Mythcrushers – The NJ Edition

By Iron Chef Leftovers

A friend recently posted a link to an article titled “11 Things Only People from New Jersey Understand.” Being a long-removed Jersey boy myself, I thought it was an interesting list, but one, alas that definitely had some misconceptions, even if it was written by a Jerseyite. What does this have to do with a blog on food, sports and games, you might ask? Well indulge me a minute.

2. There Are Certain Foods You Can Only Eat When You’re In New Jersey

The list of things I have to eat when I’m in New Jersey, and try not to eat anywhere else are:

  • Bagels
  • Pizza
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Salt Water Taffy

I’m a total Jersey food snob because the rest of the country just doesn’t make them the same. And then there’s the ultimate NJ dish that doesn’t even exist anywhere else…

Ok. I want to bust this myth completely since I have heard it all of my life and it is simply not true. First off, corn and tomatoes make no sense. Yes, NJ is called the Garden State for a reason, but you can get stellar corn and tomatoes IN SEASON just about anywhere these days. The in season label applies to NJ also. Let’s face it, unless you spend half your year in the southern hemisphere, there is about a 2 month window for getting good tomatoes, and rarely they are from the local meagmart. Any farmer’s market will carry great produce in season, or just do what Coltrane and I do – grow them yourself.

Anyone that says you can’t get great pizza or bagels outside of NY/NJ is just being a snob. I actually know people who would laugh at the idea of eating pizza and bagels outside of NYC as a silly concept, so there are levels of snobbery here. Everyone who grows up in NJ has their favorite pizza place, most likely one that is currently being run by the 4th or 5th generation of an Italian family. I can think of at least a half-dozen excellent, non-Neapolitan pizza places in Seattle that make a pretty good version of a NY/NJ pizza.  I have had some truly terrible pizza also, but that is another story. Is it exactly the same, no, but I never expect that someone is going to make a pizza exactly like Pompeii Pizza in Bayonne, NJ. Heck, none of the other pizza places in Bayonne (and there are a ton of them) make a pizza exactly like Pompeii. I guess what I am trying to say here is that, while pizza in NJ may be the best on the planet, there are plenty of excellent versions of it in other cities, you just need to spend time looking.  The same thing applies to bagels.

I will just skip salt water taffy – it isn’t something I particularly love to begin with and I have had equally uninspiring versions of it elsewhere.

3. The Mere Mention Of Taylor Ham, Egg, And Cheese On A Roll Activates Four Different Regions Of Your Brain

Taylor Ham is the single best brand of pork roll available on the market. Taylor literally invented it. For this reason, it is not appropriate to call it pork roll–you must call it Taylor Ham in homage to John Taylor. Calling it anything else is disrespectful to the master.

Taylor Ham is definitely something that you will not find at a restaurant/deli anywhere else in the country. Heck, you are hard pressed to find anyone outside of the NYC/NJ/Philly area that even has any idea what Taylor Ham is. It is, for lack of a better description, a bastardized version of Canadian Bacon (the meat, not the movie). Strangely, while I can’t remember seeing it on any menu anywhere I have ever been outside of NJ, I can occasionally get it and scrapple (a hyper-local Philly specialty) at Ballard Market in Seattle. I have no idea why, but I can if I want to make it at home.

9. The Best Time To Eat At A Diner Is 2 a.m. When You’re Drunk With Your Best Friends

There’s only one type of non-chain eatery that has consistently good food at any time of the day and that’s a New Jersey diner. I remember going to the Chester Diner at 2 a.m. after working the late shift at the Chester Movie Theater and meeting friends for a gyro and pancakes. And you know what, they would taste exactly (amazingly) the same if I went at 2 p.m. on a Sunday after church. It’s a marvel of modern Americanized Greek technology.

Diners are just the best. Period

I grew up a half block from a diner and yes, there were many drunken late nights with friends eating really crappy food at 2 AM. Diners don’t seem to exist much outside of the east coast and are pretty much non-existent on the west coast and I do miss them, especially when I want breakfast for dinner. Like pizza places, everyone in NJ has their favorite place that has been there forever and still probably has the 40 year old personal juke boxes mounted to the wall in the booths.

10. Worshiping Bruce Springsteen And Bon Jovi Is Just A Natural Part Of Growing Up

Ok, this has nothing to do with food and maybe things have changed in the 25 years since I moved from NJ, but Bon Jovi was always considered to be a bad joke, not an idol. The Boss however, that is a different story. Springsteen is just about as close to a god as you can get in the state. I have seen The Boss play in 7 different cities, and none of those concerts came close to the energy of the 4 hour marathon he played in 1993 in NJ on the Human Touch/Better Days tour in front of the home crowd. Did I mention that the show I went to happened to be the 8th of 10 shows in 12 days he played in NJ, and he played for 4 hours? Yep, it was the most energized concert I have ever seen. Either way, it should tell you where Springsteen ranks in the NJ idol list – he is The Boss. When you say The Boss in NJ, everyone knows who you are talking about. I can honestly say that I have never had a conversation with anyone in NJ about how great Bon Jovi is.

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