Hi Hounds. Just got back to Maine after a fun week back home for the Holidays. I thought I'd chime in on my experiences: I visited many old favorites and some new places I'd never tried before. Enjoy!
Bagels Supreme, Springfield: This was my first proper meal of the trip after getting in late the previous evening. You can't get a good bagel worth a damn in Maine, so I always make sure to eat my fill when I am home. Sister picked up a dozen of these, and to my mind they were first rate. Dense, chewy outside, soft inside....I am of the opinion that your jaw should be just a little bit tired after eating a bagel, and these didn't disappoint. I had a salt and and everything, of which the salt was superior. Why does no one outside of Jersey make salt bagels?!!?
Bill and Harry's, Mapelwood: This was Christmas Eve dinner. DEFINITELY above average American-style chinese takeout. Favorites of mine were the excellent Pork Chow Fun, the steamed dumplings, the szechuan beef, and the ribs. I was less impressed by the egg rolls (frozen?), and sesame chicken (on the gloppy side). Also wish they had homemade duck sauce instead of the cloying packet kind.
Bagel Chateau, Millburn: My second salt bagel of the trip. Not as good as Bagels Supreme, but still quality.
Star Tavern, Orange: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Dear god Yes. We had four pies in total over two trips. One was subpar...an eggplant and garlic pie that was undercooked, soft and doughy. I was waiting in the takeout line (on the way home from the Rutgers game at Yankee Stadium) and I think they saw me and rushed it out. Now, with that out of the way, we also had a plain pie, a half pepperoni half plain, and a pepperoni...and these were quite simply the finest bar pies I've ever had. I am craving them like mad as we speak. Crispy, chewy, cheesy, oily slices of thin crust perfection. I love that their blazing hot ovens make the pepperonis crisp up into little shimmering discs. That's far too rare these days! Picture below!
Tierney's, Montclair: My wife was hungry. My wife was not in the go through an overly long restaurant selection process in the sometimes overwhelming Montclair. We had exactly one hour to kill before a play in town. "Tierney's has awesome cheeseburgers!" I helpfully chimed in. To my pleasant surprise, she gave her assent! So we bellied up to the bar for two bacon cheeseburgers and two Yeunglings. I had my last Tierney's cheeseburger in 2003...I am VERY HAPPY to report that they are still, pound for pound, the best damn burger you can eat. Not overly thick like some pub and restaurant burgers, not thin and floppy like a fast food burger, but somewhere in between....cooked on a flat top, not a grill (yay!) so they are nice and juicy and drippy (you need those napkins), and they are always generous with the bacon. These might have been cooked a shade past the requested medium, but they were juicy enough that it barely mattered. Hurrah!
Sonny's Bagels, South Orange: Yep, another morning, another bagel. This one an everything with cream cheese. Some think Sonny's are the best, but heck if I didn't slightly prefer Bagels Supreme still. These are still very very good!
Pizza Town USA, Elmwood Park: I wept tears of joy when this pie came out to me. It is, quite simply, the perfect quintessence of New Jersey pizza. Not a bar pie, not a trendy haute pie, or an authentic brick oven neapolitan pizza, or a NY coal oven pizza...nope...just what you remember from your childhood (and mine). A properly cooked slice joint Pizza...for my money, the best in the state. Pie comes out blistering and bubbling...properly COOKED (no mushy center or sagging slice tips)...somehow both foldable and crisp, with little pools of oil here and there (that's a good thing). It's really hard to wait for it to cool down, but careful not to burn the roof of your mouth!! Here's the other thing about Pizza Town...CALZONES. There are two kind, a superb baked and the smaller fried. The little fried ones are just pure molten ricotta bliss. I like mine with a little red sauce on the side. This was the meal on the trip that truly made me happy, that made me miss New Jersey and my childhood like nothing else, that took me back to a time and place that I long since left behind. My grandfather lived in Saddle Brook and we used to get these pies all the time; they are what made me love pizza in the first place, so maybe it is natural that they define what pizza is for me. In any case, go...I don't think you'll be disappointed.
R's Place (Bella Gente), Verona: This cute little Italian BYOB is half casual pizzeria, half semi-fancy ristorante. It's a place for the locals from Caldwell and Verona....lots of Italian families in there, big parties enjoying life, food, and company. Food is not outstanding, but good, and the service is fairly charming. Honestly, the best part of this meal was the bottle of 2008 grand cru Corton burgundy that we had picked up at the NH State Liquor Store (the waiter gave an approving murmur as he opened it for us), but the zucchini fritti, veal parm, and bistecca were all good. Chicken marsala was rather bland, and salads a bit underdressed. Homemade connoli for dessert were very good, however, though not the somewhat stale tasting tiramisu.
Park Wood Diner, Maplewood: The Millburn diner had lost power, so we drove down the road to Park Wood to have breakfast with a friend. I had never been before, but it is about what you'd expect. Fairly standard diner breakfast, everything competently done, nothing particularly memorable. Being in a New Jersey diner always makes me wistful, so I was happy enough. Better than my last dreadful trip to the Versailles Diner in Fairfield!
Millburn Deli, Millburn: So, yes, I know the Town Hall Deli in South Orange is the proper place to go for a Sloppy Joe, but my wife had a meeting at nearby Basilico so I opted to wait for her here. It was my last meal in Jersey, so I made it as perfeclty Jersey as possible: Pastrami and corned beef sloppy joe, Stewart's Root Beer, and a black and white cookie. I actually think Millburn Deli needs to use better or fresher rye bread, as I found theirs a bit stale. Pastrami was also nothing special. Still, how can you beat a sloppy joe for your last meal in Jersey? Sure, I'd rather have been at Katz's or something, but it was a perfect close to the trip. Oh, and I don;t know where Millburn Deli gets their Black and White cookies from, but these were first rate!
Thanks for reading...remember you are lucky to live in New Jersey, even if it doesn't seem like it at times. Seek me out for questions if you're coming to Maine anytime soon!