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 Urban NJ Day Trip

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  • Total Posts: 1560
  • Joined: 2/4/2004
  • Location: scotch plains, NJ
Urban NJ Day Trip Fri, 06/12/09 7:26 PM (permalink)
I love the small and medium sized inner cities of urban New Jersey. Yesterday it was time for a day trip to several of them.
First stop was about ½ hour from home at the fairly new Calandra’s Italian Village in Caldwell.
This an Italian Food lover’s  paradise… an entire strip mall tied to the locally famous Calandra Bakery (originally of Newark, the original is still there).  There are several different choices, each with their own separate door entrance, but also each is interconnected from the inside. After spending a little while scouting out the place (not very busy at all at Noon on a Thursday), in the bakery area one sign caught my eye: Pizza $6.99 Monday thru Thursday. These are not bar pies but full size pizzas. The ones in the display case looked pretty good. The girl behind the counter told me that they could make thm to order but it would take 20 minutes. Perfect! I ordered two, a  regular pie and a white pie. This gave me 20 or so minutes to look around. First I checked out the deli area and truth be told, the food in the display cases looked a little tired. I think the problem is that they are not doing any volume at all and the stuff is just sitting there all day. I walked over to the trattoria, which was virtually deserted. The cozy “taverna” was a little more busy, a handsome upscale but homey looking room with a nice bar and several tables. I decided to have a glass of red wine at the bar and kill the remaining 15 minutes until my pizza was done.
The pizza was just coming out of the oven when I got back to the bakery area. I brought the pies out to the car and had a slice of each. It was quite good, probably  not in the Top 10 in New Jersey, but at $6.99 each, these pizzas might be the best food bargain in all of NJ! (Note on weekends the pies go for $8.99, still a bargain).
Nicely mellow from the generous glass of wine and two slices of pizza, it was time to head East on I-280 and the Pechter’s bakery outlet on Jersey Street in the old industrial section of Harrison. I’ve written about this place before, Freshly baked 2 Lb Rye breads, sliced to order for about $4. I also bought a dozen salt rolls (like an oval-shaped kummelweck) for all of $1.98 and among the best rolls I know of.  The whole experience has the feel of a step back to the 1920’s.
A short drive north into Kearny and the Two Galores. That’s what I call them. They are two 40+ year old storefronts, somehow related but run by different owners, right next door to each other on Kearny’s Main Street (Kearny Avenue) : Subs Galore and Chicken Galore. First stop was Subs Galore. Local blogs seemed to favor the Hot Turkey melt sub, so I bought a large one of those, and a large order of Toasted Ravioli, an item which seems to be showing up here in there in New Jersey lately. Subs Galore is a busy local food spot, something which I love about urban New Jersey towns, they all seem to still have these type places. There are several tables but most of the business seems to be takeout.
Sack of food in hand I went next door to Chicken Galore and ordered a dozen broasted chicken strips ($10) and a family order of fries ($4). There is no seating in Chicken Galore, so I took a 10 minute walk in town and then picked up my food. They cook everything in industrial strength broasters which have been there as long as the place has been there.
Probably needless to say, neither of these places have websites.
I took all this food over to a park a few minutes away on the Passaic River and chewed down. I had ½ of the turkey melt which was terrific, with excellent homemade gravy on the side. Then I dug into a couple of chicken strips and some fries. The fries were the “steak fry” type, which I usually don’t like, but these were fabulous, golden brown and cooked perfectly. It must be the broasters. I topped all this off with a couple of toasted ravioli. I’m sure they won’t make anyone from St. Louis envious, but they were pretty good. I’d order them again.  
Now it was time for a drive thru New Jersey’s industrial urban wasteland over to Jersey City. This drive reminded me of the opening sequence of The Sopranos. In fact my route passed “Pizzaland” on Belleville Turnpike. (Decent Pizza, from a previous daytrip with my wife – The Sopranos Eating Tour).
The traffic around downtown Jersey City was a gridlocked mess so I ditched the GPS and used my instincts to head away from the traffic and found a parking space in an industrial area about ½ mile away from my next stop. Good enough, I needed a walk anyway. 10 minutes later I was seated at the counter  of La Conquira Latin Restaurant waiting on a takeout order of a Cuban Sandwich and 4 tacos, (two chicken, two beef).
(Caution: Loud Music upon opening website)
Nice busy place in the heart of JC, and a very interesting mix of people. My order was ready in about 10 minutes (much quicker than I expected) and came to a TOTAL of only $12. The portions were not huge, but still a bargain. I walked this back to the car and had half of the Cuban. Sad to say, it was just OK. As I find all too often, the pork tasted reheated, and one thing that doesn’t work for pork is reheating. I was getting a little stuffed (I was on my 4th or 5th lunch), so I saved the tacos for home.
My last stop was a mile or two away, still in JC, and the totally Old School Astor Bar & Grill (725 Montgomery Street). Another very busy Thursday afternoon late lunch crowd, a good mix of blue color, white color, and, apparently, no collar (i.e. unemployed, with no hope of EVER being employed). All presided over by a crotchety 75+ year old bartender. I know he was a few years past 75 because his “Look Who’s 75” T Shirt had at least a couple of years worth of beer and pizza stains on it. They are noted for their bar pies, but I saw some other good looking Italian Food and burgers coming out of the small kitchen.
Anyway I sat at the bar and ordered two bar pies to go and a draft Youngling. The 75+ guy slides my draft over to me and yells loudly into the kitchen “Here’s another guy who thinks this is a F*cking Pizza Hut, he wants two pies  to go!”.  It took me all of about 10 sends of double take to realize that he was of the Crotchety But Lovable school rather than the Crotchety and Nasty school of bartender. In any event, I liked that greeting much better than “Hi I’m Tiffany and I’ll be your Server today”.

The pies took a little while (the place was quite busy, my favorite group was the four 70-something ladies at the far end of the bar eating hot dogs, drinking beer and cocktails and watching Soap Operas on the TV. That’s the way to live one’s later years! Mr. 75+ turned out to be friendly enough, and wished me a good weekend when I left with the pies. I left a good tip.  I gave this place a very high mark in the Old Man Bar category. I was only able to stuff down once small slice at my car, but it was a good thin crust style pie.
And in 35 minutes  I was home spreading my haul on the kitchen island for my wife’s imminent arrival home from work (No cooking tonight and probably tomorrow night too, honey!). An excellent day.
Edit: I'm still having problems with pasting from a Word document, I've now tried to edit it, again.
<message edited by ken8038 on Fri, 06/12/09 10:50 PM>

    • Total Posts: 406
    • Joined: 9/4/2006
    • Location: Londonderry, NH
    Re:Urban NJ Day Trip Sat, 06/13/09 10:49 AM (permalink)
    Great report! I grew up in Caldwell but have yet to try the Italian Village. A few blocks farther west on Bloomfield Ave is the Cloverleaf Tavern. A great bar and grill with an impressive beer selection. I've also always loved Pizza and Sandwich Barn also on Bloomfield Ave for their subs (Thumans meat on Calandra's bread). I forget if you're a hot dog guy but Boulivard Drinks in Journal Square has really good dogs, but parking in the area is not good.


      • Total Posts: 1088
      • Joined: 3/29/2003
      • Location: Edgewater Park, NJ
      Re:Urban NJ Day Trip Sat, 06/13/09 3:06 PM (permalink)
      Ken, this has to be one of your funniest Trip Reports yet. I just literally "LOL"'d about the Astor Bar & Grill remarks. The food - most of it - sounds really good, especially the broasted chicken strips (you don't find broasted much at all anywhere, really, anymore) and the steak fries. Calandra's sounds interesting, too, and I'm sure they do all their business on Saturdays. I don't know how old the pictures are on their website, but it appeared as if it's opened recently, so maybe word hasn't gotten out enough yet. Where my daughter's working now (JD Produce & Deli, here in Voorhees), she helped her boss open it, and they did very very little business for two weeks. Now? It's amazing.
      I don't need to tell you: Another great report, Ken. When I feel like I'm there, I know it's well-written.

        • Total Posts: 1560
        • Joined: 2/4/2004
        • Location: scotch plains, NJ
        Re:Urban NJ Day Trip Sat, 06/13/09 9:29 PM (permalink)
        Thanks Harriet and Dave for the good feedback.

        Harriet: I think the Italian Village opened late last year, and it looks like a lot of $$$ went into the setup. Maybe it's the economy, just not the right time to open something on that scale. And you're right, maybe it's a lot busier on the weekends.

        Dave, thanks for the tips in Caldwell. I was at the Cloverleaf a few years ago. Nice place, and good food and beer. I've been to Boulevard, I agree it's one of the best chili dogs in NJ, too bad it's so hard to park there.

          • Total Posts: 3778
          • Joined: 6/17/2004
          • Location: Columbia, SC
          Re:Urban NJ Day Trip Mon, 06/15/09 10:40 PM (permalink)
          Ken I think maybe you should make 'Old Man Bars' your Roadfood subspecialty.  One question, what's up with all this sneaking food into the car to chow down?  Is it just a lot of takeout joints or just your personal preference?

            • Total Posts: 1560
            • Joined: 2/4/2004
            • Location: scotch plains, NJ
            Re:Urban NJ Day Trip Tue, 06/16/09 3:50 PM (permalink)
            << One question, what's up with all this sneaking food into the car to chow down?  Is it just a lot of takeout joints or just your personal preference? >>

            Good question Nancy, and one I hadn't really thought about, but you're right, it does seem like I'm always eating by my car or in a park.

            I guess it's a combination of things. One is of course a lot of places I go to are take out. Two, a lot of places are locals places where everybody knows everybody but me. Sometimes I'm not really comfortable in those situations (it depends), I'd rather take out to the car and enjoy my food and listen to the radio.

            Finally, if it's a day where I'm making 5 or 6 stops, I can't drink that much soda (if it's not a bar that's what I will drink), not to mention 5 or 6 sodas add up to like $10 or so. Instead I bring my own one soda and a couple of bottles of water and save a few bucks besides.

            Thanks for asking, like I said, it's something I never thought about.

              • Total Posts: 1088
              • Joined: 3/29/2003
              • Location: Edgewater Park, NJ
              Re:Urban NJ Day Trip Tue, 06/16/09 6:46 PM (permalink)
              Yeah, but Ken (and Nancy), that's really the smart way to do it. It's really like a combination roadfood experience and picnic, and believe me, Brian & I are trying to do that more and more as the weather gets nicer. Picnics are great, and combining them with stuff you got at a place like where Ken got his food, that's even better. Brian always ate in the car when he went places before he met me, to save money, because he had a sh*t job that didn't pay. Now instead of bringing from home (well, we do that too, but it's been raining or threatening to rain so much this time of year so far!), we'll try to do when Ken does. It depends though...we do a lot of diners for our first meal, and we either go to the diner and eat in the booth or we don't. If you're a soda drinker, yeah, that would add up. I end up with iced tea 9 times out of 10. But yeah, I like Ken's way of doing it. And to bring a cooler is smart stuff and not always something I remember to do, even though I have like every size almost...
              <message edited by harriet1954 on Tue, 06/16/09 6:49 PM>

                • Total Posts: 1560
                • Joined: 2/4/2004
                • Location: scotch plains, NJ
                Re:Urban NJ Day Trip Wed, 06/17/09 9:52 AM (permalink)
                Hi Harriet, thanks for the commentary. Sounds like we're on the same page in our thinking. The only reason I don't go to that many diners in my roadfood trips is because I like to concentrate on places that are noted for one or two things. Too many choices on a diner menu to zero in on one thing. But I do like a few diners in North Jersey for old fasioned "going out to eat".
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