My Favorite New Jersey Strip Mall

Posted August 21, 2016 by armpitnj
Categories: Best of NJ, Random

One of the cliches about New Jersey people like to throw around is that the state is nothing but highways and strip malls. It certainly would be hard to argue with that – the Armpit of America is home to more than its fair share of both. But there is one strip mall in particular that stands above the rest – hell, I’d even say it’s magical.

I’m talking about the Strathmore Shopping Center, also known as the Aberdeen Townsquare Shopping Center, located off of Route 34 in Aberdeen. And I’m not playing favorites just because I grew up in that town – I have yet to see any strip mall anywhere that can match what this place can offer. What also makes it special is how The Strathmore Shopping Center (or just “the stores” as well called it in my youth) meant different things to me at different parts of my life. From running errands with my parents as a little kid, to gaining the freedom to ride my bike there when I got older, to hanging out there as a teen, to stopping there today pretty much whenever I’m in town, this seemingly generic strip mall has been a constant throughout my life.

Strathmore

The Strathmore Shopping Center: clearly what Belinda Carlisle had in mind when singing about Heaven being a place on Earth.

What’s also amazing it how so many of the stores from my childhood are still there: the local bowling alley, the bagel shop, the candy store. Sure, there are some places that didn’t make it, like the kosher deli cleverly named Chubby Bubbe’s, the mom and pop video store that was run out of business when Blockbuster moved in across the street (which got its comeuppance 20 years later), or the shoe store for people with wide feet (unfortunate, since I now realize that I have wide feet). But for every store that closes down, a new one takes its place. Read the rest of this post »

How I Spent My Childhood Summers in New Jersey

Posted July 25, 2016 by armpitnj
Categories: Random

Tags: , , ,

Summers are often a magical time, where you take a break from the pressures and schedules of school and just get to be lazy for a couple months. Unless of course your parents made you go to day camp, in which case you still had to catch the bus, take on a full schedule of activities and deal with the drama and struggle of fitting in, just like at school. Such was the case with my childhood summers in the Armpit of America, where I would count down the days for school to end, only to start camp soon after (and then count down the days until camp was over).

Though this may seem like a vicious cycle of misery, camp was never that bad….much like Ronnie and Sammi from “Jersey Shore” (speaking of which, I toured the infamous house, in case you missed it), I just had a complicated love/hate relationship with camp, as described below.

pine.grove.day.campI went to three different day camps during my childhood, but it was only the third that had a significant impact on my life. That camp was Pine Grove Day Camp, located in Wall Township. It was run by a guy who looked like a cute old Jewish man like Mel Brooks but who managed a children’s day camp like a concentration camp. Seriously, the guy could make you wet your pants with one harsh look. But still, he knew what he was doing. Aside from sunburn and mosquito bites and all the times I wished I didn’t have to go each summer, that camp gave me a lifetime of memories from eight summers.

Pine Grove touted itself as a camp “as complete as a sleepaway camp” and pretty much lived up to that description. Sure, it had a few pools, sports facilities, arts and crafts and all that standard stuff, but what set it apart more than anything is that it served lunch. Not just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but real food cooked in a real kitchen – fried chicken (or as the camp menu called it, “honey dip’t chicken”), meatball subs, grilled cheese, hamburgers, etc., complete with sides and dessert. In fact, the only meal that sucked where those days every two weeks where the option would be tuna and egg salad platters. But any day you didn’t like the main course being offered, there was a range of substitutes you could order – bagels, turkey sandwiches, yogurt. Hell, even if you kept kosher, they would accommodate you. Needless to say, the food was one of the best parts of Pine Grove, especially if you were a fat kid like me.

Read the rest of this post »

Top Five: My Favorite Counties in New Jersey

Posted July 14, 2016 by armpitnj
Categories: Top 5

Tags: , , ,

New Jersey is comprised of 21 counties, all with their own character, characters, scenery, and things to do. Each has a distinct flavor that separates it from its 20 brethren. But among this icosikaihenagon (apparently the word for a 21-sided polygon) of counties in the Armpit of America, some stand out from the pack much more than others. That being said, here are my five favorites.

5. Salem County: Tucked away in the dark southwestern corner of New Jersey, Salem County is mostly farmland and swamps and home to the lowest population of all the 21 counties. It is also the location of Cowtown, New Jersey’s one and only rodeo. In fact, that’s the only thing I’ve been to in this county (in the days before I had this blog – otherwise I would have certainly written about something so unusual and un-Jersey-esque). But aside from Cowtown, I don’t know much about Salem County. And that’s precisely why it made the list – it really is a mystery to me. And for being something so enigmatic in a relatively tiny state with a lot of people, Salem County truly stands out.

4. Hudson County: Though Hudson County is the smallest of the 21, it is the most densely populated county in the most densely populated state. Sure, this means traffic can be a bitch, but you have to take the good with the bad, as the theme song for “The Facts of Life” taught us. Between Jersey City and Hoboken alone, it seems most of my family and friends now live in this tiniest of counties. And with things like Zeppelin Hall, Barcade, Liberty State Park, the best views of Manhattan and much more, it’s easy to see how Hudson County ranks as one of my favorites. Read the rest of this post »

A Tour of the “Jersey Shore” House!

Posted July 4, 2016 by armpitnj
Categories: Armpit Adventures, MTV's "Jersey Shore"

Tags: , , , , ,

This is pretty epic. If you couldn’t tell from the title, I went on a tour of the “Jersey Shore” house, and it was amazing! Considering how much I’ve written about this show and its crazy cast of greasy goofballs, I can honestly say this was one of the highlights of my life.

It wasn’t planned or expected – just happened to be in Seaside Heights, walked up to the infamous Shore Store where the cast worked during the show, and saw a sign inviting people to take a tour of the house, which is right behind it. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see where our beloved Snooki, The Situation, J-WOWW, and the rest of the gang lived, fought, hooked up (and God knows what else they did in that house) for four summers.

IMG_2378

They’d probably get more business if they advertised: “Take a picture in the Smush Room”

The tour was led by this guy who worked on the crew of the show, who led us through the back door of the Shore Store and onto the back porch. But before we went inside, he warned us that it’s a lot smaller in real life – something I’m sure many of the girls who’ve hooked up with The Situation have also realized. Read the rest of this post »

Let’s Talk About Vintage Arcade Games…Again!

Posted June 25, 2016 by armpitnj
Categories: Armpit Adventures

Tags: , , , , , , ,

There’s just something about old timey video games that keeps drawing me in (and keeps me writing about them – like this time and this other time). Though I satiate this need by plugging in the old, yellowed Super Nintendo and playing Super Mario World for the millionth time (and still being unable to do that crazy jump in the Cheese Bridge level that opens the path to Soda Lake) or a newly acquired Intellivision, these aren’t always enough.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of arcades serving the not so niche market of vintage electronic entertainment seekers. One such place is the Silverball Museum in Asbury Park, which despite sounding like a gallery dedicated to geriatric genitals, is fortunately nothing of the sort. Having heard about this place for years, I finally checked it out during a recent all-too-rare visit to my beloved Jersey Shore and was blown away – you walk in and see row after row of about 100 pinball games all lovingly cared for and in perfect working condition. And each one has a sign above it giving you the year the machine was made and a brief back story.

And what’s great about the place is that you pay a flat hourly (or half hourly) fee up front, and then have access to every single machine, all of which have been retrofitted with a start button instead of having to feed them quarters. That’s right – no more having to deal with that stupid change machine that keeps spitting your dollar out, or having to keep fishing into your weighted down pocket to get a new quarter when you lose. Although I’m sure some would argue that that’s part of the experience of being at an arcade. Read the rest of this post »

What’s Overrated in New Jersey?

Posted November 22, 2015 by armpitnj
Categories: Top 5

Tags: , , , , ,

Everyone loves to spit on and shit on New Jersey so much that it can be easy to forget all the good things about the state. But on the other hand, there are certain people, places, and things to emerge from the Armpit of America that are, for reasons beyond comprehension, held in undeservingly high esteem. Which is a long-winded way of saying some shit about this state is overrated.

In a recent article for NJ.com, Peter Genovese, a prolific writer on all things New Jersey, listed what he perceives to be the 10 most overrated things about the state. He certainly hit the proverbial nail on the head with many of his selections. Case in point – pork roll – that hodgepodge of various piggy parts most widely enjoyed nestled between a bun with egg and cheese. As Genovese widely points out, who wouldn’t want bacon instead? He also lists the entire city of Hoboken, which indeed is just one big pile of yuppy/hipster overratedness.

And as with any good, provocative opinion piece, there are certain things I’d have to disagree with. Most notably, the inclusion of full-service gas stations. What’s not to love about sitting in your car and having someone else do the dirty work? [While we’re on the subject, I’m pleased to share that after nearly three years of living on Long Island, I am still on track to fulfill one of my life’s goals of never pumping my own gas. It certainly helps to have a full service gas station around the corner (well worth the extra few cents they charge) and a very understanding wife.]

Anyway, Genovese’s post got me thinking about what I would consider the most overrated things about New Jersey. So, here we go:

  1. Saltwater Taffy: Sure, it’s one of the most iconic treats of the Jersey Shore, but does anyone actually like it? It’s always stale and impossible to chew, and all the muted flavors taste pretty much the same. Want something chewy that will rot your teeth? Stick with Starburst, Laffy Taffy, Now and Laters, etc. and don’t waste your money on this boardwalk staple.
  2. Bon Jovi: From what I can tell, Jon Bon Jovi is a wonderful person, generous philanthropist and proud New Jerseyan. But face it, his namesake band is overrated, and their songs that bring to mind images of big-haired 80s Jersey mall brats do this state no favors.
  3. Grease Trucks: Don’t get me wrong, I have fond memories of the Grease Trucks of Rutgers University and their legendary “fat sandwiches” stuffed with whatever you can think of. But let’s face it – those things just don’t taste good. Sorry, but fries on a sandwich are not a good idea – especially when they’re cold, unsalted and shoved between various meats.
  4. Asbury Park: Just like Hoboken to the North, Asbury Park is an overpriced, overrated mix of high-end boutiques, unnecessary fusion restaurants and a level of pretentiousness that has no place on the Jersey Shore.
  5. Bar A: Oh Bar A – the place where summer supposedly never ends. While this Belmar landmark was the location of many fun nights in my younger days, it has transformed into a weird hybrid of a swanky New York City Club, with its long line to get in and $500 a bottle table service, and a Miami Beach night club, with its cabanas on the sand – albeit a sand volleyball court.

 

My Tribute to New Jersey Corn

Posted August 22, 2015 by armpitnj
Categories: Food

Tags: , , ,

It’s been way too long since I last posted, so let’s get back into the swing by talking about something of crucial importance: corn.

corn

That most humble of crops, corn is one of the most widely consumed plants there is. But it rarely gets the respect it deserves. It’s processed and transformed beyond recognition into things like corn chips, corn syrup, ethanol, animal feed and who knows what else. Or, it’s kernels are unceremoniously stripped off their cobs and shoved into tin cans or stuffed into plastic bags where they end up in the supermarket’s freezer section for eternity.

But for two months a year, we get to experience how corn should be experienced – slathering it in butter and gnawing it right of the cob. Sure it’s messy and unsightly, but when it’s summer and the corn is ripe, there’s no better way to eat it. And there is no place that does corn better than New Jersey.

For whatever reason, Jersey corn is the best in the country (take that, Iowa!), offering ears full of juicy kernels as sweet as candy, putting that nasty candy corn shit to shame. But why New Jersey of all places? Some say it’s the naturally fertile soil – or maybe there’s just a lot of fertilizer in the soil. Could it be that all the chemical runoff causes some kind of reaction to make it better? Or maybe when God was creating New Jersey, he knew that one day it would be the butt of everyone’s jokes and known more for corrupt politicians and trashy reality TV stars than anything else, so he blessed the land with the best corn on earth. It’s plausible.

But as good as the corn in New Jersey may be, there is one place that offers corn superior to anywhere else in the state, Samaha’s Farm Market of Aberdeen. This staple of my home town simply offers the best corn there is. I can’t tell you how many summer meals from my childhood to my adult life were made all the more better with Samaha’s corn. It’s so good, anytime we’d make the trip to Long Island to visit relatives, said relatives would implore that we stop at Samaha’s on the way and bring this holy Jersey corn (or as native New Yorkers call it, “cawn”) across the border. And now that I’m living on Long Island, I’m the one demanding delivery of Samaha’s corn.

And it’s definitely worth it. From the minute you eagerly rip away the husk and gently brush away the fair silk to reveal those virginal, cream-colored kernels, you know you’re in for something special. And when they’re in their water bath steaming away, it will seem like the longest minutes of your life as the scent of corn gently caresses your nostrils. Once cooked, you might be tempted to dive right it in, but be careful, it will be pretty hot; besides, the corn, being the temptress that she is, wants you to take it slow and savor every minute.

corn porn

Corn porn!

Woah, got a little carried away there. Anyway, you definitely could eat the corn as is and be perfectly content – it certainly doesn’t need any additions. But there are no heroes when it comes to corn. Go ahead and gild the lily by slathering it with butter and salt – it makes the experience all the better and perfectly acceptable to use a phrase like “gild the lily.”

corn butter

So, if you’ve never had Jersey corn before, I strongly recommend that you make the trip to the Armpit of America and try it – you’ll never look at corn the same way again.


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