But indulge me and let me go on about my home state for a bit. New Jersey is a place where food has a soul. Forget New York City, we have some of the best restaurants. We give the nation "Jersey tomatoes," real delis, bagels and pizza, and contrary to popular belief, my state does not a) smell bad or b) consist entirely of highways and oil refineries (go beyond Newark International Airport, you snobs, you). We're the land of 24-hour diners where 17-year-olds and 70-year-olds can get a late night bite and share a once in a lifetime conversation with someone. There are many mom-and-pop eateries I could go on and on about. Jersey is a hub for plenty of ethnic cuisine--indian, mexican, japanese, chinese, italian--you name it, we've got it. And did I mention it's good? I've had better, authentic italian food in New Jersey than I've had in some places in Italy, I kid you not.
Alright, back to my point...I returned to the great Garden State last weekend and went to three of my must-eat stops. In the words of my state motto, these are places you just have to "Come see for yourself."
Stop 1: Village Trattoria, Summit, Maplewood, and South Orange, NJ
If there was a pizza-heaven on Earth, it would be here. When you think pizza, do you just think of the plain, boring, types? Cheese, pepperoni, an occasional pepper or mushroom if you're feeling adventurous? Village Trattoria rethinks pizza. Of course they have the traditional, Neopolitan, thin crust (not too thick that you can't fold it, not too thin that you can see through it) pizzas with whatever topping your heart desires. But they also have some of the most inventive pizzas. Chicken vodka sauce, eggplant parmigiana, Tex Mex, Chicken scampi, chicken fingers (complete with honey mustard and french fries ON the pizza), and of course, my personal favorite--buffalo chicken pizza. If you believe you've had this creation before, I assure you, you really have not. If you haven't had this before, you haven't lived life to the fullest. BCP, as I like to call it, is cheese pizza, with strips of breaded chicken cutlets, buffalo hot sauce, and the best bleu cheese sauce on it. I am not ashamed to say I have scarfed down half of a large pie on my own--in one sitting. Trust me, it's that good. The chicken strips are always tender, with a breading that gives an extra crunch, but isn't overly seasoned. The buffalo sauce gives it the perfect, spicy kick, and the bleu cheese makes this pizza what it is. It's a creamy, tangy sauce that cools down the kick from the buffalo sauce and complements the mozzarella cheese on the pizza. The bleu cheese sauce makes the pizza melt in your mouth. It's impossible to have just one slice...or even two. I'd also recommend the chicken vodka sauce which has thick slices of mozzarella and is dripping with a delicious vodka sauce. Bonus: the service there is always friendly so that even first-timers feel like family.
Stop 2: A&G Italian Fine Food, Warren, NJ
Alright, so it's not the friendliest of delis. You gotta know what you want, when you want it. And this place is somewhat pricey. But if you want the best, fresh, salted mozzarella (or as my family says, "Mutzadelle!"), you have to come here. They have a huge selection of sausages, premade eggplant parmigiana dishes, chicken parm, meatballs, rice balls, stuffed peppers, and the list goes on and on. During the holidays, this place is insane. Everyone in town seems to be ordering plates of antipasti and meatballs for their 25 visiting and hungry relatives.
A sandwich may cost $9 alone, but it's worth it. I've been a big fan of genoa salami, with mozzarella, maybe some oil and vinegar on a good portuguese roll. But the standby favorite is the chicken cutlet sandwich with balsamic vinegar, roasted red peppers and grilled zucchini. There isn't any seating or tables, but that doesn't seem to deter anyone from buying lunch here. This place is the epitome of an Italian deli.
Stop 3: Millburn Delicatessen, Millburn, NJ
GOOOOBBBLLEEEERRR! If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. If not, order the "gobbler" sandwich and see what happens.
My personal favorite though is the grilled chicken, roasted peppers, mozzarella and pesto mayo sandwich on a baguette (phew! what a mouthful. Pun intended). The pesto mayo spread is creamy and not overpowering. The mozzarella is fresh and sliced THICK. They use yellow and red roasted peppers, which make for a nice presentation. It might sound similar to the last sandwich from A&G, but Millburn Deli serves up food that is from more of a classic, Jewish deli. Meat and fixins' are piled sky high on these sandwiches. Plus, they tuck a nice fat slice of a dill pickle in the wrapper of your sandwich. As with Village Trattoria, the service here is great--always pleasant and welcoming.
So if you ever find yourself driving along I-95 and you stumble upon the NJ Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway, be sure to take a short detour to one of these good eateries. You won't regret it and maybe you'll get to try a little slice of the Jersey I know and call home.
Take a bite: bonappetitfoodie.blogspot.com.