My favorite pizza places near Rutgers

I’m not sure why NJ pizza is so much better than the pizza in every other state, but it is (debate is welcome!) Some people claim the tap water in NYC is what makes their pizza so good, but this doesn’t explain the magic of NJ pizza. Perhaps, it’s a historic trend since the NY/NJ area has the largest population of Italian-American immigrants. Whatever the reasons may be, I thought it would be fitting to give the list of my favorite NJ pizza places within one hour drive of Rutgers for any grad students looking for a weekend food adventure. As a lifelong resident of NJ, I’ve had my fair share of Garden State pizza – but please let me know if you’ve got any other recommendations for me to try!

Brooklyn Boys, Edison (http://www.bkboyspizza.com/)
Conte’s, Princeton (http://contespizzaandbar.com/)
DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville (http://www.delorenzostomatopies.com/)
Federici’s, Freehold (http://www.federicis.com/)
Mancini’s, East Brunswick (http://www.mancinipizza.com/)
Nomad Pizza, Hopewell (http://www.nomadpizzaco.com/)
Osteria Procaccini, Kingston (http://www.osteriaprocaccini.com/)
Pete and Elda’s/Carmen’s Pizza, Neptune City (http://www.peteandeldas.com/)

Visiting the Jersey Shore this summer

As a lifelong NJ resident and avid lover of the Jersey Shore, the approaching Memorial Day weekend is my favorite time of year – the beaches are officially open again! For anyone staying on campus this summer who wants to visit the beach, here are my personal recommendations for shore destinations within one hour drive of New Brunswick:

  • Asbury Park Boardwalk – Made famous by “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, the Asbury Park boardwalk is an iconic Jersey Shore highlight. The old Convention Hall and grand arcade give the boardwalk historical grandeur and there are many newer features like a small water park for kids, shops and places to eat. I recommend the Crepe Shop.
  • Jenkinson’s Boardwalk – Another boardwalk I recommend is Jenkinson’s at Point Pleasant Beach. It has a large amusement park with rides, lots of boardwalk games, shops and mini golf. The Jenkinson’s Aquarium is a nice retreat in case of a passing thunderstorm or to escape the heat. Also, there are fireworks every Thursday night in July and August – a longtime Point Pleasant Beach tradition.
  • Sandy Hook National Park – If you are looking for a beach with lots of options for outdoor activities, then I would recommend Sandy Hook. In addition to very nice beaches with a view of the New York City skyline, Sandy Hook has biking and hiking trails, camping and picnic areas, boat launches and historical landmarks like Fort Hancock and the lighthouse. Keep in mind, however, the park is very popular on weekends and they stop letting people into the park when they reach their maximum capacity of visitors. So, I would recommend getting there early or going later in the day. On another note, if you plan to do any hiking, watch out for ticks and poison ivy which are common here.
  • Traditional family beaches – Just a short drive or bike ride away from the busy boardwalks are quieter, more relaxed beaches. If all you are looking for is to relax on the beach with a book and take a dip in the ocean once in a while to cool off, then I would recommend Bradley Beach or Manasquan. Bring a towel, a beach umbrella, a game to play on the beach, and a cooler for food and water and enjoy the day.

The Garden State

New Jersey’s nickname of ‘The Garden State’ always seems to be a surprising one for people who haven’t heard it before. New Jersey is not known for its acres of agriculture and natural beauty but for the refineries and decaying industrial areas that line the Turnpike. However, there is much more to the state than is immediately obvious, especially if you have only seen the state from the freeway. If you take the time to put some distance between yourself and the Turnpike, you’ll find that New Jersey offers quite a bit in terms of landscape and natural beauty.

The nickname ‘Garden State’ is tenuously attributed to Benjamin Franklin. There is a clearer connection to a man named Abraham Browning, who in 1876 described New Jersey as a barrel full of good food, with New York and Philadelphia indulging themselves from both ends. It was added to the license plate in 1954 and has been the cause of surprised faces and remarks of ‘no kidding?’ ever since.

Though officially enshrined above the bumper of every car registered in New Jersey, the agricultural aspect of New Jersey has long since been surpassed by pharmaceuticals, finance, and technology. However, if we are to trust wikipedia (and honestly, who doesn’t these days), New Jersey remains a significant producer of agricultural products. It is the second largest producer of blueberries, the third largest producer of cranberries and spinach, and is fourth in the production of bell peppers, peaches, and head lettuce. In addition to its crops, Jersey also has a significant amount of woodland. Half the state is wooded, with oaks in the north and the (in)famous Pine Barrens in the south.

There are 52 state parks, forests, and historic sites covering over 375,000 acres, many of which figured prominently in the Revolutionary War. The Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park runs through New Brunswick and provides a beautiful place to ride your bike or go for a run. Riding your bike from New Brunswick to Princeton along the canal path is a great way to spend a spring day. Or, you can visit Island Beach State Park and get a taste of what the shore was before the boardwalks went up. Wharton State Forest is the largest of the parks at over 122,000 acres, and features a historic village that gives you a sample of what early 19th century industry was like.

There is much more to New Jersey than its status as the ultimate bedroom community, and much more to do than simply taking the train into the big city of your choice. Spending a little time away from the freeways can be very rewarding for anyone looking to escape the concrete jungle of Philadelphia or New York. It’s a beautiful state, trust me. You just have to know where to look.

Around Town

In New Brunswick (and the surrounding area), there are many opportunities to relax, have fun, and get out of the house/office. There are a variety of ways to enjoy the diverse offerings of New Jersey of all types: cultural, recreational, gastronomical, natural, musical, and more. I’ll list just a few of my personal favorites, in no particular order and with no attempt to fairly represent all of the possible local attractions and activities.

The State Theater of New Jersey

The State Theater is especially good for students because Rutgers-affiliated discounts make many of the shows accessible for a good price (and not just in the very back row either). I have enjoyed music and dance performances here, as well as a few comedy routines and at least one musical. There are many different types of acts coming to the State Theater at any given time, so it’s worth checking their schedule periodically for your interests. The theater district of New Brunswick also offers the Cabaret Theatre, the George Street Playhouse, and the Crossroads Theatre Company.

Image source: [c]

The Court Tavern

New Brunswick has had a vibrant local music scene for decades, including many pioneering and influential bands. Although recently closed for a few months, the Court Tavern has reopened recently and continues to provide a venue for local musicians. Nearby places to eat, including Hansel ‘n’ Griddle and Destination Dogs, serve up food suitable for before the show (or between bands).

Image source: [c]

New Brunswick has many bars, pubs, and other venues in that spectrum of eating & drinking, but only Harvest Moon offers beer brewed right on-site, along with its classic fare of dinner options. The vegetarian chili is a hidden gem on the menu, which includes many options that are easy to enjoy. Be sure to try one of their many varieties of beer (they won’t sell you anybody else’s!), and if you like it, take some home in a growler.

There are many other similar restaurants in New Brunswick, including Tumulty’s and The George Street Ale House, both of which offer good beer and nice pub food. Tumulty’s is a nice alternative for a more laid-back and traditional pub experience, and GSAH has a wide selection of beer as well as a more pricey menu of “gastro-pub” fare.

Image source: [c]

Stelton Lanes Bowling Alley

I enjoy spending time with friends bowling. Knocking things over is fun (sometimes). In addition to the enjoyment of time spent with friends, bowling is an activity easy to enjoy even for beginners, but it’s not boring or highly competitive (unless you have really intense friends). You’ll be renting shoes, most likely, so be sure to wear socks! Another nearby bowling alley is the Brunswick Zone.

Image source: [c]

The Edison Diner

New Jersey is known for its diners, often open late (or 24-7) and offering a variety of classic meals, snacks, and beverages. I am a somewhat regular customer at the Edison diner. For those days when there’s no time to cook or it’s too late to do otherwise, this diner is open 24-7 and even has free wifi. Outside peak hours, the diner is sometimes (but not always) calm and relaxed and can be a nice place to get some peace and quiet some days.

A mention should go to another favorite diner of mine, The Skylark Diner. This diner is a bit further away and is not open 24-7, but it offers a more creative/non-traditional menu and a fair selection of alcoholic beverages. (It is thus a bit more loud and crowded, and the prices are a bit higher.)

Image source: [c] You can visit the Edison Diner’s website by clicking this link, but please beware, it is a flash-only website that makes a substantial amount of noise: The Edison Diner.

Middlesex County Parks

It may be freezing out and dark at 5pm during winter, but even in winter it’s nice to spend time in one of the many parks in the area. Donaldson Park in the boro of Highland Park offers many facilities, including walking paths, basketball courts, exercise stations (pull ups, monkey bars, etc.), dog pens, and more. The park is prone to flooding, which we have experienced a few times in recent history, but it is generally scenic and enjoyable. Nearby Johnson Park has similar facilities as well as a sanctuary for abandoned animals rescued by the county.

Image source: [pd]

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In and Around

While you are a student at Rutgers there is also an opportunity to get out and experience something new.

New Brunswick

Another venue to code/read.New Brunswick may be small but there are things going on all year. I would recommend looking out for community events happening in New Brunswick and Highland Park: 4th of July, Parades in Highland Park and New Years are just some of them. New Brunswick is the home of the State Theater of New Jersey (as well as other theaters in the Arts district). The State Theater hosts performances all year. Get to see at least one performance there. There is always a chance one of your favorite acts might perform there. A great program to look out for at the State Theater is “Scientists Exploring the Arts”, a free program where you get to see a performance as well as a pre-show talk with some of the performers. The program is open to students who are in specific science programs. Get Connected:

Princeton/NYC/Philadelphia

The great thing about being in New Brunswick is that one can easily get to a number of towns and cities using public transport.

Princeton is very easy to get too and is a great town to visit. Not just for the University but the town itself. Its a great afternoon excursion.

NYC is easily accessible via bus (cheapest) or train. There are tons of things to do. I would recommend the amazing museums and the many cultural experiences that are available. I wrote a guide for International Graduate Student about a year ago on getting to NYC and some options on things to do. You can see it here: Culture: Museums in NYC

Philadelphia is my favorite historical American city. You can take NJ Transit Train and then the Septa to get to Philadelphia. There are so many things to do in Philly that I keep on going back. Historic Philadelphia is a great experience. The art museum is great and the Rocky statue is just a bonus. There is a lot more than I have listed on here but once you start looking at either TravelAdvisor or WikiTravel you’ll have a lot to choose from.

Happy Exploring.

A relaxing day away from New Brunswick

For the past 12 years of my life, up until August of 2011, I lived in California. Moving to the East Coast was not only a big opportunity to branch out of my comfort zones in the living category, but also to explore new areas in the tri-state area. It is obvious that New Brunswick is nearly the midpoint between two large metropolitan cities-Philadelphia and New York City. However, there are also various other areas to consider, two of which have a much more laid-back feel (just what I like).

The first is Princeton, NJ. I first went here during the fall of 2011 and absolutely fell in love. It reminded me of a city near home, Old Towne Pasadena, with all the cute shops and delicious food. If you’re here, there are two places I highly recommend: the bent spoon, and Greene Street. The bent spoon is an ice cream shop that uses local ingredients, but also specializes in strange and enticing flavors. My favorite is the ricotta flavored ice cream, with local ricotta cheese from New Jersey. Other flavors I’ve seen include peach sriracha and chocolate hazelnut. It is one of the best ice cream shops I’ve been to. In addition, Greene Street is a consignment shop that is clean, well maintained, and quite large (there are 2 stories, one for women, and one for men). What I love about this consignment store is that is has not only cheap finds, but also luxury goods at a decent price point. I’ve seen anything from the likes of Gucci boots to Marc Jacob sunglasses to Celine purses for purchase. I feel that these types of consignment shops are difficult to find, and it’s nice to look around for hidden treasures.

Another quite similar area I frequent is a suburban area in Philadelphia called Chestnut Hill. It has the most amazing houses around–of course, I am biased, since I am used to Spanish-style California houses, but the old, rustic, grandiose feel of the houses are amazing. There is a small downtown area with local shops, surrounded by cobblestone roads. There is a great sit down place called Top of the Hill, and it is definitely a great place to grab a coffee and people watch.

While New Brunswick itself does offer a great atmosphere, lots of food options, and a bustling downtown area, it is sometimes nice to get out of the city without going into the two cities surrounding (Philly and NYC). Princeton and Chestnut Hill both offer a relaxing day out, especially when my California-self can survive the harsh East Coast weather.