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.

Of Academic Sociability and Disastrous Storms

Reflecting on this past school year, it is clear to me that the social aspect of being a graduate student is nearly as important as academic production.  While research is often a monastic endeavor, the occasions in which we do get a chance to socialize with other academics allows us the opportunity to form new connections with key players in our disciplines, as well as to further solidify existing relationships.  Leaving the cloister of solitary scholarship also has the benefit of opening you up to unexpected adventures, such as hurricanes and other natural disasters.  Last October, during Super Storm Sandy, I realized how sociability and disaster can work together to form valuable, multi-faceted life experiences.

Academic conferences are typically social events that provide a venue to have a few cocktails and banquet meals, show off your research, and perhaps, most importantly, make the necessary connections that will one day (hopefully!) land you that nice tenure-track job at a top-tier research university.  My experience at the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) conference Baltimore last October is perhaps an outlier in this regard, particularly because much of the conference was overshadowed by the most significant natural disaster to befall New Jersey in recent memory.  This conference just happened to take place precisely as Super Storm Sandy was hitting the East Coast.  I had decided to stay in Baltimore for the duration of the conference, figuring that a large conference hall likely had generators and would be safer than returning to my home in Jersey City.  In fact, the storm barely disturbed Baltimore, with a broken umbrella the extent of my personal loss of property.  And, after the storm’s passing, the local brew pub was up and running again and things were just fine.  The New Jersey and New York coastline was not so lucky, of course, and finding transportation back to the New York metropolitan area with train service suspended became a challenge for me.  My solution was to rent one of the last cars at the nearby Hertz rental agency, and accompanied with another stranded Rutgers friend, make our way north, as quickly as possible, on I-95.  The landscape seemed virtually untouched, but when night began to fall and we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into NJ, all lights remained dark.  We did not see a single street lamp glowing on our entire journey up the Jersey Turnpike.

Driving across the arched span of the Newark Bay Bridge into Bayonne, which normally provides an unobstructed view of the New York Bay area, revealed only a ghostly archipelago of darkened landmasses, with the opulent glow of midtown Manhattan and its radiant Empire State as the sole beacons of visible illumination on the horizon.  Driving through the darkened streets of Jersey City, we encountered dazed and lumbering storm-survivors, seeking out food, water, and perhaps most importantly, electricity with which to charge their digital devices.  This surreal environment resembled a scene from the zombie-serial, The Walking Dead, with city streets abnormally darkened, and slow-moving pedestrians lurching into oncoming traffic.  Fortunately, everyone maintained peace and civility, and surprisingly little crime occurred during this ordeal.  And when I finally returned to my apartment, my girlfriend was fine, cooking up some excellent stir-fry and sipping wine with friends.  So, thankfully, my fears of a zombie apocalypse turned out to be unfounded, but it would be about six days before we saw our electricity fully restored.

The experience of my trip down to the ASIST conference was clearly instructive as life experience on multiple accounts.  I was able to show off and discuss my academic research, and socialize with new professors, established luminaries, and friends just entering the job market.  Okay, so maybe a calamitous weather event that precipitated loss of life and billions of dollars in damage was not the ideal background for such an experience, but it did prove that traveling away from home and expanding one’s horizons does make the return home an entirely new experience.

Post Script:  Having just returned from a weekend at the Jersey Shore, I can report that there has been considerable work done on moving towards recovery from the damage wrought by Sandy.  There is still much work to be done, especially for private residences, but it is heartening to see how much has already been accomplished.  Even the Pinball Museum in Asbury Park, which is precipitously positioned right on the boardwalk is back in business!

What are community land trusts, anyway?

For the last five years, I’ve been reading, studying, and working with a form of tenureship called the community land trust (CLT).  I’ve become very personally involved, serving both on the research and policy development committee for the National Community Land Trust Network and as a board member for the Essex Community Land Trust in Essex County. But what are they, you might ask?

A CLT is a participatory, community-based nonprofit organization that owns and holds land in trust for the common good. It leases that land to households that purchase the improvements (houses and whatnot) located on the trust’s land. When these households sign the ground lease, they are granted all the rights of more traditional homeownership. The main limitation in the lease comes with the resale of the home. They can only realize a certain percentage of any increase in the home’s value (usually between 10-15%), and can only sell the home to a household that falls within a certain income range. This allows them to realize a certain amount of equity while keeping the home affordable for the next low- to moderate-income household.

It was originally created in the late 1960s as a means for black farmers in rural Georgia to gain and control land. While it remained on the fringe of the affordable housing scene for a few decades after that, its star has been on the rise for the last ten years or so. It has attracted the attention of HUD, the Ford Foundation, and a few other major players on the community development scene. Why did I get interested in it? After spending time walking through neighborhoods in Essex County that had been hit hard by the housing/foreclosure/credit crisis, I became interested in forms of tenureship that would prevent housing from being entwined in the volatility of finance markets and speculative ownership. CLTs and another form of tenureship called limited equity cooperatives caught my eye, and the rest is history. My research is currently focusing on how CLTs are handling their emerging popularity and whether or not their radical ideological heritage as the means to fundamentally altering property relationships will survive the attempt at making them a viable alternative to traditional homeownership.

Any questions? Feel free to leave a comment! I love talking about this stuff.

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]

Images used in this entry are used under fair-use and/or under licensing guidelines set forth by the copyright holder that allow use in this blog, as presented for educational or critical commentary. Images are copyright their respective holders and credit or source is indicated in each caption or in the text of this entry, as applicable.

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.