Posted tagged ‘Rutgers’

What’s Overrated in New Jersey?

November 22, 2015

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.

 

Destination Dogs in New Brunswick: You’ve Never Had a Hot Dog Like This

January 3, 2015

The hot dog is one of the most humble foods imaginable – take the animal scraps and organ meat that no one else will touch, throw them in a blender with nitrates and pink food coloring, put the resulting slop in a plastic casing, and serve it on a bland roll that falls apart as soon as you touch it. But at Destination Dogs in New Brunswick, the simple hot dog is elevated to entirely new levels.

Though I heard about this establishment a couple of years ago, I didn’t make it over there until recently – a very poor mistake on my part. Like most people when they think of a “hot dog place,” I had imagined just a dumpy little shack where you go to a counter, they pull a hot dog off one of those rotating warmer things and slop on some sauerkraut as you stand there. Instead, Destination Dogs is a full on, sit-down, fill-up dining experience. Residing at the what used to be Doll’s Place, which despite sounding like a strip club was actually one of the nicer bars in the midst of the numerous hole-in-the-wall drinking spots surrounding Rutgers University, Destination Dogs offers a menu full of gourmet offerings that go far beyond a simple hot dog, including a wide variety of meats and almost unlimited number of toppings.

Hot dog, or work of art?

Hot dog, or work of art?

Putting the “destination” in destination dogs, each item is inspired by a different part of the world. For instance, you’ve got the “Howlamo” from Texas, consisting of a wild boar sausage topped with pork belly, chicharonnes, and baconaisse; the “Swede-Dreams” from Sweden – a Swedish meatball sausage covered with mashed potatoes, gravy, and lingonberry jam; and the “Slumdog Meal-ionaire” from India, a vegetarian hot dog with samosa filling and curry sauce. (more…)

Top 5: Reasons Belmar is Better Than New Brunswick

November 26, 2010

I suggest you turn around. Photo by city-data.com.

About three months ago, I moved out of my apartment in New Brunswick and into a new apartment in Belmar. And it was quite a drastic change. I essentially moved out of the armpit of the Armpit of America and into a more pleasant body part (I’ll let you pick which one). I’ve spent five years of my life living in New Brunswick, and, although I have fond memories of the city, there is plenty to hate about it.

With that, here are theTop 5 reasons why Belmar is better than New Brunswick:

1) Hippies – Both New Brunswick and Belmar are home to quite a few hippies. Still, they couldn’t be more different. The hippies in New Brunswick are mainly students of Rutgers University. Though they typically come from upper-middle class families, they like to pretend they’re poor and just getting by on their own. But don’t let those tattered tie-dye shirts, unkempt facial hair (on guys), and unshaven legs (on girls) fool you. They’re just miserable spoiled brats with Grateful Dead posters in their dorms who wake up every morning wishing they went to college 40 years ago.

Belmar’s hippies, on the other hand, are more grown up. Rather than playing their guitars and singing about imagined social injustices, these hippies have embraced capitalism. Instead of going out of their way to be part of some nonexistent, idyllic counter culture, these hippies actually contribute something to the real culture. They’ve opened establishments all over the town, like vegan restaurants, vintage clothing stores, and yoga studios. Still embracing their hippie roots, but earning a dollar at the same time. Who wouldn’t respect that? (more…)

An Evening with Michael Pollan

October 9, 2010

Hahahah never heard that one before....

Back in September of 2001, I was a nerdy, overweight freshman at Rutgers.  During that first semester, I took Expository Writing 101 (AKA Ex-Pos), the dreaded freshman writing course.  The first assignment for that class was to read an essay about genetically engineered potatoes and write a paper about it.  The author of that essay was a certain Michael Pollan, a fact I only remember because I thought how funny it was that a guy named Pollan wrote about plants.

Before the teacher handed back those first assignments, she said most of the class did pretty poorly.  She explained how that can be expected on our first papers and that we shouldn’t get too discouraged; we can only get better.  When she handed my paper back, I was shocked by my grade.  It was a B+.  That’s when it happened.  It was at this point, dear reader, that your humble narrator realized he could write.  Since then, I’ve pursued writing educationally, personally, professionally, and blogally.

So where am I going with all this?

Nine years (holy shit) after that fateful day, I heard that Michael Pollan was giving a talk at Rutgers.  I couldn’t pass up the chance to hear the guy who indirectly launched my writing career at the place where it started.  So, this past Wednesday, I headed up to the College Ave gym, where the talk was being held.  On the way, I passed the Rutgers Student Center.  There was a big sign in front of the building saying there was going to be a memorial for Tyler Clementi that night.  The sign also said that both New Jersey senators, Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, were going to be there.  I thought about ditching Pollan and going to this event for no other reason than the remote chance that I could convince one of the senators to sit down for an in-depth interview for this little old blog.  But they clearly had something more important to do that night. (more…)

Rutgers Day / Ag Field Day

April 29, 2010

This past Saturday was a very special day for Rutgers University students and alumni alike. To those who weren’t privileged enough to attend the State University of New Jersey (although about half of the state did go there), I’m talking about Ag Field Day…or is it Rutgers Day? Whatever you wanna call it, it’s a day full of food, fun, and farmy stuff.

Rutgers: the official university of the Armpit of America

The reason for the confusion in the name? Well, it’s probably even more confusing to explain. Ag Field Day (the Ag part standing for Agricultural) had been held each year since 1906. For much of that time, it took place on the Cook Campus of Rutgers University. Starting last year, the powers that be decided to make the event a university-wide festival called Rutgers Day. But over 100 years of history doesn’t just get absorbed, so the day is still referred to by its original name. (more…)

Top 5 Pretentious Restaurants in New Brunswick

December 22, 2009

Mmmm...pretentious...

Here’s yet another new feature for all of you – my Top 5 lists!

As you can tell, my first subject is pretentious restaurants in New Brunswick (New Brunswick the city in New Jersey, not that Canadian state province).

For those who have never been to New Brunswick, my former and current place of residence, the city has quite an interesting culinary scene. As New Brunswick is home to Rutgers, the State University of the Armpit of America, there is no shortage of cheap, unhealthy food geared towards college students – like the Grease Trucks and a countless number of pizza places.

On the other hand, New Brunswick offers plenty of more exotic options, like a couple Middle Eastern places and no less than two Jamaican restaurants. Oddly enough, there aren’t any of those casual chains, like Chilis, Applebees, and Fridays within the city limits (though there is a Qdobas and a Chipotle right across from each other). But what New Brunswick lacks in name brand restaurants, it more than makes up for with plenty of overpriced, snobby, and pretentious dining options:

5. Old Man Rafferty’s – I’m sure putting this on the list won’t make me any additional friends. Though Old Man Rafferty’s is a staple in New Brunswick, this place is more hype than substance. While I admit the food is good, it’s about the same quality and selection you can find at an Applebees or Houlihans (though a lot more expensive). Whatever your thoughts on it may be, people just love this place. But is the standard 45 minute wait you’ll almost always encounter worth it? I don’t think so. So let those parents visiting their children at college go to Old Man Rafferty’s, and everyone else can and should go somewhere else.

4. Daryl Wine Bar and Restaurant – Admittedly, I’ve never been to this place. But it just oozes pretentiousness. First of all, who the hell opens a wine bar in a gritty college town? Secondly, on their logo, the “y” in Daryl is shaped like a wine glass. Uh, sorry to burst your bubble, Daryl, but New Brunswick’s beloved CLYDZ already had that idea and executed it a lot better than you! Anyway, a look at Daryl’s website just confirms its pretentiousness. Rather than showing a room full of people happily drinking and eating away, the main image is of an unwelcoming, stark, and empty dining room full of stiff, high-backed white chairs.

As for the food, it seems just as unappealing. The menu appears to be typical of many expensive, fancy restaurants – small selection, even smaller servings, and exuberant prices. The menu tries to go out of the way to talk up the food, with offerings like Bershire Pork Loin (the fuck does that mean?), Wild Caught Cod (putting “wild caught” in front of “cod” doesn’t make it any more appetizing), and Australian Sea Bass (I guess Daryl is too good for the more standard Chilean variety). (more…)

Book Review: Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike

November 11, 2009
turnpike

This book gets two armpits up!

Recently, I made a trip to my local Barnes and Noble. Like anyone crazy enough to start a blog about life in New Jersey should be, I was perusing the “local” section, which was full of books about the Armpit of America. Just out of curiosity, do all Barnes and Noble stores have a local section? I guess that means the local sections of stores in Oklahoma would only have two books, if that. Ha.

Back to the story. In between books about ghosts of New Jersey and dog parks in New Jersey and bird watching in New Jersey, there was one book that really stood out. And I mean it literally stood out. With bright yellow letters against a loud teal background, Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike was hard to miss. And with a name like that, inspired by the lyrics of the Simon and Garfunkel song “America,” I couldn’t pass it up.

The book was written by two Rutgers University professors: Angus Kress Gillespie and Michael Aaron Rockland. I actually had the former for a class back when I was in school. Anyway, the book talks about all aspects of the hellish highway. It starts with the Turnpike’s construction in 1950, at which point beautiful farmland and forests were cleared away and covered with asphalt and steel. The authors then walk us through stuff like the toll system, the accident rate, the rest stops, etc. And, of course, they touch on the corruption of the Turnpike’s management and its law enforcement. Basically, the book has all the information you could possible want to know about the Turnpike but never really cared enough to ask.

Since the book was written by two college professors, it can, appropriately enough, read like a text book at certain points. They definitely pack a lot of information into the 200 or so pages. Still, there are some really fascinating parts, like when they discuss the life of a toll collector. There are also plenty of random and interesting facts. For instance, did you know it is illegal to take pictures while you’re on the Turnpike? I also bet you didn’t know that this camera rule and all the other Turnpike policies are posted on small signs in front of each entrance ramp. And, yes, Gillespie and Rockland point out how ridiculous it is to have a sign loaded up with fine print that no one can actually read while driving by in their cars. Only in New Jersey.

The highlight of Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike, for me at least, is how the authors include references to the Turnpike from the pop culture realm. While the title is just one example, they cite no less than three Bruce Springsteen songs (which is to be expected from two Rutgers professors). The works of poet/dirty hippie Alan Ginsberg also make appearances, as do songs by people I’ve never heard of like Joseph Cosgriff and Dan Fogarty. Another part I love is when the authors describe how people, both in and outside New Jersey, view the Turnpike and the state itself. Indeed, it is clear from the book just how intertwined New Jersey and the New Jersey Turnpike really are.

Despite all the good things, I have to confess something. The book was published in 1989, making it 20 years old. Don’t let that scare you though. It is still a great, interesting read. If anything, it almost makes me want to learn more about the Turnpike. Like how many toll collectors’ jobs were cut once EZ Pass came into the picture? And how has the security of the road changed since September 11? Perhaps an updated version is in the works…

To sum it all up, Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike is essentially the bible of the Turnpike. Though it can be a little dry, and is somewhat outdated, the book is still entertaining and informative. Despite all the bad things that people say about the Turnpike, Gillespie and Rockland somehow manage to elicit some sympathy for the Armpit of America’s most hated road.