwest don’t have a 3,000-square-foot dance floor, which presents the opportunity for line and couple dancing classes, which take place on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels from 4 to 7 p.m.

Plus, line dancing in the Midwest tends to be two-step line dancing, while the Colorado Café teaches choreographed line dancing that ventures from Garth Brooks to Lady Gaga.

Line dancing classes are offered three times a week. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Colorado Cafe)

Line dancing classes are offered three times a week. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Colorado Cafe)

“There’s so many things to do with country and now the stars aren’t the Garth Brooks of the ‘90s – they’re much more pop,” said Bauerle. “We are the enhanced experience of a classic experience of country. We try to embrace everyone’s taste in music.”

The line dancing classes, taught by about half a dozen instructors, garner 75 to 125 people each night of the sessions, which are included in the Café’s cover charge – $5 on Wednesday and Sundays and $10 on Saturdays.

Besides the line dancing classes, another huge pull of the Colorado Café is its mechanical bull, Buck Off, who is the only mechanical bull inside a venue in the state. All riders must be at least 21-years-old on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (and 18-years-old on Sundays), less than 240 pounds and must sign a waiver. However, Bauerle said the bull is very safe and the intent is to entertain people and create a show, not to create an impossible challenge.

“We’re not looking to throw someone off in eight seconds,” said Bauerle. “We want people, if they’re up for it, to stay on the bull for a minute or so and get a fun video taken by their friends.”

Half-pound burgers are famous at the Cafe. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Colorado Cafe)

Half-pound burgers are famous at the Cafe. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Colorado Cafe)

The operator adjusts the bucking and spinning mechanism depending on the rider’s comfort level and his judgment.

Rock and country cover bands also head to the Colorado Café on Saturday nights, including country cover band Big Hix and rock cover bands Blame it on Richie, the Guy Smiley Band and Mr. LoveJoy. On Friday nights, the Colorado Café is an open dance floor of top 40 hits. Karaoke also takes place on Friday and Sunday nights.

The restaurant at the Café serves American fare bar food such as with finger food appetizers, half-pound burgers, pizza and wrap sandwiches. It is a 21-year-old and older venue.

The Colorado Café is also a host to weddings and other parties, all in country-style, of course.

“We wrap everything up and we’re not just this standard banquet-style place to go to,” said Bauerle. “This is a fun venue in a country theme.”

THE COLORADO CAFE

Where: 154 Bonnie Burn Rd., Watchung

Contact: Call 908-322-7200 or visit coloradocafe.com

Offerings: Line dancing classes, dancing workshops, mechanical bull rides, full bar and restaurant, banquet-style events

4 wedding ‘destinations’ in Central Jersey

Written for MyCentralJersey.com

With people still struggling to find stable employment, layoffs afoot and costs skyrocketing, the idea of traveling to a faraway destination for a grand wedding is anxiety-inducing, and even impossible, for most people.

However, those living in pictureesque Central Jersey, which is full of rolling hills, romantic venues and elegant eateries, don’t have to spend their nest egg on a wedding to say their ‘I do’s’ in style.

Instead, they can just check out some of these top wedding venues right at home in Central Jersey.

Read on below to discover some of the most romantic wedding ‘destinations’ — right down the street from your house.

The Ryland Inn can accommodate up to 220 guests. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Kuhlken Photographers)

The Ryland Inn can accommodate up to 220 guests. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Kuhlken Photographers)

Ryland Inn, 115 Old Highway 28, Whitehouse Station

The 1796 inn, which has been the venue for stagecoach stops, down-home cooking and family picnics, is also a wedding destination that can accommodate up to 220 guests in its Grand Ballroom.

With prices per person ranging from $155 to $225, the Ryland Inn is known as a destination that is romantic, refined and luxurious, but also cozy and comfortable.

“Unlike other venues that have hopped on the farm-to-table bandwagon, it’s the only way we’ve ever done things here,” said Carla Camargo, director of marketing and public relations. “Even before we took over the property, the Ryland always partnered with local farmers, artisans and their families.”

Included in the price is a cocktail hour, five-hour open bar, full-course meal, customizeable wedding cake, tables, chairs and linens.

Call 908-534-4011 or visit rylandinnnj.com to learn more.

Ria Mar is a venue that caters to the middle class. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Ria Mar)

Ria Mar is a venue that caters to the middle class. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Ria Mar)

Ria Mar, 25 Whitehead Ave., South River

Want the milliondollar wedding without the milliondollar price tag? According to Rui Baptista, general manager, this is what Ria Mar delivers, as it caters to the middle-class person in a sophisticated yet comfortable space that offers great food and service.

“We have the upscale, elegant facility minus the lakes and gazebos, so you can get your dream wedding without having to break the bank for $65 to $120 per person,” said Baptista.

Ria Mar can accommodate up to 180 people in its space, which can offer packages that include top-shelf open bar, a surf and turf dinner and cocktail hour. However, it also offers less-demanding packages that can be completely customized.

“We don’t have any preset pieces of paper,” said Baptista. “Every booking begins with a conversation — we want to know what you want to achieve at your wedding.”

Call 732-257-1100 or visit ria-mar.com to discover more.

Forest Lodge is known for its combination of indoor and outdoor space. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Forest Lodge)

Forest Lodge is known for its combination of indoor and outdoor space. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Forest Lodge)

Forest Lodge, 11 Reinman Road, Warren

If you’re looking for a wedding with an outdoor twist, then Forest Lodge is your place — the large venue has a combination of parklike space that can accommodate 400 people, as well as a cozy, elegant indoor space in the Sherwood Room that can accommodate 180 people.

“We have had events with a country twist and we have also transformed this space into a nightclublike setting,” said Linda Taylor, vice president of Forest Lodge.

Plus, only one event is hosted at a time, making for a private affair ranging from $65 to $100 per person that includes an open bar, complete dinner and cocktail hour and a wedding cake.

Call 908-754-7300 or visit forestlodgecatering.com to learn more.

The Imperia can accommodate 50 to 550 people. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Imperia)

The Imperia can accommodate 50 to 550 people. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Imperia)

The Imperia, 1714 Easton Ave., Somerset

With three grand ballrooms that lend the opportunity to host intimate events or large all-day weddings that can accommodate 50 to 550 people, the Imperia specializes in modern, upscale and elegant weddings that range from $110 a person to $160 a person.

The venue, which was built less than 10 years ago, features accents of wood, water, light and stone set against a grand staircase, private stone patio and waterfall garden. Plus, it has two sister hotels for guests — Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott of Somerset and Springhill Suites by Marriott, which will open on Cedar Grove Lane this year.

The price of an Imperia wedding includes valet and coat check, cocktail hour, full dinner, custom wedding cake, unlimited five-hour open bar and a private bridal suite and attendant.

Call 732-469-2522 or visit theimperia.com to find out more.

 

6 roadside curiosities in Central Jersey

Although the holiday season is synonymous with gifts, gatherings with friends and family and the excitement of ringing in the New Year, there’s another less-pleasant activity that also comes along with it – driving.

We’re all used to packing up the car and heading up and down the state to see our loved ones – stuck in traffic, crammed into seats with others, battling unfortunate weather.

However, by stopping at some of these roadside attractions – and curiosities – in Central Jersey, you may be able to make your trek a little more interesting.

The Edison Light Tower, based at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park at 37 Christie St. in Edison, marks the location of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Edison Light Tower, based at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park at 37 Christie St. in Edison, marks the location of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Edison Light Tower, based at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park at 37 Christie St. in Edison, marks the location of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. Rising 131 feet above the tower’s terrace, the tower’s top is meant to represent an incandescent light bulb and originally included an audio system which could be heard from two miles away.

Today, the bulb shines nightly from the tower, which was constructed in 1937 from three tons of steel and 1200 barrels of cement. Recently refurbished and rededicated, the tower is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.

For more information, visit menloparkmuseum.org or call 732-549-3299.

P.C. Richard and Son is the newest owner of the former Flagship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Google Maps)

P.C. Richard and Son is the newest owner of the former Flagship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Google Maps)

The Flagship, which was originally commissioned as a luxury cruise nightclub in 1938, now serves as a P.C. Richard and Son – which takes up an entire block as it forever “sails” from 2264 Route 22 in Union.

Four years after its building, it was destroyed by a fire, but locals weren’t ready to see their ‘ship in the harbor’ go. After World War II, it was rebuilt and hosted many of the celebrities of the day, including Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Gleason. Later and into today, it’s been the home of various retail stores.

Spiro Drakoulakous, or ‘The Greek’s,’ imagination is the source of Greek’s Playland attractions. (Photo: ~File photo)

Spiro Drakoulakous, or ‘The Greek’s,’ imagination is the source of Greek’s Playland attractions. (Photo: ~File photo)

“Greek’s Playland,” or Garden Falls and the Stone Museum, which is at 608 Spotswood Englishtown Road in Monroe, isn’t exactly a Disney World or a Universal Studios. In its 87 acres of attractions, ranging from a Cobra helicopter to a 30-foot tall brightly painted clown constructed from an old oil tank, there is no apparent theme.

Spiro Drakoulakous, or ‘The Greek’s,’ imagination is the source of Greek’s Playland attractions. He told Weird NJ that he built the playland for handicapped children to come and have a fun day just like any other child. Today, entrance is free for those coming from state- and locally-sponsored groups.

For more information, visit gardenfalls.com or call 732-656-3333.

Northlandz, called "a fantasy journey" by the Travel Channel and a "breathtaking beauty" by the Discovery Channel. (Photo: ~File photo)

Northlandz, called “a fantasy journey” by the Travel Channel and a “breathtaking beauty” by the Discovery Channel.
(Photo: ~File photo)

Northlandz, called “a fantasy journey” by the Travel Channel and a “breathtaking beauty” by the Discovery Channel, is Flemington’s own wonder of the world, located at 495 Route 202. The world’s largest train museum, the mile-walk through self-guided tour includes hundreds of exhibits containing scenes such as a Civil War battle display, the world’s only toothpick farm and a plane crash site.

A doll museum and 2,000-pipe organ are also in the museum, which is filled with items handmade by Bruce Williams Zaccagnino of Flemington, the owner and founder. The museum has two new wings planned, including exhibits of the Himalayas, the Rockies and Hoover Dam.

For more information, visit northlandz.com or call 908-782-4022.

The Mercedes Benz Tombstone belongs to Ray Tse, Jr., who couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license and own a Mercedes Benz. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Mercedes Benz Tombstone belongs to Ray Tse, Jr., who couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license and own a Mercedes Benz. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Mercedes Benz Tombstone, located on the north end of the Rosedale and Rosehill Cemetery at 355 E. Linden Ave. in Linden, belongs to Ray Tse, Jr., who couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license and own a Mercedes Benz. But he died in 1981 when he was 15 years old.

His millionaire brother, David, commissioned a 36-ton granite memorial sculpted to resemble a full-size 1982 Mercedes Benz 2400 Diesel limousine in his honor, which reportedly cost $250,000. The vanity license plates read “RAY TSE,” although the hood ornament and side view mirrors are missing.

The location of the 1938 Martin Landing Site Monument plaque is no accident – the Martian landings were centered on Grover’s Mill, near Princeton. (Photo: ~Courtesy of forensicgenealogy.com)

The location of the 1938 Martin Landing Site Monument plaque is no accident – the Martian landings were centered on Grover’s Mill, near Princeton. (Photo: ~Courtesy of forensicgenealogy.com)

The 1938 Martian Landing Site Monument, located at Van Nest Park on Cranbury Road. in Princeton Junction, depicts a heated Orson Welles announcing the “live news broadcast” that an attack from Mars was underway, a hoax that occurred as an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938. Of the 12 million people that listened to the broadcast, many believed it to be true.

The plaque also depicts a 1930s family as they cower near their radio, beneath a tentacled flying saucer. The location of the plaque is no accident – the Martian landings were centered on Grover’s Mill, near Princeton.

Trekking your way back-and-forth during the holidays can take the seasonal cheer out of anyone’s day. However, stop for a pit-stop at one of these Central Jersey roadside attractions, and you just may miss some traffic and have an interesting story to bring to your next party.

Last-minute holiday gifts in downtown Somerville

Written for MyCentralJersey.com

With only a few days left until Christmas, two distinct types of people are emerging — those who are sitting in their living rooms with a mug of hot chocolate as they got their holiday shopping done before Thanksgiving, and those who are left staring at a list full of gifts they still need to buy.

If you’re a Central Jerseyan whose last-minute shopping is becoming worrisome, you’re in luck. Downtown Somerville, an area historically known for its restaurants, has quickly become a retail town with 40 to 50 unique store options for holidays gifts.

“People are becoming more frustrated with how exhausting shopping at the mall is,” said Beth Anne Macdonald, executive director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance. “By shopping on Main Street, they’re not walking seven miles from the outermost parking space.”

Jenna  Intersimone/Staff Photo

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Vince Baglivo, communications director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, is a self-proclaimed last-minute shopper on a mission — his shopping is never random and he likes to give gifts that have meaning.

“If I can find six or seven stores within walking distance, that’s very helpful to me,” he said. “But anyone can get a mall gift — you can be a last-minute shopper, but it’s pretty cool when you can pull out a Christmas gift bag with all of these interesting items that have a backstory.”

For those looking for finer home gifts, shoppers can head to the Design Studio of Somerville, a holiday store that sells Christmas ornaments, home décor and candles. Crystal Palace is another option for finer gifts made of Swarovski Crystal and Waterford Crystal.

Jenna  Intersimone/Staff Photo

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Shoppers looking for interesting apparel that can’t be found just anywhere can head to Melange for women’s clothing and accessories (offering free gift wrapping) and Evolve Clothing Gallery for men’s clothing and accessories.

Evolve Clothing Gallery, a “deliberately eclectic SoHo-feel shop,” said Baglivo, only sells limited styles in small collections, so customers can find items that they would never find in big-box stores.

Options for small home, kitchen and personal-care gifts includes those found at Three Hearts Home, which celebrates small craftsmen and artisans and sells items such as soaps, glasses and kitchen and writing utensils. Shoppers can also check out The Hive, a honey store that carries products made from honey, including hand creams, personal-care items and beeswax candles. Many of these items make for ideal stocking stuffers.

Jenna  Intersimone/Staff Photo

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

For those shopping for loved ones with less traditional tastes, you can head to Comic Fortress, which sells comics, collectibles and other quirky items, as well as Urban Chaos Smoke Shop, a vape and smoke shop.

To get a gift that will serve as an experience for the recipient, shoppers can also pick up restaurant gift cards from popular eateries such as Verve, a French-American bistro, Casa Luna, a popular Mexican restaurant, and Alfonso’s, a favorite for Italian cuisine and pizza, among many others.

“People are afraid to spend their own money on a new restaurant, but giving a gift certificates is a great way to offer the chance to try a great new place,” said Macdonald.

Jenna  Intersimone/Staff Photo

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Paramount Pampering, a salon and spa that opened recently, is also offering holiday gift certificates for services including hair care, nail care, skin care and makeup application, some of which are included in pampering packages.

Besides finding items that venture outside the gift box, shoppers will find that when shopping in downtown Somerville, they can get information about the products they’re buying from shopkeepers that isn’t available from many mall employees, as most large stores employ seasonal workers who don’t know much about the products they’re selling.

“Small businesses are just as invested in your experience as you are,” said Baglivo. “They can’t run behind a corporate logo — the reviews and experience matter to them.”

Jenna  Intersimone/Staff Photo

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Because of events such as Small Business Saturday, as well as more marketing efforts, shopping in downtown Somerville — rather than just grabbing a meal — has become more common.

Randy Pitts, curator of Evolve Clothing Gallery, said that in the past few months, he has noticed more people coming into his store with bags in their hands from other downtown Somerville shops.

“We have always been a restaurant town, but now we have retail, too,” he said.

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Downtown Somerville shopping

Clothing and accessories: Melange at 85 W. Main St. for women’s clothing, Evolve Clothing Gallery at 80 W. Main St. for men’s clothing

Fine home gifts: Three Hearts Home at 87 W. Main St. for handmade items, From The Hive at 4 Division St. for products made from honey, Crystal Palace at 65 W. Main St. for fine crystal items, Discover Wine at 66 W. Main St. for fine wines 

Outside the box: Comic Fortress at 59 W. Main St. for comics and collectibles,Urban Chaos Smoke Shop at 16 Division St. for vaping and smoking items 

Make a day of it: Paramount Pampering at 56 W. Main St. for spa services,Alfonso’s at 99 W. Main St., Verve at 18 E. Main St., Casa Luna at 30 S. Doughty Ave. for restaurant gift certificates 

To check out all of the stores in downtown Somerville, head todowntownsomerville.com/visit/shopping

Jenna  Intersimone/Staff Photo

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

‘Um pedaco’ of Portugal in the Ironbound

Story written for DailyRecord.com and MyCentralJersey.com

Lately, the hotly contested issue on everyone’s minds — and tongues — is immigration.

However, those living in the Ironbound, also known as Down Neck and a part of Newark’s East Ward, have a different perspective than many other Americans.

“Everyone is an immigrant here,” said Vince Baglivo, communications director at the Ironbound Business Improvement District.

The Ironbound has been an Italian and Polish neighborhood, but over time, it has changed into one with overwhelming Portuguese, Spanish and Brazilian traditions, as well as one with Central and South American influence.

The rooster is a common Portuguese icon. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

The rooster is a common Portuguese icon. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Even though the Ironbound, which is home to over 500 businesses, is rooted in immigrant traditions with authentic restaurants, shops and things to do — mostly Portuguese, making it a ‘pedaco,’ or piece, of Portugal — by no means is the section trapped in the past. Instead, the area takes a modern spin to its world-class sports scene, entertainment venues and culinary experience.

With over 170 restaurants in the Ironbound, those with and without Portuguese descent flock to the neighborhood for quality fare.

Some of the popular restaurants in the Ironbound include Portugalia Bar and Restaurant, Iberia Peninsula Restaurant and Sol-Mar for authentic Portuguese cuisine, the Spanish Tavern for a more formal dining experience, Catas Restaurant for empanadas with a contemporary touch, and Sabor Unido for a traditional Portuguese meal.

“People like to go to the restaurants they are most comfortable with and have been going to for years, but we are encouraging them to explore,” said Baglivo. “There are many new restaurants owned by young restaurateurs who are keeping their traditions alive but spinning them in a new way.”

Fine Portuguese wines can be purchased at Lisbon Liquors. ~Courtesy of Vince Baglivo

Fine Portuguese wines can be purchased at Lisbon Liquors. ~Courtesy of Vince Baglivo

Campino Restaurant has about 1,600 visitors per week, of which 40 percent are Portuguese. The restaurant has recently been renovated, so it’s more polished but still has a traditional feel with its hand-painted tiles and Portuguese servers, many of whom speak Portuguese.

Olivia Borges, director of imports at Campino Restaurant, said, “A new generation of immigrants are heading here to eat because there is a huge variety of cuisine. You can get anything like Portuguese, Brazilian, American, Japanese and Chinese food in the Ironbound.”

“Portuguese food is so good,” said Seth Grossman, executive director of the Ironbound Business Improvement District. “If you come here to get a food product, it’s going to take a bit longer to get it because the Portuguese put a little love in everything they make.”

It isn’t just dinnertime that brings in people of Portuguese descent and otherwise to the area. Some come once a month from all over the East Coast to shop for food and other items.

The Ironbound is known for its clean and safe streets. ~Courtesy of Vince Baglivo

The Ironbound is known for its clean and safe streets. ~Courtesy of Vince Baglivo

Some of the popular shops in the Ironbound are Pegasus, a soccer store that sells official soccer jerseys; Portugalia, which sells authentic Portuguese paraphernalia and hard-to-find cooking utensils; C S Cork, which sells handbags and accessories made from cork; Brazilian clothing stores; and Portuguese jewelry stores that sell high-quality European gold and filigree, a jewelry style featuring thin gold wire woven into large, intricate patterns.

For fresh food items to take home, visitors can head to Seabras for authentic Portuguese food products, Teixeira’s Bakery for baked goods, Victor’s Fish Market for fresh fish flown in from Portugal every Thursday, Lope’s Sausage (which supplied the Clinton White House while he was president) and Lisbon Liquors, which sells fine wines made from indigenous Portuguese grapes as well as high-quality 100-year-old wines locked behind an iron gate in the back.

While wandering through the Ironbound, visitors should also stop by historic Saint Stephen’s Church, which made a cameo in the “War of the Worlds” 2005 remake, as well as the scenic Riverbank Park, where people can hop on a boat tour of the Passaic River.

Nuno Santos of the Basking Ridge section of Bernards, who moved from Portugal to New Jersey 22 years ago when he was 8, visits the Ironbound about once a month for authentic Portuguese fare or to pick up fresh fish, sausage, vegetables and pastries.

Portuguese newspapers can be seen throughout the Ironbound. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Portuguese newspapers can be seen throughout the Ironbound. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

“I enjoy going to the Ironbound because it gives me the feel of the old country,” he said. “I can get fresh food that tastes like it has love baked into it, speak Portuguese with the locals and shop for Portuguese-brand foods at the markets. The area has the close-knit community vibe of going out to a café after dinner with your friends and neighbors and grabbing an espresso.”

It has been estimated that more than 40 ethnic groups live in the Ironbound. With about 50,000 total residents, about 35 percent of the Ironbound’s current population has Portuguese descent.

“We have seen anecdotally and factually that a lot of people have moved here with dreams of living in the city but found its cost prohibitive,” said Baglivo. “They are able to find affordable apartments in the Ironbound that are walking distance to transportation.”

Part of the reason that immigrants have flocked to the Ironbound is its position as a transportation hot spot, close to Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PATH).

Filigree is a popular style of Portuguese jewelry. ~Courtesy of Vince Baglivo

Filigree is a popular style of Portuguese jewelry. ~Courtesy of Vince Baglivo

“You can get anywhere in the world from the Ironbound,” said Grossman. “That’s why we are very connected to immigrants. The Ironbound delivers the American dream — there is a lot of work and the ability to connect to various markets.”

This trait also serves as the Ironbound’s namesake, known as such because it is surrounded by railroad tracks and is bordered by several major highways. Also, this helped the Ironbound escape some of the economic decline that the rest of Newark faced — highways went around it rather than through it.

Although the area has its share of problems, the Ironbound is one of Newark’s most vibrant neighborhoods and has consistently held the perception of being welcoming, clean and having relatively safe streets, bringing in visitors who otherwise wouldn’t travel to Newark.

“You can only develop Jersey City and Hoboken so far,” said Baglivo. “Newark is a blank canvas that is primed for redevelopment to happen. If the Ironbound can be the introduction for people to experience Newark, then that’s fantastic.”

Fresh fish are flown in every Thursday from Portugal. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

Fresh fish are flown in every Thursday from Portugal. Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

WHERE TO EAT

WHERE TO SHOP

  • Pegasus Sporting Goods at 101 Ferry St.; 973-589-3510
  • Seabras Foods at 123 Ferry St.; 973-466-3560, seabras-marisqueira.com
  • Portugalia Sales at 109 Ferry St., 973-589-1416, portugalia.com
  • Lisbon Liquors at 114 Ferry St.; 973-344-0139, lisbonliquors.com
  • Teixeira’s Bakery at 186 Ferry St.; 973-344-4902
  • C S Cork at 67 Jefferson St.; 973-344-4423, cscork.com
  • Lope’s Sausage at 304 Walnut St.; 973-344-3063
  • Victor’s Fish Market at 109 Adams St.; 973-589-2384

WHERE TO VISIT

  • Saint Stephen’s Church at Ferry St. and Wilson Ave.
  • Riverbank Park at 27 Somme St.; 973-368-8737, riverbankpark.org
  • Red Bull Arena at 600 Cape May St., Harrison; 973-268-8420, newyorkredbulls.com
  • New Jersey Performing Arts Center at 1 Center St.; 973-642-8989, njpac.org
  • Prudential Center at 25 Lafayette St.; 973-757-6600, prucenter.com

Stay alive while driving in winter weather

Dawn Findlay Linzey’s story is all too common.

When she was 22, the resident of the Kenvil section of Roxbury decided to venture through a nasty January snowstorm to make it to work at her first full-time job. Driving down Route 10, she slowed at a stoplight but quickly realized she had hit black ice.

Linzey slammed on the brakes, but her car collided with the car in front of her while she was going 15 miles per hour. Luckily, she was safe, but her car lost both of its headlights, and the grille and radiator were punctured.

We can’t always avoid traveling in rough winter weather because of jobs, holidays and other functions, but there are plenty of things that we can do to keep safe when snow and ice are afoot.

1One of the most common mistakes that people make — when driving in the wintertime or anytime — is using their cellphones while driving.

“If you put using a cellphone into the mix with rough conditions, the results can be disastrous,” said Robert Gaydosh, north region supervisor of NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

Sue Madden, public affairs specialist at AAA Mid-Atlantic, suggested that people who feel that they cannot ignore their phones turn them off completely because sometimes the urge to answer a ringing phone can be overbearing.

“Think about it this way: If you’re looking at your phone while driving, the person in the car next to you is probably looking at their phone, too,” she said.

2Another common mistake that winter drivers often make is not keeping enough distance between their car and the one in front of it, since extra room needs to be accounted for in case the car slides.

Gaydosh said that in poor weather, drivers should stay between eight to 10 seconds behind the car in front of them as well as keep their speed adjusted to the weather conditions by at or below the posted speed limit.

In order to keep other cars around them safe, drivers also need to be sure that they should completely clear their cars of snow or ice. What some offenders may not realize is that in New Jersey, there is a $75 fine for not clearing your car of snow and ice, and that fine can skyrocket to $200 to $1,000 if the snow or ice causes damage to another vehicle.

Gaydosh also suggests that people be mindful of plow trucks when driving through snow.


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“It used to amaze me what people would do, cutting people off and causing near accidents when the plow trucks were working. Keep in mind that these trucks can’t see who’s coming up behind or around them,” he said.

If you find yourself trapped in a storm that you deem unsafe to be driving in, you should turn your flashers on and remain with your vehicle so that help can find you. Madden said that stranded drivers should also call AAA and move their cars to a safe location.

“You don’t want to be hit by another driver,” said Madden. “Hang something out of your window so that there will be visibility and drivers or plow trucks can see you.”

In the event that you are caught in a storm, Gaydosh and Madden also recommend that drivers keep an ice scraper and brush, a small shovel, a flashlight, a bag of sand or cat litter for traction and water bottles and granola bars because you don’t know how long you will be stranded.

Sometimes, however, we must tackle winter weather when driving, and then things can go awry and we can lose control of our vehicles. Madden said that in this case, drivers should press lightly on their brakes, rather than pumping them, and Gaydosh said that drivers should steer their cars in their direction that the rear of the car is going.

“When I hit black ice and struck another vehicle, I panicked and hit the brakes, which didn’t help,” said Linzey. “There was nothing I could do to prevent the accident since the road looked clear, but now that I’m older, I realize I have a lot to lose and I won’t drive in weather like that.”