Posted tagged ‘Rutgers’

Top 5 Pretentious Restaurants in New Brunswick

December 22, 2009


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

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.

The Grease Trucks

October 11, 2009

We all do stupid things in college. Whether drinking yourself to oblivion, experimenting with new drugs, getting pregnant, or getting someone else pregnant, college is a time to expand your horizons and endanger your health. Rutgers University, my alma mater, provides its students with a unique impetus for self destruction – the Grease Trucks.

The menu of a Grease Truck.  Note the absense of little red hearts indicating the health-friendly items.

The menu of a Grease Truck. Note the absense of little red hearts indicating the health-friendly items.

While they may not be as dangerous or life altering as some of the other things you can do in college, buying low-quality fried foods made in the back of a truck by creepy Middle-Eastern men isn’t the most sensible option either. Still, this hasn’t stopped the infinite number of Rutgers students, alumni, and New Brunswick locals who can’t quit the habit.

The Grease Trucks serve a wide selection of foods, including such Middle Eastern standards as falafel, hummus, grape leaves, and spinach pie. However, these healthier options take a back seat to the trucks’ main draw – the “fat sandwiches.” The trucks have a variety of fat sandwiches, consisting of some type of meat, cheese, sauce, and fries, all served on a giant roll.

The five trucks, though each owned and operated independently, have pretty much the same sandwiches on each of their menus. Some of the standards include:

  • Fat Cat – The first fat sandwich invented, and the first one I ever ate, consists of two hamburger patties, cheese, fries, ketchup, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and onion.
  • Fat Bitch – No, this one doesn’t include Rosie O’Donnell meat. Instead, it is made of cheesesteak, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, and fries. This is one of the most popular sandwiches, if for no other reason than the name.
  • Fat Moon – The Fat Moon contains eggs, bacon, cheese, and fries. Though this one was my favorite for a while, I ditched it once I realized that the “chefs” leave their eggs sitting out all day.
  • Fat Darrel – This sandwich is made up of chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, fries, and marinara sauce. Though I don’t see what the big deal about this one is, it was declared the best sandwich in America by Maxim Magazine for reasons still unclear.
  • Fat Filipino – The Fat Filipino, along with the Fat Bitch, was at the center of an ethical dispute several years ago. I’m not even sure if they still make it these days. However, it is worth including on this list for being the fattest of the fat sandwiches. It was made of cheesesteak AND gyro meat, accompanied by fries and covered in yogurt sauce.

The inside of a Fat Bitch.  Incidentally, fries, mozzarella sticks, and cheesesteaks can be found inside of most fat bitches.

The inside of a Fat Bitch. Of course, fries, mozzarella sticks, and cheesesteaks can be found inside many fat bitches.

To be honest, the fat sandwiches aren’t even that good. While they are certainly delicious at 2:00 am after a night of drinking, any other time of day they are just alright. When you take a bunch of greasy foods and shove them into a giant roll, each item tends to take on the flavors of everything surrounding it.

Fries, which are usually the best part of any meal, just make things worse. The fries at the Grease Trucks are, appropriately enough, really greasy, and they don’t have any salt. If they were crispy, they would at least give the sandwiches some much needed texture. Instead, they just blend in with everything else.

Despite my culinary critiques, the Grease Trucks provide for a fun, filling, and cheap meal. They are also a cornerstone of Rutgers and New Brunswick culture. Four years after graduating, my friends and I still frequent the Grease Trucks after a night of New Brunswick barhopping. The Grease Trucks are definitely an interesting place. I guarantee there isn’t any other location on Earth where you could clog your arteries, pick up drunk college chicks, and see scenes like this:

My fellow Jews dancing around with a Torah at the Grease Trucks.  Something isn't quote kosher about this.

My fellow Jews dancing around with a Torah at the Grease Trucks. Something isn't quote kosher about this scene.