When I lived in Newark (I know, I know), the only thing I loved about Jersey was the cheap rent. Hell, it was a 3 bedroom townhouse for $1,600. I worked, played, ate, ran, rollerbladed, biked, and met up with all my people in Manhattan or Brooklyn. Eventually I found myself living in the city, closer to everything I loved.
New York City is cool and all, but there are many things I regret, especially after this current journey I’m on. Mainly, I didn’t take advantage of all the greatness around me. Since childhood, I’ve been a huge fan of the wilderness, tree-lined streets, rivers, creeks, gardens, and country towns with quaint downtown areas. On those rare days when I grew tired of the hustle and bustle of NYC, instead of discovering (or Columbusing) what The Garden State held for me, I tried finding calm somewhere in Central Park. Oh how pitiful.
So to my city friends attempting to live like Hannah Horvath, Carrie Bradshaw, Khadija James, Kyle Barker and ‘nem, hop on the NJ Transit one day and check it what we jokingly called “New York’s Armpit.”
In case you need recommendations:
1. Asbury Park: Ahh, the food and the people were the best part of this trip. New Yorkers are New Yorkers, and they keep us on our toes, but every once in a while you wanna run into some folks who walk slow and look you in the eyes when they’re asking “how are you?” And heck, they may even want a real answer. I checked in to the Empress Hotel, and before taking my clothes to the room, I ran into the bar area where some sort of makeshift karaoke was happening. There was a mic, a singer, but I saw no words on a screen, and he clearly didn’t know them. My kind of people. The night was warm, something I’m not used to in Los Angeles, so I took a stroll down the road, stopped by the Farmer’s Market and tried a few amazing pickle samples, some bean dip, and a little jam. My stomach rumbled!
Food: Pascal & Sabine. The dim but dope lighting made me feel like I was on the set of The Godfather. Possibly the greatest european fare I’ve ever had. Escargot in Garlic Shallot Butter, Pan-Roasted Octopus in Herb Pistou, Fluke Carpaccio topped with Sauce Tomate, Olive Oil, Arugula, and Maldon Salt, Pan Seared Scallops with White Almonds, Chives, and Grapes, and for dessert, Milk Chocolate Pot de Creme, and Creme Fraiche Semifreddo. My God!
2. Lambertville, NJ / New Hope, PA: Probably not too reachable via NJ Transit, but DO NOT let that stop you from seeing this cool little town. The town has been great at preserving its historic look; even Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts look like old knitting shops where the original country flags were produced. George Washington crossed the Delaware River here, and now, you can hop on some jet skis and do the same. Must love art and vintage. There are more than enough art shops and vintage shops here for you hipsters, and spaces to create your own art as well. And certainly enough inspiration.
Food: The Landing. Located in New Hope, sits on the river, by the bridge connecting the two towns. I grabbed a table outside, closest to the water and watched the boats and waves go by. It was lunch, so I kept it light with a Pastrami Sandwich
(grilled pastrami, Havarti cheese, coleslaw and russian dressing on rye bread) and some of the best fries I’ve had in a long time. Oh! I added a little spicy mustard to it! Amazing!
Poe Bistro & Lounge. Located inside The Raven (shout out to all Edgar Allen Poe fans), this place was surprisingly charming. Great ambience, the right amount of noise from happy eaters, great waiters, and the pool goers not too far away. The Spinach and Mushroom Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Ricotta Cheese was f***ing incredible, the Crab-Stuffed Mushroom crazy amazing, and the Calamari was cool (good, but just like everywhere else I’ve had them).
New Jersey can be an amazing getaway for those who live in fast-moving gerbil wheel. Consider these little towns a charging station for your well being. Come smile, eat, make friends, buy jam, see stars, and breathe fresh air.
Hey, even your favorite television New Yorkers made their way outside the jungle.
Darnell Lamont Walker, a self-professed traveling foodie, has been found sitting at tables eating baby goat sweetbreads, drinking tequila, and laughing loudly with strangers. The writer, filmmaker, artist, and sometimes photographer puts happiness above all.